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Bay Area Roadtrip: Reflections After First Game

Coach Howland was relieved and excited after the Bruins' first road win in four tries last night:

The Cardinal built a 14-point first-half lead by making 10 of 11 shots from the field, but UCLA limited Stanford to 14 of 38 from the field the rest of the way.

The Bruins also didn't have a rebound for more than eight minutes to open the game, but finished with a 29-25 edge on the boards.

"What a great comeback win and what a real sign of the heart of our team," Howland said. "Coming into this game we talked about our need to play better defense, and it was tough there. They made tough shots. ... We just had to play out higher on them."

I didn't get to watch the first 10 mins of the game because we got stuck with the finish of Washington State-Arizona. So didn't get to watch how our defense looked to start the game. Seems like numbers pretty much tell the story on what took place. Sounded like the Stanford guys came out all fired up and were beating us with their intensity as we were having the same old problems with slow defensive rotations leading to wide open shots.

FWIW the Bruins did get into the defensive grove after Stanford's torrid start limiting the Cardina to 37 percent shooting (14 for 18) rest of the game. I wonder if the insertion of ML and DG started the defensive spurt. Since I didn't get to watch those first horrid mins, hope you guys can feel me a little more on who made the defensive difference.

It was clear who led the offensive charge and stepped up huge last night:

Shipp led the way, working the glass and attacking the basket, getting started on a game-high 24 points to go with seven rebounds, helping his team cut the deficit to 38-37 at halftime.

"Josh Shipp really stepped up when they were down," Stanford Coach Johnny Dawkins said.

"He took it upon himself to make some plays that gave them momentum at the end of the first half."

Luckily when the game turned on for me ... I got to see JS making the charge. He was on fire and playing with that fearless intensity we have seen from him in huge games. That's the JS we need in games like this instead of the JS we saw against ASU two weeks ago when he was getting flustered and taking stupid fouls when down early on the road. Hopefully we can see more of that same leadership from him on Saturday.

The other guy (I will get to PAA below) who really caught my eye was ML. The more I watch this kid the more I get the AA/RW vibe on the defensive end. He is fearless around the rim and he takes defense personally. His intensity was very clear given the way he was fighting for every rebound. He led the team  finished with 5 board (second behind JS's 7 boards) and was responsible for a huge clutch shot when Stanford was making a run late in the second half. I really want to see more of him at the 2 spot this season and beyond because I think he has the most potential after DG to emerge as the core of next generation of Ben Ball warriors.

Speaking of the core, what else can you say about PAA. Another great game on the road. I am getting to the point that I think he has probably been the MVP of the UCLA basketball team this year. I shudder to think where we would (fighting for an 8 seed) if he had decided to go back to Cameroon after last year. We know in Coach Howland's program leaders emerge from playing defense. And in this team it's PAA who brings the defensive intensity and all out tenacity around the rim every game. It's also clear that he is emerging as a clutch player. He had that huge jumper against UDub last Thursday night and last night he helped us seal the game by calmly draining 4 FTs in the closing mins.

Now there are few things from last night that are bugging me. We already talked about the slow defensive start. That is not going to work on Saturday against one of the best back courts in the Pac-10 (Randle/Christopher). Bears will bury us early just like Zona if come out with the same defensive intensity on Saturday night.

It was also disconcerting to see how indecisive we looked in two straight offensive possessions during the closing mins of the game. Before PAA bailed us out with 4 FTs we had a chance to put the dagger in. Up by 5 pts with less than 3 mins, DC had a chance to drive to the bucket and take Stanford guard off the dribble. Instead he passed off the ball to ND to take a desperate 3 pointer with shot clock running down. Same thing happened a posession later when once again it was ND taking jump shots with games on the line. I think DC as a "leader" of this team (if he wants to be remembered as a leader in the mold of AA, Ed O as discussed ad nausea this week) he needs to have the situational awareness that it's his team and he needs to take those shots. I don't think we want UCLA to be in a situation in which we have live and die by ND's three point bombs.

As Dohn notes it was not our jump shots but our attacking the rim that allowed us to get ahead in the second half:

The decisive spurt was quick, and came from UCLA's perimeter players making plays inside.

Malcolm Lee made 65-61 with a layup, Holiday scored on crafty leaner and Shipp followed up a miss of Darren Collison's shot as the Bruins went ahead 69-61 with 4:35 to play.

Stanford closed to within 72-69 on a pair of free throws by Fields. Dragovic fouled out with 41.4 seconds left, as Goods made one of two free throws. But Aboya cemented the win with two free throws with 14 seconds remaining to give the Bruins a 74-70 lead.

So I hope our guys keep thinking about going inside and attacking relentlessly.

Lastly, I think we need more focus on the offensive side of the ball. We blew at least three layups last night on fast break opportunities when it appeared we were more focused on making SportsCenter highlights then making the easy layup. It wasn't the first time we have seen this phenomenon with our team this year. Perhaps it has to do with the fact there are so many freshmen in this team and upperclassmen who are still getting used to playing leadership roles. Still if we keep that up we will pay for it dearly as we have already done few times this season.

The challenge now becomes whether the Bruins can come out with the same defensive intensity and effort they showed after the initial minutes against Stanford. We have talked over and over again while our guys need to stick with the basics it is all about getting in that even keel mindset. The Bears are going to be fired up to make a statement on national TV on Saturday night. They have the offensive firepower to inflict heavy damage on our defense (Cal is currently 3rd in the conference in scoring avg. per game behind UDub and UCLA). Their problem is their depth as they don't have a lot of options beyond their starting five. Yet our guys shouldn't take any kind of comfort in that factor given the way Arizona destroyed us with not so deep bench last two weekends ago.

So it will be all about the kind of mindset the Bruins come out on Saturday night. Let's hope they come out with more focus and then sustain it in the last true road game of this season.