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Building On A Good Start

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Let’s build on Tele’s highlights and other great comments/observations from last night’s Pac-10 opener. It was good for our Bruins (I am still amused by Tracy Murray's reference to “Ben Ball warriors” at the very beginning of the post game Bruin show) to come out so strong early on against an inspired and fired up Oregon State bunch right from the tip off. Coach Howland was pleased with how the Bruins controlled the tempo of the game right from the outset:

"I'm just glad with the way we showed up to start the game," UCLA coach Ben Howland said. "I thought our first half, the defensive intensity and we really shared the ball. I thought we controlled the game right from the outset."

I think what the start of last night’s game showed was the specific benefits from the way Howland sets up his out of conference schedule every year. Again this year we heard what is now becoming routine bickering and complaining from few high maintenance/whiny message board fans and usual concern trolls in Southern California traditional media about Howland not scheduling high profile programs for their entertainment in Pauley. Yet last night showed how the experience a team with five freshmen gained against playing a number of teams featuring zone defenses paid off against a conference opener that specialized in various forms of zone defenses.

By last night’s game even freshman warriors such as DG were well drilled in attacking the zone and did it with gusto:

 “We pretty much picked apart the weaknesses in the zone," forward Drew Gordon said. "You've got to flash middle, make sure the backside's open, the skip pass is always open too."

More from Brian Dohn on how the Ben Ball warriors picked apart the zone Ds:

The Beavers' methodical approach on offense nor its 1-3-1 zone defense did anything to challenge the Bruins, who led 18-4 less than eight minutes into the first half and made six of their first nine shots from 3-point range.

"Every day we've been going against zone, trying to get better," Roll said. "There's more focus on it this year. We're starting to figure it out doing it every day. A lot of us can drive, a lot of us can shoot. We were hitting threes right away, and it's tough for a team to play zone when we're knocking down shots like that."

If the Bruins weren't making the 3-pointer, it was layups or chip shots as they built a big lead. Josh Shipp's 3-pointer put UCLA ahead 13-4, and after a Collison basket, Jrue Holiday made a 3 to push the Bruins lead to 18-4.

Roll capped the early 3-point barrage, connecting on consecutive possessions as UCLA increased its lead to 26-8 with 9:39 left before the break.  […]

When Oregon State extended its zone to shut down the outside shooting, the Bruins picked it apart with pump fakes and nifty passes.

There was also a backdoor alley-oop for a Holiday dunk.

"When (the defense) gets out so high, it opens the middle and we can attack," Roll said. "All of us make that extra pass. We're willing to do that because that person will be more open."

MR was on fire last night going 4 for 4 from the 3 pt line, shooting 6 for 7 overall. It was amusing to hear Marques surprised to see MR not being limited to connecting with his long bombs, but also taking his man off the dribble and driving to the rack. Yes, Marques MR can drive to when he finds some space. If you have been watching every game, shouldn’t be much of a surprise.

Anyway,  perhaps it’s way too early but I am starting to sense a certain sense of “chemistry” around this team I didn’t sense around previous teams so early in the season. This team seems even more unselfish than a typical Ben Howland coached basketball teams. They really seemed to be enjoying playing with each other.  Here is DC in the AP recap (via PE.com):

"I think we have a lot more chemistry that we've had in the last three or four years," Collison said. "We have a lot better shooters, we've got way better passers than last year. This team seems to be clicking."

And in the LA Times:

"Nobody cares who gets the most points. We just want to keep winning."

That brings us to some of the snap comments following last night’s game with demands of starting DG over JK (just like all those demands of starting MR over JS during the Holidays). DG had another fantastic game off the bench providing a jolt with 11 points (making all of his 4 FG attempts) and 4 boards. He is emerging as a terror around the rim reminding many of us of LMR, except DG is lot more polished and athletic.

In contrast JK had an anemic start to last night’s game. He missed a layup, picked up an offensive foul early on and was in foul trouble most of the game. ND wasn’t all that batter when he came in although he did take a nice charge (AA2 style) and had nice pass to JA. Still at least for last night DG had a better game than both of those two and Coach Howland allocated his mins accordingly as DG piled up more mins (16) than both JK (15) and ND (13). So does that mean Howland should install DG as the starter at 4? Uhm no. bucknellbruin as usual is on point:

[E]xperience and leadership that’s what Keefe provides, and that’s what Howland values along with defense. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see DG get some more PT. But Gordon is a freshmen that’s played a dozen games in his career. Keefe has a full season under his belt and until BH feels comfortable relying on DG to play a bigger role, Keefe will continue to start. I trust Howland’s judgment with this one.

Also, DG’s being used as the backup center. Having your backup center start at PF probably isn’t the best idea.

However, if JM can get more acclimated to the college game (and become the backup center), I can see DG starting down the road.

And more sanity from bruinponcho:

Comparing stats between JK and DG is misleading b/c JK is playing with the aforementioned starters where he isn’t a focal point of the offense and DG has had the majority of his minutes in mop up duty against inferior opponents.

Barring some terrible slump, I think the inertia of JK being the starter (it would probably hurt him psychologically to be dumped to the bunch) will keep JK as the starter for the rest of the year. However, I definitely see DG’s minutes increasing as the year goes on with JK and ND’s minutes decreasing slightly to where they play about the same amount (hopefully with ND and his “questionable” decision making being the third option).

I would add that I hope JK starts feeling some pressure from DG. I have to say I was expecting a little more from JK from what I have seen from him this season. I think we need him to me lot more aggressive, physical and show the mentality that makes up and competitive and ferocious Ben Ball warriors. We saw some of that from JK during the Pac-10 tourney and March Madness last season but haven’t seen it yet this year. Hopefully he gets into it very soon. Meantime, ND needs to stop jacking up those bombs that looks forced and not within the flow of the game. Otherwise, I think we will see more mins from DG in the coming games.

So, no doubt there is more room from improvement with our young team.

"We're playing OK. We have a lot to improve on," he said. "It's better than I expected this early in the season."

That was from JH who had a good game defensively as he was assigned with containing Calvin Hayes, OSU’s most dangerous weapon. JH held him to 6 of 14 shooting for 16 points. Not too bad.

Speaking of room for improvement, I think we will need to do a better job of sustaining our defensive intensity rest of this season. As much as I loved the intensity out of the gate, the second half was not all that pretty and kind of disappointing. I wish we had come out with more urgency to start the second half and not allow the Beavers to make a 6-0 run. We eventually cranked up the defensive intensity and put the game out of that reach but taking the foot of the gas pedal like that could cost us against more talented opponents down the road. I am sure Coach Howland and his staff will be all over that point in private. For more on the game from the Beaver pov check out Jake’s takes at Building the Dam (who was also as amused as some of us where in FSN's attempts to educate us re. the familial connections of the new Oregon State head coach).

As for us I will repeat our mantra again since we seemed to have a lot of new friends here on BN from our first here. Here we do live by the idea of taking one game at a time. I think at this point of time it’s fruitless to look ahead and think about conference/national implications. All of our focus should be on the next game and next game only.

For those wanting to jump in, we’d love to hear your takes on Oregon Ducks and offer up your thoughts on their personnel/schemes and our match-ups against them. If you have quick (informed) thoughts there is the comment thread. For more detailed takes fire up them up in the FanPosts. There is all the FanShots if you want to share quick links/videos on our next opponent. On the frontpage here on BN we are not going to pay much attention to what other Pac-10 teams are doing (unless someone takes specific shot at UCLA that’s worth commenting on) and keep the focus on our Ben Ball warriors and their next opponent. Time for all of us – not just the team – to lock in.

We are now in the thick of Ben Ball warrior season.  LETS GO.

GO BRUINS.