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Gut-Check Time

Let's get to the papers first. David Wharton from the LAT reports on the significance of last night's (or for some us early morning) big win:

"This was a gut-check week for us," Coach Ben Howland said. "And we responded to the first half of that gut check."

With the victory, UCLA (20-6, 9-4) moved back into a tie for second place in the conference, a half-game behind Washington. The Bruins play Washington State on Saturday.

"We needed this big win," swingman Josh Shipp said. "For us, it was definitely a momentum booster and a confidence booster."

Wharton went on to list couple of the key factors that figured prominently in our victory:

The game -- Howland had called it the biggest of the year for his team -- figured to hinge on two main issues.

First, the Bruins wanted to control the pace.

That meant getting back in transition defense and shutting down Washington's penetration. It also meant taking opportunities to push the ball upcourt and make some easy baskets of their own.

Which led to the second priority. UCLA needed to put up a decent fight on the glass against the Pac-10's top rebounding team and top individual rebounder in forward Jon Brockman.

I think we did a decent job of holding our own in the rebounding department early on. Still I thought we need to do a much better job blocking out. During the first half I counted at least three instances when Brockman (BTW make sure to watch Tele's clips on Brockman which pretty much speak for themselves) and co. scored on easy putbacks. I am sure that drove Howland a little nuts.

As for controlling the pace even though we pulled out win I think we have to accept the fact that we are a team (at least for this season) which will have problem with faster guards. No doubt DC is a great senior pg and one of the best in the country. I believe both JA and JH are immensely talented freshmen. Yet all of them have serious issues with faster pgs. DC had a very difficult time guarding Thomas and JA was having a nightmarish game (5 TOs) in which he looked nothing like the confident freshmen we had seen just few games earlier this season. I don't think it's a reason for us to get down on our guards. It's a reality we just have to accept for this season. JA will get better. He is only a freshman. JH will develop into something special if he sticks around. He is doing everything he can on and off the court to help us win. As for DC we have gotten so much from him over his four years here that I have nothing to complain about. If he is getting beat by faster guards at times he is still doing everything he can to get us a "W."

As much as we have missing the sure fire scoring ability of KL and the defensive stopper roles of AA and RW, I think the guy who would have really helped us out this year is LRMAM. One of the best attributes of LRMAM was his ability to assume the role of a free safety of Bruin defense. He would be the insurance policy in the paint if the opposing guards were getting through our peremeter defense. We don't have someone like LRMAM anymore at the 4 (even though ND is doing what he can with his athletic ability) to plug that Ben Ball defense. I think it's a reason why we are not getting the defensive stops like we used to and lock down the opponents in previous years.

Still given the circumstanes it was a remarkable effort for our Ben Ball warriors. Last few days we have talked about our team needed to show that it can be mentally tough in close games. Well they held their ground last night when the Huskies made their runs tying up the game (at 55) and closed within 2 in the last few mins of the game. I wish our team could hold on to a lead and keep building on it (just click on "house cats"/"barn cats" tags below to find out what we are talking about). But I think this is the kind of roller coaster experiences we have to get use to this entire season given the defensive deficiencies we have this year.

Now speaking of a remarkable effort I will let Ramona Shelburne from the Daily News report on what took place in the Bruin locker room during half time last night:

A few minutes earlier he'd sat in the Bruins locker room at halftime, waiting patiently while the UCLA training staff tried to find a vein full enough to stick an IV into.

Howland assumed they'd been successful, as did his teammates. Aboya did not correct them.

All week he'd battled the flu, and for most of it, there was real doubt whether he'd be able to play in what was easily the Bruins biggest game of the year.

PAA of course had the money shots last night. He also led the team with example and emotion (loved how he got fired up after that dagger late in the second half) while dealing with Brockman's cheap shots all night long. Plus there was the post moment in the first half when he led the first break running point (looking better than Shaq doing it) and throwing down probably the most thunderous jam in Pauley this season. More from Ramona how rest of our guys appreciated his effort:

By halftime he was spent. So dehydrated, Howland said afterwards, that the trainers couldn't get a vein to stick the IV into.

On the court though, you could tell nothing.

If anything Aboya looked relaxed as he stroked jumpers from all around the perimeter. He finished with 13 points on six-of-12 shooting.

"I couldn't tell a thing," Collison said. "They couldn't get a vein? Wow, I didn't know about that.

"But that's Alfred Aboya, man. He makes injuries, and other people who get sick look stupid. He plays through everything. You don't even know all the things he plays through. We don't even know."

Last year he played with a fractured orbital bone in his eye. A couple months later Harris bounced the ball off his eye. Aboya shook it off.

"He's a warrior man," Shipp said. "Like I said, he's from Africa. They make `em tougher over there."

Nothing more needs to be said about the President. Let's hope we make sure he has vipers, squirrels, whatever he needs to feel better by tomorrow.

Besides PAA, I thought JS had a solid game. He made all of his three point shots. He was money from the FT line. He was also disciplined (no TO) and selective with his shots. If there is a way we can get JS to play steady like that rest of this season it will be a boost for the team.

Over all it was a big win last night. Still we don't have any time to celebrate and be euphoric over it. Whatever momentum we regained last night could be wasted away if we don't play with sustained defensive intensity onf Saturday afternoon against a very well coached Washingoton State team.

As mentioned above our defense is not what it has been in previous seasons. UDub shot 50 percet from the floor last night. Even though we started with a good rhythm on defense early in the game we weren't able to sustain it as our peremeter defense kept breaking down resulting in easy layups. Washington State is one of those teams like ASU which will slow the game down and put premium on offensive execution. We will have to find a way to be alert for 40 mins on Saturday and make sure we are rotating better on defense and not giving up any open looks from the outside.

As we have said time and time again here on BN at this point of the season each game gets bigger. There is really no point in fretting over the big picture stuff such as tourney seeds, conference championships since so much can change from game to game. So let's keep our focus on next game.

Hopefully our Ben Ball warriors can come out, fired up and ready to go for 40 mins on Saturday afternoon, taking their cue from the Warrior President (PAA) on Saturday. It will be gut check time again.