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Ben Ball Roundup: Focusing On Sun Devils

bruinponcho already fanshotted the news but in case you missed it Ben Ball warriors will have to deal with some nagging injuries heading into what will be the toughest road trip of the season (at least to date). DG and ML are little banged up while ND and DC are dealing with flu. From the reports it sounds like all of them will be ready to go but Howland as always is taking the cautious route. From Dohn's report:

UCLA backup center Drew Gordon, who is averaging 4.3 points and 3.1 rebounds in Pac-10 play, is bothered by a sore lower back. It limited his minutes against Notre Dame, and his status is uncertain for Thursdays' game.

"I'm hoping Drew Gordon is going to be able to play," Howland said. "It's going to be an up-in-the-air thing that we'll find out over the course of the next couple of days."

Gordon was injured when he was simultaneously hit on the waist and chest while trying to rebound against the Irish.

Gordon was scheduled to take part in part of Tuesday's practice, and said he planned on playing Thursday.

"In my mind it's not even an issue," Gordon said. "But (Howland) is overcautious and wants to make everyone is 100 percent."

Howland said backup guard Malcolm Lee (ankle) was expected to practice. Point guard Darren Collison and power forward Nikola Dragovic, 40 percent of the starting lineup, are suffering from flu-like symptoms.

Needless to say we are going to need everyone of those warriors to pull out a victory Thursday night. I don't really want to rehash what took place in Pauley about two weeks ago. Yet what I do believe is worth recalling is how our bench didn't to get to play a crucial role in that game. We are going to need DG, ML, MR, JA, JK and even JMM ready to step up defensively on Thursday night so there are no drop off when our starters are getting a break. As the LAT reports those guys have been stepping in last few games:

As the season progresses, the Bruins are relying more on their bench, with five reserves getting considerable playing time.

That ranges from swingman Michael Roll, averaging 18.7 minutes, to point guard Jerime Anderson, averaging 9.4, giving Collison valuable rest.

Howland says he believes that fatigue played a role in the way his team stalled down the stretch against Arizona State last month.

"Some of our starters had played too many minutes in a row," he said. "You get a diminishing return on your effort."

If nothing else, the coach said he had learned to trust his freshmen, including Anderson, Gordon and Lee.

"Guys are getting better," he said. "They have 23 games under their belts, so they're more comfortable."

I thinnk it is also worth mentioning how Howland has been methodically and deliberately bringing along his fresmen class. Players like KL and JH are special talents who get to step in and play major mins right away (even though they have go through adjustments in their own ways). For rest of the frosh it's a process to get acusstomed to the college pace and at UCLA there is also the challenge of getting use to play Ben Ball defense. Instead of tiring his freshmen out and exhausting them, Howland has brought them along methodically and now kids like JA and ML look more confident and comfortable when they are stepping on the court.

Hopefully those guys keep it up because they are going to take on a hot ASU squad on Thursday night which is coming off its four straight road win. Here are some of the notable datapoints on the SunDevils courtesy of House of Sparky (our SBN colleague covering ASU):

*Jeff Pendergraph is shooting 69-of-99 (.697) from the field in Pac-10 games and 67.6 (127-of-188) overall. The 67.6 is one of the top marks in the nation (updated NCAA statistics come out later this afternoon).

*After going 8-22 (.267) in Coach Sendek's first year, the Sun Devils are 39-18 (.684) since and giving up just 61.0 points per game in his 87 games and are second in Pac-10 in points allowed this year at 58.4 per game, best by a Sun Devil team since 1948-49 (47.6). [...]

*ASU shot .739 from the free throw line last year, the fifth-best mark in ASU history and second-best in past 21 seasons, and is shooting just above that pace this year (.741). ASU made 16-of-17 (.914) free throws at Oregon, the third-best percentage in school history with a minimum of 15 attempts.

*James Harden’s 36 points at Oregon on Thursday (Feb. 5) is the third-most in school history in a road game.

*ASU is shooting 78.2 percent from the foul line (104-of-133) in its eight road games.

*ASU held Oregon State to 13 first-half points on Saturday (Feb. 7), ASU's best first-half defensive effort since it led Oregon State 33-13 on Feb. 25, 1995.

*ASU is averaging just 9.3 turnovers in its past six contests.

Reading through those numbers you get a sense we are going to take on another well coached and extremely disciplined team that plays solid defense, shoots well from the FT line, and doesn't turn the ball over a lot. And we also know from our last game against them that those guys don't really get rattled all that much. Herb Sendek has done a solid job with that program.

The key for us as usual will come down to rebounding and defense. I am not worried all that much about our offense. I think our offense will come around if we are playing our shut down defense resulting in aggression on the offensive side. The game is going to present a huge challenge for two of our warriors: PAA and JH. PAA will be tasked with defending Pendergraph while JH will most likely get the assignment v. Harden. Both of those guys had great game against us in Pauley and I am sure are chomping at the opportunity to engage on their home court.

I think if we maintain our aggression on offense by attacking the rim and not settle for jump shots we will have a good shot at pulling off the win Thursday night. It seems like our guys are playing with more certainty and confidence in the way we have been attacking the rim last few games. However, we should note that our offensive explosion has come against teams (except for the Trojies) who are not well known for defense. Thursday's game against a very solid and deliberate defensive oriented squad will be a good measuring stick in terms of how far the team has come in last two weeks. As I mentioned yesterday, it will not be a shock (to me at least) if things don't go our way, however, it will be a big statement for our warriors if they can come out a with a win.