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Ben Ball Gameday Roundup: Playing Smart

While lot of us have been basking from the afterglow of tremendous effort against the mediocre Stadard, Ben Ball warriors don't have a lot of time to get complacent. They get to come back in action later this afternoon against possibly their toughest challenge in the Pac-10.

ASU comes into Pauley this afternoon around 3:45 pm following a tough loss against the Trojans on Thursday night. It's not much of secret of who the Bruins will have to stop to get the job done this afternoon. James Harden , the leading scorer in the conference was limited to 4 pts on Thursday night. Coach Howland warned that we can't probably bet on the superstar not have two tough games in a row. From the LA Times:

"He's not going to have another game like that," Howland said.

"This guy's a great player. This guy is a lottery pick in the NBA."

Even with the subpar night against USC, Harden remains the Pacific 10 Conference scoring leader at 21.9 points a game.

USC guarded him with Daniel Hackett who, according to Howland, did a good job of face-guarding and denying him the ball. Harden took only eight shots.

Howland said he had decided on a strategy for defending the Sun Devils but did not give too many details.

Well, in terms of strategy I am not sure whether Coach Howland will draw up something super special. He usually plays it straight up and doesn't resort to junk defenses that we see from Tim Floyd. As the Times notes we will probably see Howland throw a combination of defenders against Harden:

The coach mentioned Josh Shipp and Jrue Holiday, Malcolm Lee and Michael Roll.

"It will be a multitude of guys," he said.

While on the offensive side, Ben Ball warriors can expect 40 mins zone defense from ASU, which probably is the best in conference in playing against that kind of zone:

Arizona State figures to play 40 minutes of zone defense, which doesn't exactly bother the Bruins.

One of UCLA's two early season losses came against Michigan with its 1-3-1 defense, but the coaches and players say they have learned.

"We've improved in that area as the season has progressed," Howland said. "I think the guys are very comfortable."

UCLA shot almost 60% against Arizona's zone defense Thursday night.

The problem is ASU is not a mediocre basketball team like Arizona. As DC noted to Brian Dohn ASU is better at attacking up top when playing zone:

"By now, me, Josh and Alfred should know how to attack a zone and screen and how to get good shots against a zone," Collison said. "Now, I really like playing against a zone. I think ASU's zone is a little bit better (than Arizona's) because they pressure on the top. We'll see how it goes. We had a lot of preparation against the zone so we should be all right."

Hopefully our wings - JS, ND, and MR - will continue to exhibit the same level of comfort in making that extra pass and attack the rim like they have been in last few games. Patience one against will be paramount against a very well coached Wildcats team.

In terms of of reaching a comfort zone Dohn noted our freshmen are feeling good:

Jrue Holiday is the starting shooting guard and brings poise, nifty court vision and instinctive rebounding and defense to the Bruins; Drew Gordon, the backup center, brings instant energy. He has the ability to block shots and rebound.

Meanwhile, Howland lauded the recent play of freshman guard Malcolm Lee by comparing him to Westbrook, the No. 4 pick in the last NBA draft.

"The thing I like about this team is we have depth. ... I like the depth," Howland said. "We're two-deep at every spot right now, and three(-deep) at (center). That's a good problem to have as a coach.

Hopefully these guys continue to play smart, stay patient, and play within themselves. Speaking of playing smart another huge game from AA2 as he will be going against the cream of the corp among Pac-10 bigs for the third straight game v. Pendergraph. So far AA2 has just fine in his first two tests v. Gibson and Hill. He needs to continue his tenacity against the experienced Pendergraph who also like Hardin has the capability of exploding around the paint. Same goes for JK and DG who will need to make sure they are securing every single rebounding opportunity coming their way against the 'Devils. Also, keep an eye out of JM as interestingly the LAT report (linked above) notes that the young freshman who has been dealing with a nagging groin injury has had "couple of impressive practices" this week.

Staying with playing smart theme, the LAT has an interesting article on the mentality of playing defense and getting steals. The Bruins are leading the conference in steals avergaing 8.9 per game. Yet as the article noted Coach Howland is not necessarily a huge fan of just focusing on steals if it comes at the expense of hurting team defense:

[H]oliday said that Howland has impressed on him and fellow freshman Jerime Anderson that they need to be smart about taking chances.

"I think he harps on us the most about that," Holiday said.

There are times when Holiday feels almost certain he can make a steal but chooses to play it safe, the operative word being almost.

"I might be guarding the best shooter," he said. "If I gamble and miss and he gets it, it's automatic points."

Each choice must be weighed in terms of system and situation.

"When you're playing just straight-up [defense], you don't necessarily want to reach or go for the home-run steal," Collison said. "Because if one person breaks down, everybody else is going to break down."

It's another matter when the Bruins double-team in the post or on the perimeter, which they like to do. With the ball handler under duress, the other three defenders watch for an errant pass.

"It comes about by playing pressure defense and playing hard," Howland said. "Guys look at that as an opportunity."

An opportunity that suits a small, quick team hungry to run.

We get to see the Ben Ball warriors run this afternoon starting around 12:45 pm. It's a nationally televised game on CBS. We will have the game threa up about 30 mins before tip off. See you then.