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Ben Ball Roundup: Getting Back To Basics

Let's build more on the late night post on Howland channeling the Nation. It sounds like right now Coach is more focused on improving the basics of our team than anything else. Again it all begins and ends with defense in Howland's program and right now the numbers are ugly:

Asked about UCLA's being eighth in the Pacific 10 Conference in defensive field-goal percentage, Howland cited chapter and verse.

"It's 47.7% in league," he said. "Number 262 nationally on the year, at 45%."

And then, as if even hearing the number rounded off rankled him, he made it more precise: "Point one," he said.

That's 45.1%, and No. 262 out of 330 teams. For a UCLA program rebuilt on defense under Howland, the numbers are particularly hard to stomach. Washington State's 58.8% shooting in its victory over the Bruins on Saturday only swelled the ugly stat.

By contrast, a season ago, the Bruins held teams to 41.8% shooting. But UCLA doesn't have the sort of lock-down perimeter defenders it has had in recent years. Think Arron Afflalo, Russell Westbrook and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute.

What do our Ben Ball warriors need to do? Well they have to work harder to get down to basics:

"We've got to do a better job blocking out. We have to do a better job in transition defense," Howland said. "We've got to do a better job at really locking down when you get scored upon as an individual, it should be a very personal thing. At least that's how I like our guys to accept that responsibility and challenge."

In recent losses, the Bruins' trademark defense has been hampered by slow defensive rotations - "We're just not as quick as we were" last season in doubling the post, Howland said - and missed assignments.

More on the missed assignment issue from last weekend's game:

[H]owland was focused more on inconsistency and missed assignments, with freshman guard Jrue Holiday singled out for his play against Washington State when he was guarding Klay Thompson.

"First shot of the game was just a complete breakdown of responsibility where Jrue went to go help in the post. That's not what he's supposed to do if he's guarding a team's best player," Howland said. "One thing a shooter loves is to make his first shot. He makes his first shot from three, that builds confidence."

I think there is a reason why Howland is singling out JH like this so publicly. It is clear (at least to me) Howland believes he can get more out of JH. If he didn't he wouldn't call out his defense so publicly. It will be very interesting to see how JH responds to this challenge on defense this week starting on Thursday night against Stanford. Because if he is not ready we might see more of ML, who Coach Howland is expecting a lot out of following last Saturday's game:

Malcolm Lee key for UCLA, says Ben Howland (via losangelestimes)

I think it will be imperative for JH and rest of his team-mates come out breathing fire against a Stanford team that is also reeling. The Trees hit rock bottom this past week after getting swept by the Oregon schools, including serving up the Ducks their first conference win of the season. After starting the season 10-0 with a cupcake schedule, the team led by the former lead assistant of the most hyped head coach on WWL, has fallen to a record of 15-10 (4-10).

Stanford could be the team against which our defense finds it grove again. These guys shot less than 40 percent against an Ernie Kent coached team that has no concept of playing defense. More notes on some of the key Stanford players per

--Freshman Jeremy Green scored a career-high 19 points, all of them in the second half, in the loss at Oregon State. He was rewarded with a start against Oregon, but was scoreless in 20 minutes.

--Senior G Anthony Goods was scoreless on 0-for-3 shooting at Oregon State. It was the first time he'd been held without a point since his freshman season. That performance cost him a spot in the starting lineup against Oregon, but he came off the bench to score 16 points, his highest point total since logging 20 vs. Oregon on Jan. 22.

--Hot-and-cold senior F Lawrence Hill scored just three points and shot 1-for-5 shooting at OSU, then had 18 points and five rebounds against Oregon.

Again, it will be very interesting to see how our backcourt pair of DC and JH match up against Johnson and Goods on Thursday night. If Goods gets off to a good start it will give those guys some confidence that could potentially pose a dangerous situation for our team in one of the tougher home crowd environment in the conference.

Hopefully all the public challenges from these past few days will light that needed fire under JH. If he (and DC) can shake off the defensive funk from last few weeks on Thursday night, it will give us a huge boost heading into Saturday's game across the bay. As mentioned by Howland it will all start with getting back to basics.