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Ben Ball Roundup: Preparations

Bruins will find out who their next opponent is tonight as Oregon and Washington State will face off in the first round of the Pac-10 tournament. When he met the press yesterday Coach Howland was candid about which team his team is preparing for tomorrow night:

"I strongly believe that we're going to play Washington State," Howland said. "I would be surprised if Oregon beat them, only because Washington State is playing really good right now.

"We are going to be preparing in practice the next two days to play Washington State."

Howland cited Washington State's recent play, which included wins against the Bruins, Arizona and Arizona State before a season-ending loss to Washington, as the reason why he expects to face the Cougars.

Such a matchup would also sit well with the players. An 82-81 home loss to the Cougars on Feb. 21 ultimately cost UCLA a share of the Pacific-10 Conference regular season title, and the No. 1 seed in the Pac-10 Tournament.

I think it makes a lot of sense to focus on Washington State for couple of other reasons (without any disrespect to Oregon). First, the Bruins just played Oregon in their last game. So they have the Ducks very well scouted and their schemes fresh in their mind. Second, it's clear that the Bruins do need to spend more time on the Cougars, given the difficult time we had defensively against Bennett's team at Pauley.

Specifically, if we get a chance to take on Washington State, it will be a huge game for JH, who got torched so bad last time out Coach Howland had to bench him in favor of ML to start the second half. We have had some spirited and respectful dicussion on JH's freshman year in last few days here on BN. I really respect and admire BNers for standing up for this kid and praising his season. That's exactly what this community should be all about in making sure no one is unfairly attacking any of our players. However, at the same I do believe we have to be intellectually honest and accept the fact that these tourney appearances are huge deal for JH. These games are big especially if he cares about the kind of legacy he leaves in Westwood. And I am going by the assumption that he is all but gone from Westwood after this season. I hope JH can make a statement in the Pac-10 tournament at least defensively and provide adequate support offensively to senior leaders in this team.

It's not just JH. Everyopone else (cough**ND**cough) will have to step up their defensive intensity on Thursday night which has been inconsistent despite our four game winning streak to close out the season:

Collison said UCLA needs to play defense like it did in beating league champ Washington 85-76 last month, particularly in the first half.

The Huskies shot 50 percent from the field, but were 38.2percent from the field in the first half as the Bruins built a big lead.

However, in the five ensuing games UCLA's opponents shot 48.8 percent from the field in the first half and 46.7percent for the game.

The Bruins' defensive points of emphasis are stopping dribble penetration, rotating withmore urgency and being quicker to double team the post.

"We understand what it takes when we do lose ballgames," Collison said. "We can't have that lack of intensity. We've seen both sides of the stick."

More on the need for defensive consistency from the LA Times:

The latest NCAA statistics show the Bruins leading the nation in field-goal percentage at 50.6%. But they also rank 250th out of 330 teams in field-goal percentage defense, so recent practices have emphasized blocking out and taking charges, what center Alfred Aboya called "little things that win games."

"I think at times our defense is streaky," Aboya said. "We need it to be consistent

BTW speaking of DC, it sounds like he will be ready to go on Thursday night:

It was a healthier, happier Darren Collison -- his bruised tailbone on the mend -- who participated in UCLA's basketball practice Tuesday.

With the 15th-ranked Bruins preparing for their first game in the Pacific 10 Conference tournament Thursday, the point guard said he had mostly recovered from a hard fall in the regular-season finale against Oregon.

There is still "a little pain, but it isn't as much as I felt on Saturday," Collison said. "I was feeling a lot of pain."

So much that the senior had trouble sleeping that night. But in the days since, he has undergone a regimen of icing, stimulation and massage.

With X-rays showing no major damage, Collison participated in about 30 minutes of stretching and shooting Tuesday. He said he expected to go all out in practice.

"It's something you can't really heal," he said. "It's going to heal over time by itself."

As much as I love DC to go all out though, I hope Howland considers giving JR giving substantial mins on Thursday night. It doesn't matter who the Bruins take on -  Cougars or Ducks - both teams have very good backcourts, that will require the Bruin defense to be quick and very physical with their on ball pressure. WSU with Rochestie/Thompson shredded DC/JH combination early on at Pauley (until ML came in to shore up the defense) while the same backcourt had problems keeping Porter ahead of them up in Eugene.

It will be interesting to see how effective DC is with his health condition on Thursday night. I would really like to see Howland going to his bench - JA and ML - if for some reason our defensive intensity is not there early on in the game. As I mentioned above, this will be a huge opportunity for JH to make an early statement at least defensively especially if he gets a chance to take on Thompson of Washington State.

BTW I have never really been a huge fan of this Pac-10 tournament.  I rather not have it and instead have the team get ready for or take care of their Finals before the start of first round of the Big Dance. But that's a discussion for another day. For now, I do hope the team uses this tournament as an opportunity to find some consistency in defense making themselves better prepared for the Big Dance.