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Ben Ball Game Day Roundup: Ready For A Road Battle

Everyone around here on BN has been feeling pretty good about basketball during last two weeks as the Ben Ball warriors have put together a dominating stretch we haven't experienced since their run through the Pac-10 tournament in 2006. I have said all week as excited as we have all been during this stretch we need to keep in mind how there are so many huge games left on the schedule rest of this season. Every game from here on out becomes more important than the previous as the Ben Ball warriors continue their quest to defend their Pac-10 championships. They will probably face the toughest challenge to date tonight against the Sun Devils, who gave us a painful lesson little less than a month ago.

I am going to guess the Sun Devils will not have any problem putting together a packed house for this game even though they have been having trouble generating excitement. I am going to guess they are going be fired up at the chance of sweeping UCLA for the first time in years (IIRC they have only done it once since 1981). The challenge for our guys will be to continue to apply the lessons they learned during a three game stretch starting with ASU at Pauley and ending with UDub in Seattle. From the LA Times:

The lesson took a while to sink in, UCLA splitting two games against the Washington schools before making a shift, bringing the defensive heat.

"Just trying to speed the game up," Aboya said. "Creating a lot of turnovers."

The guards began putting more pressure on opposing ballhandlers -- USC's Daniel Hackett ran the offense with his back to the basket last week -- while Aboya asserted himself inside, denying the post feed.

In each of their subsequent four victories, the Bruins forced double-digit turnovers, which translated into 24 points a game. By comparison, they scored 10 points off turnovers against Arizona State.

There has been another crucial difference. Working in the half-court offense, they have attacked the basket far more aggressively, either shooting or drawing fouls.

"Definitely just trying to get in there and get contact," guard Jrue Holiday said after a win over California. "All the good teams get to the free-throw line."

Which raises another point. Living and dying on the perimeter, UCLA took eight free throws against Arizona State. The Sun Devils made 14 of 17.

Kennedy Cosgrove over at Bruin Report Online also reflected on this past week and discussed the reasons for our Ben Ball warriors success during these last four games. I will zero in on what is at the top of Kennedy's list of the reasons for Bruins' success:

Defense. UCLA’s aggressive perimeter defending and trapping, it’s double-teaming of the post, it’s hedging of all ball screens, got sharper, more energetic, and more automatic. This happens every year, but it’s a pretty dramatic improvement this season. And while opponents see it on film, they can’t really prepare for the reality of it. Like parenthood. Or Las Vegas. One constant in UCLA’s recent revival has been the huge advantage it’s had in “points off turnovers” in first halves, where it’s built its big leads.

Against USC, it was 16 to 4. Notre Dame, 15 to 3. (The week before, it was 13-5 vs. Stanford and 16-9 vs. Cal). To a man -- and I believe this is a required agreement when UCLA players sign their National Letter of Intent to play for Howland -- the players publicly agreed that defense was keying their run.

I will say it again. Following our loss v. Arizona State everyone pointed to the scoreless offensive stretch during the final mins of the regular season as the main reason for our loss. I still maintain the reason we went cold offensively because we for some reason forgot to lock down and exert our prototype Ben Ball pressure on the defensive end. We can't let that happen tonight if we want to pull out the huge win. And no doubt DC and PAA are going to be huge keys in terms of providing senior leadership on both ends tonight. Oh BTW they are also getting ready to set a special UCLA record for games played tonight against ASU. From Dohn:

When Aboya jumps to control the tip tonight at Wells Fargo Arena against No. 18 Arizona State, Aboya and Collison will set the record for most games played in school history. It will be the 131st game for each, breaking the mark Mitchell Butler established from 1990-93.

More on these two legends from Dohn's profile piece today:

The fan-favorite Aboya is a bruising player who spent his first three years committing silly fouls in games and establishing UCLA's physical style because of his play in practice. His toughness also is well-known, like when he broke an orbital bone under his eye, which required him to wear a funky set of goggles last season.

"He's a beast," UCLA guard Michael Roll said of Aboya. "He's stronger than anyone I know and eats more than anyone I know. He ate 24 bananas one time."

In previous seasons, Aboya's impact did not translate into points and rebounds, but that has changed. Now, as a starter, he is an emerging talent.

He is averaging 9.7 points per game, nearly triple his 3.5-point career average entering the season, and is grabbing a career-best and team-leading 5.7 rebounds per game.

"Alfred is a great competitor and a hard worker," UCLA coach Ben Howland said. "He's self-made."

Collison's long-term impact is more visible. He is a two-time preseason All-American, is 20th on UCLA's all-time scoring list (1,463 points) and a starter on the past two Final Four teams.

This season he is the Bruins' leading scorer (14.3 ppg) and leads the Pac-10 in assists (5 apg). His quickness and ability to pressure the basketball is the cog in UCLA's offense, and that his parents are former world-class sprinters is evident when he is running the Bruins' transition game.

I am sure Howland and his staff are making sure PAA and his warriors are well fed and rested for tonight's battle. Also per Dohn, DC is feeling ok after dealing with flu and everyone else is ready to go:

I spoke to UCLA point guard Darren Collison tonight and he said the flu-like symptoms he was experiencing the last few days are almost subsided and he felt fine. Also, I was told everyone practiced today for the Bruins, which means backup center Drew Gordon should be ready to play Thursday at Arizona State.

So here is our warriors celebrating the two seniorleaders' record in style.

As usual, the game thread will go up about an hour before tip off (6 pm PST on WWL). Hopefully they can prevail on this road battle by continuing to apply the lessons learned earlier in this season.