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We All Need To Settle Down A Bit

I think we all need to settle down a bit.

I am just as ecstatic as anyone here on BN on what has been going on last four games. We are seeing signs of a team gelling and coming together. We are seeing signs of a team in which all the components are developing a definite understanding of their respective roles within the scheme Coach Ben Howland. We are seeing more intense hustle and defensive effort reminding us of the trademark Ben Ball defense . Yet despite all the noticable improvements people should chill a bit and drop the talk of Final-4 and national championships ... for now.

To be fair I have not seen that from BN members who have been around for a while. Coach Howland himself uncharacteristically is not being shy of being effusive with praise of his warriors. From the LA Times:

Timing matters to a team that hopes to burnish its image after some high-profile loses this season. And if this was a statement game, Coach Ben Howland wasn't afraid to say the words.

"If we continue to play relatively the same way we're playing now, we are definitely one of the best teams in the country," he said. "We're playing right now how we were ranked going into the season, which is a top-five team."

Coach Mike Brey, who has seen plenty of top-ranked teams in the powerful Big East Conference, did not argue.

"They are up there with any other team in our league," Brey said. "Their speed, size and strength match the top teams in our conference."

The question remains: How much will a victory over the Irish, who have skidded down the rankings with seven consecutive losses, ultimately help UCLA when it comes to the RPI and Associated Press poll?

On Saturday, Howland and the players seemed content with the symbolic value.

And the Daily News:

After throttling Notre Dame, a straw poll with Howland and several players concluded there is very little the Bruins are doing wrong. The biggest question is whether UCLA is taking advantage of a weak stretch in the schedule, not to mention home cooking, to flex its muscle.

The Bruins' four-game wining streak has been at home, with wins over Pacific-10 Conference opponents California, Stanford and USC, before sending the Big East's Irish (12-10) to their seventh straight loss.

Still, I think we need to be very careful. I think we should be optimistic but be mindful of the fact about the two difficult roadtrips we still have to finish this Pac-10 regular season. All the progress we have made last two weeks will not matter much if we fall into the old habit (from earlier this season) of settling for jumpshots, not being aggressive against zone defense, letting the opponents outhustle us for rebounds, and letting down our tenacity on the defensive end. We are going to find out exactly where we are when we take on an ASU team on Thursday night who will be ready with a tough zone defense that bottled us up during the closing mins earlier this season in Pauley.

Still despite my dousing cold water on yesterday's party, we have a lot to be ecstatic about. Not sure how much more I can add to all the much deserved adulation we have heaped towards PAA in last 24 hours. So I will let Coach Howland pile on the admiration for PAA:

"He's the best defensive player in the Pac-10," Howland said. "He's one of the best defensive players in the country."

Aboya was instrumental in holding Notre Dame All-American Luke Harangody to five points in No. 15 UCLA's 89-63 defeat of the Irish on Saturday.

However, Aboya's effort may get overlooked because he doesn't have gaudy statistics to augment his positional play, toughness and tenacity. He did not block a shot nor record a steal in 27 minutes, and is tied for seventh on the Bruins with five blocked shots this season. His 17 steals ranks fourth on the team.

"Usually, people look at defense that don't understand it and say, `Well, if you get a lot of steals, you're a good defender. If you block a lot of shots '," Howland said. "That may be true to a certain extent, but his defense is absolutely incredible. (His) relentlessness, in Alfred's case, is the best I've ever had as a coach. He is relentless."

I can't think of a highest honor for Ben Ball warrior. He basically just placed PAA's defensive ability over that of AA and RW.

What I will say though is kids like JMM and DG should pay extremely close attention to what is going on with PAA. I know I have been reading a lot of chatter about people being concered about JMM's playing time this season. If there was any doubt about Howland and his staff's ability to develop bigs, that should be quashed definitively after this season given what we have seen from PAA and what we had seen from RH few years ago. To me what we are seeing from PAA is what we saw from RH in 05-06 except we are seeing it a little earlier. The incredible development in their games are unmistakable and is yet another testament to the abilities of what IMHO is the best head coach and staff in the country. What we need from PAA is just to keep at it from the defensive side, keep leading by example with his all out tenacity on defense and around the boards. I will be honest, I still cringe when he takes those midrange jumpers and I still want him to throw it down with authority (instead of laying it in) when he gets close to the rim, but I can't complain much given the defense and intensity we are getting from PAA. Amazing stuff really.

Speaking of amazing, I liked this - defense for 40 mins:

"They just played defense for 40 minutes and just took it away from us," Brey said.

The Bruins (19-4) set the tempo early when Nikola Dragovic blocked Harangody's dunk try, a play that shook the drowsiness out of Pauley Pavilion.

Shortly thereafter, UCLA double-teamed Harangody, which can be a risky proposition. The 6-foot-8 forward is an adept passer and has burned more than one opponent kicking the ball to an outside shooter.

But this time, Dragovic and Aboya forced him to lob a weak pass toward half court. Guard Jrue Holiday made the steal, took off on the transition and floated a pass that Josh Shipp dunked with one hand.

Nothing prettier than deadly Ben Ball defense leading to relentless attacks on offense. Speaking of offense here was DC in the Press Enterprise:

"I've never had as many easy baskets in transition," he said, pointing to freshman Holiday's career-high seven assists. "It's what happens when you have two point guards out there."

Let's talk about JH a bit. We should just call him "the natural." You can just sense how he is coming out of his freshmen shell and starting to take charge of this offense. Some of his passes yesterday reminded me of Magic. He zips them - on target, hitting his team-mates exactly in stride - in a way that is not normal for an excellent pg. It's not something we are going to see very often like those Kevin Love's Wess Unseld like bombs. JH is truly a special athlete and we are lucky to have him. I am not sure how long he is going to stick around (I am hoping and praying he comes back but will not be hurt if he decides to go) but I am starting to enjoy him the way I was enjoying watching KL. It's something special.

Another guy I want to single out today is ND. I mentioned yesterday how it was his block that set the tone for the entire morning yesterday. I think ND is emerging as potentially more than just a role player. He is emerging as a true Ben Ball warrior. He is giving us lot more than just a long range scoring option. He is playing defense  and running the floor almost as well as any of his team-mates. He is also under-rated IMHO as a passer. Yes, I think he needs to cut down on the flashy stuff (sometimes he tries stunts like behind the back passes which drives me crazy) but he is pretty good in finding team-mates cutting to the basket. I have been really enjoying watching ND last few games. Hopefully he sticks with it by playing defense and contributing on offense within the flow of the game.

While we are playing like one of the best teams in the country now, it's a long season which goes through its ebb and flows. We need to stay even keeled and continue to keep building on our steady improvements. We did a great job of cutting apart the Irish zone yesterday. Hopefully we can stay just as sharp and effective on Thursday night when we go up against what I believe will be a much tougher zone thrown by the Sun Devils on Thursday night.

So, in closing, I think I will say it again. We need to settle down and chill a bit and not get too carried away thinking about what is going to happen in March. Let's take it one game at a time while we enjoy the development of our warriors.