So it's another beautiful Sunday here in the Nation. I am sure lot of you are still nursing that coffee, having multiple tabs open in your browser, jumpin from article to article, or just taking in the headline from your local sports section (Ben Ball warriors are on the front page of today's Washington Post).
I always love the Sundays after our Bruins win the Elite Eight game (it's my 4th). It's a day to just enjoy the reviews and take in hoops with absolutely no anxiety or feeling of pressure. And no matter how much village idiots like Plashcke have their bitter beer faces on concern trolling away about what should be measured as the standard of a successful season, nothing will take away from the glow and euphoria of yet another Final-4 celebration in the Bruins Nation.
Obviously most of you know the key numbers from last night. But I want to repeat them because well they are little more than significant in my book and lot more meaningful than the garbage Steve-16 stats that used to get spewed out of CBH's predecessor.
Coach Howland has now compiled a school record 35 wins. He has now taken us to 3 straight final-4s, making him only the 3rd head coach since Mike Krzyzewski of Duke and Tom Izzo of Michigan State to do so since the Dance expanded to 64 teams in 1985. Our Ben Ball warriors are on a remarkable 14 game winning streak (despite all the nay saying from the local MSM) and have won 19 out of their last 20 games. And yet some village idiot was out there calling this the worst of Coach Howland's last three tournament teams. Anyway more numbers from last night's demolition in Phoenix:
>> UCLA won the rebounding battle, 37-28; the fifth straight game in which it has been even or better. The Bruins lost the turnover battle, 12-8, but maybe that's not such a bad thing: They are 12-0 this season when committing more turnovers than the opposition.
>> Xavier shot 36.2% from the field for the game, the third time in four NCAA Tournament games that the Bruins have held their opponent to less than 40% from the field. Only Texas A&M (43.1%) shot better than 40% from the floor against UCLA. In four NCAA games, opponents are shooting only 81-247 (32.8%) from the field and just 16-67 (23.9%) from three-point range.
>> Kevin Love and Darren Collison each had 19 points; Russell Westbrook scored 17; Luc Richard Mbah A Moute had 13; and Josh Shipp had five as only the four Bruin starters scored. Love had 10 rebounds, but Mbah A Moute had 13 to lead the team.
>> Westbrook broke out of his shooting slump with 7-11 from the field, and had his best all-around game since the California game at the end of the regular season, when he had 18 points (6-12 from the field). He had 17 today, plus three rebounds, three steals and three assists.
>> Love had his 23rd double-double of the season and scored in double figures again as he has in every game this season.
>> Collison scored in double figures for the 26th time this season and came back strongly from the four points he had against Western Kentucky. He had five assists, four turnovers and only one personal foul. He led (or co-led) the Bruins in scoring for the eighth time in the last 16 games this season.
"I told you it felt better," Mbah a Moute said. A day earlier he had limped into the arena wearing a protective boot.
Sophomore Russell Westbrook was crackling with energy and scored first with a dunk after a steal from Xavier star Josh Duncan. He finished with 17 points and three assists. Point guard Darren Collison, motivated by comments from Xavier senior Stanley Burrell, who said he was eager to guard Collison, rebounded from a four-point, five-foul output Thursday against Western Kentucky to have 19 points and five assists.
Yet UCLA Coach Ben Howland put the net around the neck of fourth-year junior Josh Shipp, who was the only starter not to score in double figures.
"He deserved it," Howland said.
It was a jump stop and an assist to Love by Shipp that, Howland said, "made me smile."
Howland said he appreciated Shipp's equanimity in handling criticism of his own game and of the team's underwhelming wins over Texas A&M and Western Kentucky.
Photo Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times
And the more the idiots in the MSM put pressure on him the harder I feel like rooting for him. JS didn't make his treys last night. But it didn't matter. He was attacking the rim. He was slashing inside, stopping and finding his team-mates (as Coach Howland alluded to in that comment), and doing his part to contribute to our lock down defense. Not much more you can ask from a kid to embrace his role as a team player, and doing what he can to support the efforts of more prolific scoring team-mates.
While Coach Howland once again pushed the right button after a game singling out Shipp, DC gave us a hint on how he and his team-mates will run through the wall (if asked to) for their head coach:
"He's been a great coach and he's been striving [for] us to be the best players we can possibly be, and it's not going to stop from here. I'm pretty sure it's going to continue on in the future because of how he is. And the thing I like about him, he's so competitive; he's like one of us. There are some coaches out there who are worried about coaching, but you can look at him as a player as well because it's almost like he's out there with us on the court."
Photo Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times
DC was of course back with a vengeance after his disappointing performance against WKY. He had to endure pressure from the local MSM and pre game talking from Xavier guard Stanley Burrell.
Guess who got him a little fired up and got him in the right frame of mind?
But Collison's teammates, and Bruins coach Ben Howland, said Collison used Burrell's comments as motivation heading into top-seeded UCLA's 76-57 defeat of the third-seeded Musketeers in Saturday's West Regional final of the NCAA Tournament at US Airways Center.
"I definitely think so," UCLA wing Josh Shipp said. "(Burrell) called him out. He definitely heard that and wanted to prove him wrong."
Collison, who was averaging 14.7points and shooting 51.5 percent from 3-point range, scored 19points. He made all three of his 3-point attempts and had an NCAA Tournament-best five assists.
By the second half, Burrell was shifted off Collison.
"I thought it was real cute," Collison said.
Included in what Burrell said was: "I'm not going to be laying back so he can take his time and find who's open," and, "I'm looking forward to slowing him down and holding him below his average and making the game tough on him, like I've done to a lot of players this year."
Howland made sure Collison was given an Internet printout of the story.
"I appreciated that in the paper," Howland said. "It was very helpful. I handed it to him in the morning. We're always looking for something."
Speaking of taking care of business, I guess Dohn will have to find another subject matter besides obsessing over the status of LRMAM's ankle. As mentioned in the LAT report (linked above) LRMAM told everyone the day before his ankle "felt better." And he backed it up all over the court. Finally we saw what almost a 100 percent Luc could do to an opposing team. He was a menace around the boards, and ferocious in defense. What I loved about LRMAM's game was how he didn't force any bad shots. IIRC he basically took couple of jumpers that were within the flow of the game. He made one of them. He made his impact in the game by sticking to his strength, which is to fly around the boards, hang out in the paint, and just make his presence fell with his speed and athleticism anchoring our ferocious defense. He was beautiful to watch.
As for RW I am going to say this: I think the kid can play better. May be I am sounding like an overly demanding brother/parent here. But as good as RW was yesterday, I think he can be better. I think RW needs to settle down a bit when he goes out on fast breaks and also instead of thinking of going right to the bucket in face of a press, he needs to develop his court vision a little better in terms of looking for his open team-mates. Again, I am making this observation not to put down his effort, because I think his effort was pivotal in locking up our win. I just think he can play much better (and smarter). I think given his performance in the tourney to date it would probably make a lot of people rethink his status as a potential high first round pick and unless he absolutely blows up (w/o forcing the action) in San Antonio, he might be better serve to come back as the center piece of a potentially explosive squad (even w/o KL and DC) next year. But hey we will address that issue another day. Like I said after all that I still appreciated his effort and it goes to show the explosive potential this kid has considering I think he can play even better.
Which brings me to KL. Well there is not much to say here. We are about to enter into our last game week with KL at UCLA. And no matter how much we selfishly implore and wish he come back for one more year, it will not happen. So once again I urge all of you just to soak this experience with KL in a UCLA uniform all in. Steve Dilbeck on how the freshman has lived up to all of our expectations, yet still maintaining his focus on the ultimate prize:
And Love lived up to every expectation. On a veteran team with several players who have been on two Final Four teams, he emerged as its leading scorer, rebounder and a leader.
"I didn't necessary know I was going to be that guy," he said. "But I've been prepared my whole life to be that, just because since I started playing organized basketball I thought the center or power forward was always going to be the guy that's getting the ball.
"I feel like I'm an unselfish player. My teammates know if they throw it in, I'm not going to be a black hole."
The son of former NBA player and Oregon star Stan Love, he has constantly displayed a coolness and maturity well beyond his 19 years.
Despite the expectations he will declare for the NBA after the season, he appears keenly focused on the immediate UCLA task at hand.
"I came here to win," Love said. "It feels great to be going to the Final Four, but like everyone's mentioned who's been here the past couple years, we have some unfinished business."
Once we find out who our opponent is this afternoon, we are going to start zero in on them. We will treat them with respect but without any shred of fear or nervousness. We know if our boys come out and play Ben Ball, we are going to be all right. But there is absolutely no need for screwing with karma by talking trash and attacking other teams (and fans). So if you are a member of BN, please don't go to other teams' boards and show any sign of disrespect.
Just listen to our coaches and players and you will get all the cues necessary to get in the right frame of mind.
Oh and don't forget to enjoy this. We are more than blessed to experience what we are going through under Ben Howland, Coach Wooden's rightful heir in Westwood.