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Still Ticking: Couple Of Positive Points On UCLA Basketball

I am hesitant to say something nice about this year's basketball team. Seems like every time I say something nice about the team (like getting excited after the win over Arizona State or even cautiously optimistic after the win over Washington State), they immediately go on to stumble next game. As I wrote in my last post that I found last night's game mostly unwatchable. However, as pointed out in the comment threads, sometimes boring games are expected when it features two teams playing zone defense and at least one of them doesn't have blue chip athletes on its roster. Still there were couple of very important points raised in the post game comment thread that I think are worthy elaborating on (at the risk of jinxing the team, I don't care anyway right?) the home page.

Let's start with the point bluebland (who is a hardcore negative nancy!) made about the team not giving up on Ben Howland (emphasis added throughout):

The one good thing here is that the team hasn't quit. Howland didn't lose them, as we all feared.

As crappy, ugly, and infuriating as we are, that's still very important going into next season.

It's definitely something to think about. As infuriating as the game was during the first half and the early part of second half, we kept plugging away. Similarly as ugly as the meltdown was against Oregon after we went up by a dozen points in the first half, the team hung in there and fought to tie it up and send the game in the over time. Perhaps Oregon Ducks were not as bad as their preceding 5 game losing streak, given they also pulled out a victory over a decent Southern Cal team (by Pac-10 standards) this season.

Still the point is as disinterested and listless we looked during the game against Stanford and then especially against Southern Cal, this team has been fighting. It's definitely something to take note of. 

Couple of big reasons why our team hasn't quit and has kept fighting are the continued emergence of Tyler Honeycutt and Reeves Nelson. That brings me to the point Tydides raised last night:

I was loving how RN stuffs the ball with attitude. RN and TH are two guys that are keeping my interest and hope alive for this season.

It's easy to see what those two guys have brought to this team: a combination of enthusiasm, passion and patience combined with athleticism, that hasn't been apparent in rest of the starting unit.  Reeves effectively serves as the single motor for this basketball team with his constant activity around the rim. In past few guys he has emerged IMHO as the emotional center of this basketball team. It is going to be fun to see him grow and develop in next few seasons.

Meanwhile, the team is showing signs of life on offense because of Tyler Honeycutt. The way he moves around without the ball, finds his team-mates with beautiful passes, and the energy and athleticism he displays while bringing down rebounds is something to watch. Given the injury issues he had coming into this season, I am more than content with what he has given us this season. I hope he has an awesome and healthy off-season, positioning himself for taking his game to another level next season.

Coming back to present, the Bruins are still thinking out loud about making something out of this season:

There was Coach Ben Howland's mathematical assessment on the by-the-numbers way the Bruins (10-11 overall, 5-4 in Pacific 10 Conference) can be successful the rest of the season.

"If you're going to be really competitive, you need to win all your home games. We've already lost two, and you need to split on the road," Howland said. "We got another split on the road, which is very hard in this league, and that's big."

However you frame it, there was no way to undersell the moment from the Bruins' perspective.

UCLA could be one game out of first place if California loses to Arizona today, just two days after slipping to within one game of last place. But that's the Pac-10 this season, and a reason the Bruins have hope.

"I have never seen this conference like this, certainly not since I've been here," guard Michael Roll said. "So we can move forward."

For me "moving forward" at this point would be to come back to Pauley with a solid homestand in which the Bruins put together two complete basketball games. It will have to start with the game against Stanford, which will present an opportunity for the Bruins to redeem one of their more forgettable games of this season.

For the Bruins to be successful against Stanford, they will have to show patience, something they weren't able to do until the initial few minutes in the second half. They were bumbling around Oregon State's 1-3-1 zone most of the first half (despite building the lead) and the first few mins of second half committing a ridiculous numbers of unenforced TOs. Then they decided to settle down and focused on getting the ball inside (instead of just passing it around the perimeter). From the Daily News:

"We were just being real patient," Lee said. "That zone tries to force turnovers, so we were just picking our spots - when to attack, when to pull it out. That's why although we only shot (35) times, we had a high percentage."

While the Bruins mixed the ball around, three players scoring in double figures, led by freshman forward Reeves Nelson's 14 points, the Beavers seemed eager to let Calvin Haynes take charge.

It will be interesting to see how Howland distributes his mins in the backcourt yesterday. Anderson had 3 assists and 3 points  in 16 mins, while Hamid had 3 points and 3 boards in 8 mins. Even when Anderson was in the game, Howland had either Roll or Lee bring up the ball which was a little telling. Meanwhile, speaking of minute distribution Brendan Lane came in during the last two minutes of first half and the world didn't collapse on the Bruins. Hope that is something Coach Howland will take note of heading into this week when we are going to need our guys to be as fresh as possible heading into crunchtime against the teams for the Bay Area.

Anyway, I still have no idea where the team is heading. I personally at this point will be ok with a winning season and perhaps an NIT appearance (can't believe I am even typing that). However, most importantly I want this team to keep fighting game by game, and I want Ben Howland also to do everything he can to have all the components of this program improved (not just the key ones in Honeycutt and Nelson) and as prepared as possible for next season.