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Continuing Our Ben Ball Discussion: DG's Challenge, Combinations & Interesting Times

Reading through the all observations and analysis from last few days following the Washington game has been fun. As excruciating as the loss was from Saturday afternoon it is still a lot of fun (at least for me) to read through all the incredible thoughtful commentary and detailed analysis we have seen popping up on the home page, fanposts and comments section of this amazing community. I think what Achilles wrote yesterday am is worth highlighting again:

Usually, on Sunday after a Saturday loss I skip the sports section and head straight for the business section. (I've spent the last six football seasons tossing the sports page.) But yesterday, for some reason, I picked up the pages and read the game story, read the side notes and checked the box score.

It occurred to me: Everything is copacetic. I'm okay with this team.

I don't mind riding the roller coaster.

Believe me, I'm not polyanna, Howland-can-do-no-wrong sycophant. I believe this team is flawed. Some of the criticism being leveled by the unlevel-headed has a grain of truth to it. Some of the chagrin is manifested in real, on court deficiencies.

Yet, I'm okay with this team.

I find this team interesting. I fascinated (and frustrated) by Howland's attempts to find the right combinations on the court, I'm intrigued by what I see as his reluctanct admittance that he must play guys like Malcolm Lee and Drew Gordon more if he wants to maximize the potential of this year's model.

To be honest with you I also read through the Sunday reports this weekend as well but didn't feel like doing my usual big picture roundup because I felt like blinkshot and Class of 66 pretty much articulated what I was feeling and sensing about this team. Although must say in the case of blinkshot he took his analysis to whole another level. Still I thought that even though these comments from DG are now more than 2 days old, they are worth highlighting on the frontpage (since we haven't gotten around to it yet):

"Right now we just don't have enough heart," said Gordon, UCLA's freshman center. "Basically, it's what it boils down to. We run our plays, execute, but the other team wants it more. We're definitely going to have to fix that, and I think this game is a true wake-up call to bounce back and hopefully get a little more hungry.

"We're just going on reputation."

I am still chewing over those comments from DG challenging his team-mates.

No doubt they were eye popping especially coming from a freshman in a team that features three senior starters. You know who those comments reminded me of? Those comments reminded me Ed O's outbursts following our pathetic loss against Cal at Pauley during 1994-95 season (and also after the Tulsa game in the 1994 NCAA tournament). The main difference here of course was Ed O was an established upperclassmen and the unquestioned leader at the time he would bark in frustration after agonizing losses. Okay, in some way those comments are also we used to hear from AA in recent years following tough, gut wrenching rare losses.

DG's comments stood out because I think there were many of us feeling those sentiments inside (and this is coming from one of the most ardent followers and believers of Ben Ball warriors) in last few games. I was hoping we saw those kinds of comments from either DC or JS or AA2 but I guess DG will have to do. I am not worried about the comments disrupting our team chemistry because I don't think CBH would have made DG available for post game interviews without having any idea on what his freshman was going to say (someone like CBH who has command and control over all details of his program would probably had a good idea on what DG was feeling after the game). I get the sense that DG was sending a message on behalf of CBH.

The question is how will the team respond. The guy that I am actually looking at most is JK. As happy as I am about ND's emergence as a scoring option this year, I am not sure if he is the viable and long term solution at the 4 spot. I think while ND is threat from the outside interms of defense and rebounding, JK has more upside. I also get the sense that JK has played with a sense of urgency in last couple of games. He has showed as much hustle as anyone around the boards. He also made solid contributions on the offensive end against Washington State. He provides a better scoring option on point blank opportunies than someone like AA2. So with that in mind why not think about putting (not necessarily starting) JK at 5 and DG at 4. It could all depend on lineups. Against faster teams Howland could switch ND to 3 and move over JS to 2 (interchanging with JH as Meriones suggested below).

I think one of the issues we have with this year's team we don't have a player who can do everything well. We have good players who each bring something special to the table. So I think the trick for Howland if possible is to have a flexible lineup that optimizes our best matchup depending on our opponent.

Also, speaking of JH, he offered up the following comments after Saturday's loss:

"I don't think we finish out in the second half," Holiday said. "For some reason, we always let teams back in the game. I don't know if it's we feel comfortable with the lead and just back off or what. We just become stagnant (offensively). We don't move. We don't play the same way we do in the first half."

Well there is no need to hash out our second half numbers again. I think we all collectively have to lay off JH a bit. Lot of folks expected him to step right in and emerge as the defensive stopper ala AA and RW. Yet we need to remember it took both AA and RW to emerge as the defensive stars in this program. We have to give JH time like many other superstar freshmen in college (again not everyone can be a KL who can just come into college and dominate like he did). I firmly believe JH will be a star at UCLA, but we just have to give him some room.

It will be interesting how the team reacts on Thursday night. I think we can now all agree that defense is the primary concern re. this year's team. Well that defense will be severely tested against one of the better offenses in the Pac-10 on Thursday night. Despite their recent setback against Oregon State Monty is coming in with a rising Cal team as he is getting the most out of talent left over by Ben Braun. We will have more on Cal before Thursday night but suffice to say it will be a war in Pauley. Can't wait to see how our guys come out and respond following the tough loss from Saturday. Hopefully the team will come out and respond to the challenge laid down by DG. I am also curious to see whether CBH tries out any new combinations against the Bears. Like A said yesterday this year's Ben Ball warriors are keeping it "interesting." That's part of the fun. Right?