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Ben Ball Roundup: Going Inside

We have discussed endleslly here about the need for our guys to attack the basket and go inside. Well Coach Howland is emphasizing the need for attacking the basket this week during practices:

The Bruins are out of first place in the Pac-10 after losing two of their last three games. The culprit has been second-half scoring droughts, which Howland attributes to an inability to get inside scoring.

He is encouraging the guards to get the ball inside this week.

"It's hard to argue when you're shooting 42 percent as a team (from 3-point range), but we need to get more opportunities at the foul line," Howland said. "That means attacking the basket and driving more."

In the two losses, to Arizona State and Washington, UCLA took 23 foul shots to 60 for the opposition. The Arizona State game was at home.

His two starting guards - DC and JH - struck the same notes in the LA Times:

The offense has ground to a halt late in games and, in three of UCLA's four losses, the opponent has shot more free throws. The Bruins, who are among the Pac-10 leaders in three-point shooting, said they need to attack the basket.

They have talked about doing that before, but Collison said: "We're all human beings and we don't do things unless it really pushes your buttons. I think [losing] is really pushing this team's buttons."

UCLA will spend the week practicing better spacing to create more open lanes and angles to pass into the post. Howland, who dismissed questions about his team's conditioning down the stretch, would like to see Holiday get to the line more often.

The freshman said a change in technique might help.

"When we drive, we usually jump-stop," Holiday said. "Maybe we should stop trying to look for the pass. If you have a shot or you have a big man on you, try to jump into him, try to create contact."

It will be interesting to see whether they can pull that off against Montgomery's Bears on Thursday night. I think lot will depend on DC and JH being extra aggressive. Both of those guys are instinctively are unselfish ball players who are always looking to set up their team-mates. Yet they both have the capability of taking it to the rack. In fact I rather have them driving to the hoop than JS (who turned the ball over multiple times in his attempt to drive inside). We need these guys along with ML to use their natural athletic talents to create their own shots and give our team an extra dimension beyond just shooting well from three point line.

Speaking of ML, we will need our bench to step up this week as well:

"We just need the bench players to contribute so that we stay fresh throughout the course of the game," Bruins center Alfred Aboya said. "Fatigue has shown up in the second half of the last few games that we played."

UCLA's starting five - Aboya, senior point guard Darren Collison, freshman shooting guard Jrue Holiday, senior wing Josh Shipp and junior power forward Nikola Dragovic - are each averaging more minutes in Pacific-10 Conference play than in nonconference play.

Furthermore, in the past three games, which includes an overtime loss to Arizona State, the Bruins' starting five are each averaging at least three minutes more per game than previous 16 games.

In the past three games, Collison has played 113 of a possible 125 minutes, Shipp has averaged 35.6 minutes and Holiday has averaged 31.3 minutes.

It doesn't help that in two of the past three games, the only bench players to score were Michael Roll and James Keefe, and there were also a number of blown defensive assignments.

"Playing 32 minutes versus playing 38 or 39 would definitely help," Shipp said. "You can be a lot fresher out there on the floor. It's a trust thing. Guys have to come in and work hard, and coach (Ben Howland) has to be able to trust them."

They can earn that trust by focusing on defense first. I think one of the most important factors to keep an eye on Thursday night will be to mark how our defense responds from its anemic performances (especially during the second halves) of last three games. They are going to be matching up against one of the better offenses in the conference featuring the most deadly three point attack. The Bears are shooting 3 pts at an unreal rate (.469, Bruins are second at .382). They are also leading the conference in overall FG pct (.497) as well. So given what has transpired last three games, Montgomery is going to be chomping at the bits to test the Bruin defense at Pauley (a place where Monty ruled taking advantage of the Lavin years). Hopefully our warriors, including the ones on bench step up to the challenge and respond in a big way.