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More Thoughts From The Oregon Trail

Let’s build on 66’s game notes from yesterday afternoon’s victory, which following the entire first weekend of Pac-10 action is looking even better. Bruins pulled out a huge win thanks to steady and clutch leadership from their nucleus of seniors. They came through in a tough situation despite not playing up to their usual standards of Ben Ball in the department of defense and rebounding.

I will start with JS. What can you say about him? The kid has been so maligned by number of Bruin fans and also subjected to constant psychoanalysis by concern trolls in the traditional media re. his three point shooting. We were hearing some of that whining from Marques Johnson himself early on when he was wondering when JS would step up. Well stepped up he did in a pressure packed situation when rest of his team-mates were looking a little out of sync to start the second half. From the LA Times game report:

Shipp, who came into the game shooting 21% on three-pointers, made three from long range in the last 10 minutes. Dragovic, at 20%, made a critical three-pointer after the Ducks drew close.

"If you're a good player, you love those situations," Shipp said. "When it's the loudest and you have the most adversity, you see what type of player you are."

Also from the Daily News:

"This is a great gym to shoot in, and (Shipp) made big shots," Howland said. "He is that type of kid. He feeds off the energy to quiet a crowd with a big shot. He's been doing that since I've coached him. He enjoys that. That's his personality."

Shipp acknowledged he took pleasure in quieting the hostile fans.

"I've always had to prove people wrong, so when the crowd gets hectic, you want to silence them," Shipp said. "You want to show them that you are good, and you can knock down shots at that time."

JS was money (like he has been in number of other clutch situations over his Ben Ball careers) knocking down one clutch shots after another. If anything he vindicated Howland re. why he has entrusted his senior (and one of the cornerstones of his first recruiting class) with starting position in this team. In addition to JS, ND came through some clutch shots and Coach Howland is hoping both JS and ND’s shooting were good omen for rest of the season:

"This is how I expected (Dragovic) and Josh to shoot," UCLA coach Ben Howland said. "This is a good omen for us. I really believe in them, and I'm not surprised between the two of them they're 8for12. That's a huge stat."

Both players were in 3-for-18 slumps, Shipp during a five-game period, and Dragovic in the past seven games.

"I hope this is a breakthrough game for them," said UCLA senior center Alfred Aboya, who scored 12 points. "I hope they'll start shooting well from now on. It boosts our confidence that we can set a screen for them at any time and they'll be able to make that shot."

Hopefully yesterday’s performance will give ND some much needed confidence. Still from what I saw yesterday it seems like he still needs to get a little more comfortable and fluid in his shots.

One guy who doesn’t need to get any more comfortable is our senior pg and the unquestioned floor leader of this team. DC had a fantastic game. He was in total control down the stretch and ICE from the FT line (more on that below). Given all the excitement around our freshmen and emergence of MR,  DC has been somewhat under the radar this season. At least to date. Yet, he is quietly putting together the kind of senior season, justifying his selection as a first team pre-season All American. Right now at least from what I have seen at least in my (homerific) mind he is clearly playing at the level way above everyone else.

Howland showed an interesting look at the backcourt yesterday afternoon. Before heading up to Oregon he hinted at the idea of shifting ND to the wing and putting DC and JA on the court at the same time. Well we saw DC and JA on the court at the same yesterday and it seemed to work out pretty well in the first half. JA looked as composed a freshman pg as Edney did in 91. He looked at ease handling the rock and showed no hesitation in knocking down a 3 point shot.

Rye also brought up the point during the game thread that an interesting look would be to move MR to 2 and shift JH to 3. I like that idea because MR is as good as anyone in the team in terms of getting ball movement going and JH can potentially be explosive at the wing.

I really liked our FT shooting yesterday. I was biting my nails when both DG and AA2 came up the lines in the second half. They went 4 for 4. There is not much to add re. DC's FT shooting at this point except for the fact that it drives me up the wall when announcers mention it right before he takes clutch shots as if they are intentionally trying to jinx him. lol As a team we shot 20 of 23 from FT line in one of the more rowdy arenas in the West. Simply an outstanding effort in that department given the problems we were having earlier in the season.

Speaking of shooting not sure whether Pac-10 teams and others around the country will reconsider the strategy of throwing zones against us. MR is scorching hot. DC is just DC shooting his usual 50 percent from behind the arc. JS is now a threat to go off any night.  JA is increasingly getting confident. JH, ND, and JK are doing their best to take their shots from within the flow of the offense (actually our entire team has been doing a solid job in being selecting with their shots which became glaringly clear in Tajuan Porter's flailing long shots during crunch time). So, it will be interesting to see how much zone we are going to see from here on out.

The glaring stat from last night's game was offensive rebounding. The Ducks rebounded the Bruins by 13 to 5. They were getting way too many second chances in the second half to keep them alive in a game in which they were limited to less than 40 percent shooting to close the second half. One of the explanations here is our front court – AA2, JK and DG – were plagued with foul trouble due to some horrific (and not so unusual) SPTRing throughout the whole game [See 66’s Game Notes for more on the SPTRs]. Our bigs became tentative down the stretch. Here were AA2’s thoughts re. his foul problems in the Daily News:

In the locker room after the 12th-ranked Bruins beat Oregon 83-74 Sunday at McArthur Court, Howland spoke with Aboya about the importance of staying on the court and off the bench because of the Bruins' lack of center depth.

"It was a physical game," Howland said. "We talked about it after the game. This is the first time all year, and we want it to be the last time, that's for sure."

Aboya finished with 12 points and four rebounds, and played 28 minutes, nearly three above his season average. However, he was limited to 11 minutes in the second half.

When Aboya fouled out with 2:44 to play, Howland did not go to freshman Drew Gordon. Instead, power forward James Keefe moved to center.

"I really don't know what happened," Aboya said. "I thought the game was called really tight at the beginning. I have to make the adjustment now. Going into the game, fouling is always the first thing for me. I've done a great job so far, but (Sunday) wasn't the same."

AA2 and rest of his frontcourt team-mates will have to make some adjustments (without sacrificing their defensive intensity) because it’s a good bet yesterday was not the last time we will see SPTRing this season.

Still from what I was seeing I thought the Ducks were more active than our entire team in the second half. It seemed like they wanted it more in the way they were battling for boards and our guys were also finding themselves out of position. I am going to guess one of the points of emphasis in practices during this entire week (since we don't have a Thursday game) will be getting our guys in the right position and also work on securing the rebounds. It will be key against a Southern Cal team with a decent front court featuring 40 year old Taj Gibson.

Also as mentioned earlier, we need to work on coming out with more focus and sense of urgency in the second half. We took a lead against Michigan in first half but then let them get back in it and then win the game at MSG. Oregon State made a 6-0 run to start the second half on Thursday night and Oregon torched our D right out of the gate in second half last night to make the game a nail biter. Not sure what the specific issue is here except for the need to focus and come out with more intensity. However, if you think there is another angle to this scheme wise that we are doing or the our opponents are doing, would love to hear that take.

We also didn’t have a good game defensively as we allowed a season high 74 points (45 of them in the second half). Defensively JH and our other guards had a tough time in the second half. JH specifically was having a brutal time with Porter's speed. His struggle yesterday was reminiscent of the trouble he was having guarding A.J. Abrams. Luckily for us Porter while being extremely fast didn't have the shooting touch for Abrams. JH was having a hard time playing on ball defense along with DC and JS. Last year in those situations we would have the luxury to have a stopper like LMRAM in the paint. Yesterday not only we were missing LMRAM we were also getting killed by our tentative frontcourt dealing with foul trouble all game.

Despite the aforementioned issues I am feeling pretty good about where we are right now. I think Coach Howland will do his best to tighten up the defense although I think we will see JH and other frosh go through some more growing pains on the defensive front. Speaking of frosh and pain, some possible good news re. ML:

UCLA freshman guard Malcolm Lee says his injured left knee is feeling better and he hopes to play against USC next Sunday.

Though Lee accompanied the team on its swing through Oregon this weekend, he did not suit up.

He is scheduled to meet with a doctor today.

Lee initially suffered the injury in practice.

An MRI exam showed no serious damage but the pain lingered.

Now, he said he expected to be cleared to resume practicing early this week.

"It's feeling a lot better," Lee said. "I want to start playing again."

Hopefully ML will be ready to go on Sat.

We will have tough game coming up this Sat against a JustSC bunch who will be treating this game as their Final-4. We will need to come out with the same aggressiveness and intensity we showed against the Oregon teams, but we will have to work on sustaining that focus and keep our focus and poise for the entire 40 mins. Can't wait till the next game. It will be a long week till tip off.