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One Game At A Time

I am still having a hard time calming down from this:

Photo Credit:AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian (via ESPN)

You are looking at the two leading scorers from last night who ignited yet another Howlandian comeback that will be etched in our brains for rest of our lives.

Coach Howland becomes the first coach in the post-Wooden era for winning 3 straight Pac-10 title. I misspoke last night (too tired and exhausted) when I wrote this is the first time since the days of Coach Wooden UCLA has won 3 Pac-10 titles in a row. Of course I should have remembered that we won the titles during 94-95, 95—96, and 96-97 season. Then again I have done what I can to expunge the records from 97-02 from my brain for obvious reasons.

Anyway, back to present. What a game. The topline post game notes from Richard Perelman at What’s Bruin:

>> The Bruins led for a total of 19 seconds in regulation, at 2-0 to 2-2. That was it. But an 18-7 run at the end of regulation got the Bruins even, including four free-throws in the final 18 seconds to tie the game at 63-63. UCLA shot 50% in the second half and made 11-13 foul shots, outrebounded Stanford, 17-13, and had only two turnovers.

>> In overtime — UCLA's first of the season — the Stanford bubble burst after the teams missed the first five shots combined until a Luc Richard Mbah A Moute dunk gave UCLA a 65-63 lead with 2:48 to go. Then after a Brook Lopez basket tied it, a Darren Collison follow after rebounding his own miss, a Mbah A Moute steal and Russell Westbrook's lay-in gave the Bruins a 69-65 lead with 1:13 to go and they were never headed. Westbrook had seven of UCLA's 14 points in the extra period.

>> For the game, Collison ended up with 24 on 9-16 shooting, followed by Westbrook with 19, Kevin Love with 17 (and 10 rebounds) and Mbah A Moute, who had a crucial 10 points and led the team with 11 rebounds. The Bruins shot 45.2% for the game from the field and were an ordinary 16-24 from the foul line. UCLA held Stanford to 45.3% from the floor and closed the rebound gap to 38-36 by game's end after being -7 at the half.

>> UCLA continues its streak of winning every game in which it has scored 70 or more points, now 20-0, and remains undefeated on weekdays at 18-0.

>> Most important, the Bruins will be the top seed in the Pac-10 Tournament next week at Staples Center and have an opportunity to stay in the West for up to four rounds of the NCAA Tournament.
I think as far being the top seed is concerned if we can come out and take care of business on Saturday and then win at least one game in the Pac-10 tournament we should be all set. But we will talk about Cal game later tonight or tomorrow am. We still need to clear our heads from the magical night at Pauley.

The magical night however had an ugly beginning. Bruins were horrifiying in the first half. If I have my notes right they shot around 32% making only 7 of their 22 FG attempts while uncharacteristically (in terms of this season) clanking away from the FT line.

The thing that was most disconcerting about the first half was the two guys pictured above – DC and RW – were not being very decisive and aggressive offensively. To be honest I was getting frustrated because it seemed like there was a little bit too much dribbling going around the perimeter without looking to create options for himself or his team-mates. In other words they seemed a little intimidated early on from driving to the basket.

I will never second guess Coach Howland for any strategic decisions. However, the one thought that was going through my mind was about switching DC to 2 and have RW handle the point. To me it seems if DC is our best 3 point threat, then why not have RW handle the point and have him set DC up for long range bombs?

Anyway, as good as Stanford was (and they were awesome and better than us for most of the night – more on that below), we knew deep in the back of our mind (if you are an old school 49ers fan going back to those Joe Montana days, you know that late 3rd quarter feeling) we were going to make some runs. And sure enough the runs came. Brian Dohn details the second half madness after Cards took a 14 pt (32-18) lead early in the second half:
Love kickstarted a 7-0 run with a 3-pointer from the right side and Russell Westbrook scored a basket before a pair of free throws by Love.

The Bruins then cut the deficit to two points with Collison made a 3-pointer in the left corner and was fouled by Mitch Johnson. His free throw made it 45-43 with 9:50remaining, and was the closest the Bruins were since 4-2 in the opening minutes.

But again, Stanford was able to weather the rally, first with Johnson gathering a loose ball after a missed shot and making a 10-footer and then with Robin Lopez tipping in a missed shot to put the Cardinal ahead 50-43.

UCLA closed to 56-51 on Love's tip-in, and the freshman center than made two free throws to make it 56-53.

The Bruins trailed 60-55 when Mbah a Moute scored and was fouled with 51.1 seconds left. He missed the free throw, but Westbrook grabbed the rebound and scored to make it 60-59.

Brook Lopez made one of two free throws to make give the Cardinal a 61-59 lead with 22.7 seconds remaining.

The fouls continued as Westbrook made two free throws to tie the score, but Hill scored on a drive to give the Cardinal a 63-61 lead with 7.5 seconds left. Hill then fouled Collison with 2.5 seconds left, and Collison's free throws forced overtime.
Watching DC shooting FT reminded me of number 11 – Tyus Edney that is. He was ICE. Simply incredible. Then of course there was the stomach churning experience of watching RW shooting 2 right before those attempts: Pucin on what was going through Howland’s mind when RW took the first one:
"It was God answering my prayers," Howland said of watching Westbrook's high-bouncing free throw drop in. "I am grateful our team has now won three championships in a row in the Pac-10. This is the best the conference has been in over 25 years."
Yep. And that makes this accomplishment that much more remarkable.

Going back to DC and RW though again I hope these guys can show the same aggressiveness they did during the second half of the game for entire 40 mins. May be that’s not humanely possibly given the mins they have been logging and not getting any support from the bench. Yesterday it seemed like things turned around for us when RW started driving to the lane and DC decided to take over the game. They took it upon themselves that they were not going to be intimidated by the Stanford big guys in the paint and it led to the offensive blitz (well at least relative to the sorry output from the first half) in the decisive stages of the game. However, if we want to make a deep run in the Big Dance they will need to get going much earlier than they did last night. Otherwise, we may experience heartbreaks even before we get Phoenix (and I am not even going to bring up San Antonio).

There were a lot of people last night who gave up on us. Steve Dilbeck from the Daily News was one of them:
In truth, I thought it was over. Thought Stanford had put itself in position to nail a No. 1 NCAA seed.

Thought UCLA just wouldn't be able to pull it together.

Yet it's proving unwise to count out the Bruins.

There are times when they can almost look inept offensively. When they seem uncertain and little like one of the top teams in the country.

But even when they're at their most frustrating, they are tough. They are a veteran core with a tough 6-foot-10 center in Kevin Love. They are resilient.

Never more so than Thursday, when a Stanford team that had won 11 of its previous 12 games appeared the superior team for most of the night.
Well three years ago it was Gonzaga who appeared "superior" "most of the night." Then this year there was Oregon and … you get the picture.

Look I know I sounded harsh in the post game thread from last night. But honestly we have no problems with reasoned analysis and critiques of our coaches and players on what they need to do to get better as a team. However, it is not acceptable for infrequent posters to come in this community and do drive by, hit and run postings in the game threads to proclaim doom and gloom based one bad half. That’s just not going to fly. Besides coming down hard on a team after it has gone 27-3 and won 3 Pac-10 titles in a row (in a conference that has not been this good in 20+ years) .. well that just feeds into the "pathology of UCLA fans" narrative fed to a passive, lazy media by Steve Lavins of the world. There are talk radio shows you can call in and do that kind of nonsense. Not here.

Anyway, speaking of much to do about nothing predictably the MSM reporters are out there flailing away with this quote from DC re the last foul called in regulation. Case in point from the OC Register:
"That was a complete block," he said. "We were fortunate to get a call on that one. I heard it was a make-up call."
For their part Stanford's Hill gave a classy (and correct) response:
But Hill didn't complain. "He drew contact when he went to the basket," Hill said. "It was still on him to make the free throws."
Also a little birdie has told me via email that DC later took back any implication that it wasn’t a foul. So it will be interesting to see if we omplete quotes pop up from him.

As for the play you can watch the video courtesy of telemachus by going here:
Notice in this video the ref in the right bottom of the picture. He is signaling the foul as a hit down-low with the body. The announcers kept talking about the block being clean. That's not why the foul was called. The defensive player pushed into DC with his body, advantage-gained in the opinion of the ref.
Even so I think it’s just a little silly to complain about that one call. Because if people want to complain about the referees than we might as well take the entire game and call those guys on all the over-the-back fouls and traveling violations the zebras fail to call on the Lopez twins. Shoot we don’t have any problem doing away with the entire Pac-10 crew and replacing them with a competent bunch from another conference. Instead of 15-2, we’d probably be 17-0. So it’s just silly to go there.

Anyway, we have a long way to go. After last night’s win Bill Dwyre from the Times is out this morning calling us a "Team of Destiny".

But I am not sure if we are ready to go there yet. As we have always maintained we have to keep taking these games one at a time. Instead of worrying about hanging banner number 12 everyone should be focusing on giving Lorenzo Mata-Real, Darren Collison, and Kevin Love a perfect sendoff on Saturday.

One game at a time.