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Ben Ball Roundup: Preparing For A Defensive Battle

Ben Ball warriors take a break from the usual Thursday-Saturday Pac-10 double header this week by hosting Southern Cal on Wednesday and Notre Dame on Saturday. We will keep our attention next couple of days on JustSC who are also coming off a sweep of the Bay Area schools in Pauley East and feeling good about themselves. The topline Kenpom numbers for Wed. is kind of interesting:

UCLA (121.0/3)
Southern Cal (107.3/84)

UCLA (91.8/36)
Southern Cal (88.0/16)

So the Trojans are coming in with a better defense (at least number wise) than the Ben Ball warriors in Pauley. I know lot of the casual fans of UCLA hoops are feeling very good about the offensive numbers from last two weeks. Yet I still believe if our team wants to keep gelling through rest of this season, the improvement will have to come through defense. As excited I am about our offensive statistics this season (and they are impressive) I'd like to see our guys to keep working on our defense and move our defensive numbers up game by game through rest of the year. They should be bracing for a defensive battle on Wednesday night.

No doubt Coach Howland will keep working his team to get better on defense this week in practice. He is also going to look for AA2 to continue to step up like he did against the Bay Area schools this past week. From the Daily Bruin:

After a scoring slump during which he didn’t receive many offensive opportunities, UCLA’s starting center has adjusted his offensive game. Instead of simply calling for the ball in the low-post, the senior is now trying to work off screens. Defensive switches by opponents tend to free Aboya up for better looks inside.

It worked Saturday against Stanford. Aboya led the Bruins with 15 points. He attempted a season-high nine field goals and added two assists, and the Bruins won easily, 97-63.

"If I get my teammates open, it’s easier for them to feed me in the post," Aboya said.

Aboya said the most important thing is that he learns something from every game.

Last weekend he scored only eight points against Washington State, and the Bruins barely slipped past the Cougars. And in the Bruins’ loss at Washington, Aboya scored only four points, his lowest total this season.

During that road trip, Aboya said that no team will win the Pac-10 or go far in the tournament if it doesn’t develop a low-post scorer.

This weekend, the Bruins showed progress in that facet of their offense. Aboya generally looked to be more involved in each half-court possession. Bruin guards made more of an effort to pass to him.

Our guards will need to continue to do that on Wednesday night when AA2 goes up against Taj Gibson. During our first matchup against the Trojans, we were able to neutralize him early by getting him into quick foul trouble. I will be surprised if that were to take place again. So the key for AA2 (and rest of the Bruin front court) will be to hold their ground agains the Trojan big by making sure they are securing their rebounds and keep attacking the rim inside.

As for the Trojies they are dealing with some injury issues. Per the LAT senior forward Marcus Johnson, who has been providing them some depth off the bench "might miss" Wednesday's game due to injury issues:

Johnson, a 6-foot-6 senior, said he did not know how he injured the shoulder. "I woke up Sunday and it was sore," he said. "I couldn't raise my arm."

He said he underwent an X-ray, which did not reveal major damage to the shoulder.

The injury is another in a string to players who have been effective in providing depth for the Trojans. Forward Kasey Cunningham was lost for the season to a knee injury. Marcus Simmons has been slowed by a sprained ankle. Leonard Washington missed five games because of a high ankle sprain and is still playing himself back into shape since returning two weeks ago.

Johnson, who had to sit out the first 11 games after transferring from Connecticut, appeared to be getting comfortable on the court. He is averaging 8.0 points and was shooting 61% in the last four games.

He provided key baskets in victories over Washington State, Stanford and California.

I am sure Howland and his staff will prepare with the full expectations that Johnson will be ready to go getting ready for a fully prepared Trojan team who will be looking for another season defining upset at Pauley.

As for our guys hopefully our bench continues to play at the same level they have been performing last two games. During last week we got a great boost of energy from JA, MR, JK and ML in addition to the customary shot in the arm when DG comes off the bench. If they can continue to play defense at the same level Howland will keep them on the floor for more mins, allowing our starters to stay fresher during crunch time in the second half. We will have more on tomorrow's game later.