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More Thoughts On Our Gutty Win & Looking Ahead To Oregon State

What a difference a Sunday makes. Last week at this time things were looking gloomy around here after a tough loss at home. After two nail biting wins on the road the vibe has certainly changed. Again just like we can't get too down after tough losses, I would caution everyone getting too hyped up after a big win and start thinking about March. All the good vibes can go away fast if the team is not focused and look beyond a very good and different Oregon State team that comes to Pauley Pavillion on Thursday night. Last night's win was big but there are some lingering concerns that just might bite us at the end. Still I will start with the good stuff from a huge win on national TV.

Reading the papers today it is becoming clear how much guts our guys showed that wasn't apparent during the telecast. In our post game thread last night I had to do mea culpa on a comment I made during the game thread doubting our team's will to win. Looks like there was another in-game observation (which I didn't post on the game thread but had in my own notes) I was totally wrong about from last night. Yeah, I know. It's not the first time I have been wrong about something while making an in-game observation but it is really worth pointing out.

I thought ND was looking atrocious last night early on to follow his horrible defensive performance from Thursday. He seemed to be shooting us out of the game from early on taking a number of forced, ill advised jumpers. He was slow on the rotation (repeatedly getting killed on defense), wasn't boxing out and just looked horrific and disinterested before he ignited that 7 point play in the first half and made some clutch shots later on. Well it looks like there was a very good explanation on why ND looked so out of it early on. From Brian Dohn:

Dragovic was the latest UCLA player to be hit with a stomach virus methodically pecking its way through the team, but the junior power forward recovered enough to score 12 points and grab seven rebounds in 34 minutes in Saturday's 72-68 win at California.

"Nikola is one of those guys who is always around his teammates, joking around," UCLA point guard Darren Collison said. "He didn't seem himself. He was real quiet, but I'm real proud of Nikola because he gutted it out."

Dragovic did not attend Friday's team dinner, and was on a special diet of toast with peanut butter, ginger ale and water.

"He had the flu, and (trainer) Carrie Rubertino did a good job of getting him on the BRAT diet," UCLA coach Ben Howland said. "He really had a hard time. He showed a lot of character and guts the way he played."

Well consider this a public apology to ND from yours truly. I am sorry for doubting the kid. He certainly proved me (and many others on other message boards) wrong. He also once again validated Howland's reason to have faith in him. Clearly Howland sees something in him on a day to day basis which leads him to keep him in the game and ND certainly made it worth it last night.

ND wasn't the only one who lived up the nick name of Ben Ball warrior last night. Allow me to use Coach Montgomery's words to describe DC's night:

"That's why he is what he is," Cal coach Mike Montgomery said. "The ability to make a play in late clock situ"The stat I love most is we had 11 dives on the floor for lose balls by eight guys," Howland said. "We were hustling." ations is what separates UCLA from a lot of teams. They have such a tremendous amount of confidence to score late, particularly with Collison."

And of course from Coach Howland:

"He's our senior point guard," UCLA coach Ben Howland said, "and we had a lot of expectations for him going down the stretch."

CBH was pleased about number of things from last night's win. He was pleased about the hustle he got from his team:

"The stat I love most is we had 11 dives on the floor for lose balls by eight guys," Howland said. "We were hustling."

He was also ecstatic about getting a victory in a difficult road environment (which we haven't been able to do in huge national tv games this season):

"This is our best win," Bruins coach Ben Howland said. "We have a great win over Washington at home, but when you win on the road, it's extra special.

"I thought that was a great environment for college basketball, a hostile environment. They have outstanding fans, it's very loud, and we did a good job showing composure with all that."

BTW I think it's really interesting how much respect Howland and Montgomery's team have for each other. Here is what Howland had to say about Cal:

"I love their team," UCLA coach Ben Howland said. "You don't want to play Cal in the Pac-10 tournament or in the NCAA Tournament."

And what Montgomery and his players had to say about UCLA:

"UCLA has a tremendous amount of poise," Cal coach Mike Montgomery said. "You can say, 'We did this and we didn't do that,' but UCLA just has a knack for winning those games. We've got to combine our effort with some cerebral play and find a way to win games like that." [...]

"It just shows you the character of their team," said Patrick Christopher, who had 16 points and five rebounds. "They play so well together. Those guys know how to win."

Comments like that sure makes me want to root for those guys when they take on other teams. I think having a classy coach like Monty around Pac-10 is going to be huge for this conference. I am looking forward to more UCLA-Cal games in the coming years because I think if Monty gets some players this game will rival any high glamour game from the ACC or the Big East.

Now in terms of concerns, I will start with JH. I noted during the game how tentative JH was looking. Early on he had numerous sloppy possessions on offense when he was careless with the ball. He also looked hesitant in attacking the rim and frankly his defensive effort was not up to part with what we have been getting from ML. During the middle of second half he basically was passing up on open shot opportunities looking for someone else to take over. He did get it together though and made couple of huge plays in crunch time. So what about JH? I think bruin95 offers up some good thoughts here:

[T]he frustration with Jrue and other freshmen is knowing that he can do some brilliant things at will and just doesn’t do it consistently. For whatever reason, like a lack of confidence, being unsure about Howland’s goals or thinking too much, he doesn’t just go and then might make a mistake when he does and gets discouraged. It’s being a freshman and most of us understand what’s going on with him. The impatience from the fans also comes from knowing he might not be here long with us so we want to see him do well and get it done now. And that’s the NCAA and NBA’s fault.

I have to admit during the heat of watching a close game I let the thought of JH leaving after this year (which he probably will IMO) gets to me. I think if JH sticks around another year or two he will leave with the same legacy AA and RW have left as Ben Ball warriors. However, if JH leaves after this year and doesn't offer up anything different than what we have seen this regular season, I do believe many UCLA fans will think of him the same way as they of Trevor Ariza. We will think of him as a Bruin but probably with not the same perspective we have of AA, RW, LRMAM, and JF. But still that doesn't merit any one from MSM attacking JH or any of our freshmen as "losers." That is just pathetic and baseless as blinkshot and others have pointed out repeatedly on BN.

The other thing from last night that is still bugging me is the way we are often blowing layups. If I counted right we didn't execute on at least three fast break opportunities last night and blew four layups. We also made only 1 of our first 6 FT shots. I don't think we can afford that if we want to get better as a team and want to do something special rest of this season. I sure hope the clutch performance from DC and other guys last night late in the game will be the start of a new trend that will resemble what we saw during our 4 game winning streak a little earlier in the season. It's frustrating because at times you could feel how we were clearly the better team, yet were not playing like silent assassins as we have done in numerous big games in previous years.

Still the circumstances last night's win could turn out to be a key win. The situation we were in last night was the same situation we found ourselves in earlier in the year v. Texas, Washington, ASU and Arizona on the road. This time we held it together and this time we got that senior leadership from DC with the dose of steady play from (IMHO) the season MVP aka PAA. Hopefully that will propel the team to a strong finish in next two games starting with a tough matchup against the well coached Beavers. I like where we are now and can't wait till the next game.