Well after the kind of week we have had since that ugly loss against Arizona, there was certainly a sense of relief following last night's (pretty shocking) win against the Cal Bears at Haas Pavilion. The credit here goes to Coach Ben Howland for having his guys prepared and ready to battle against one of the better coached programs in the conference. At the same time though, I don't feel comfortable getting excited and comfortable after this win hoping for more encouraging signs. Last time we did that following moral victories against Butler, Kansas and an actual one against Arizona State, the team came out flat with embarrassing and humiliating performances in subsequent games. Once again there were encouraging signs from last night's game (like the ones against ASU) but glaring (on-court) issues still remain around Howland's basketball team.
In terms of positives from this game the biggest deal for me was the effort and heart our guys showed in a tough road environment. The way this team seemed to be going through the motions last Saturday was extremely dispiriting and deflating to watch. I am pretty sure I am not the only one who was wondering whether the guys were responding to the coaching of Ben Howland. Bruins responded well to all the adversity from this week and they seemed to be ready for a battle from the opening tip off. They played hard, at least harder than the Bears. Coach Montgomery mentioned that point during his post-game remarks:
"I felt like they played harder than we did," California Coach Mike Montgomery said. "Kind of from the get-go."
"It's really disappointing. Sometimes I don't understand how we cannot treat a UCLA game as a big, big game in terms of coming out full of fire. We didn't seem to have that."
Despite the Bears cruising a bi through various stretches of the game they clearly outclassed us in terms of talent and experience. Our guys hung in there. Lot of that intensity and tenacity were anchored by the tough defense and rebounding of Malcolm Lee and Tyler Honeycutt.
Ryan mentioned how Lee fought through cramps during late in the game. He also made AA proud by bottling up Cal's Jerome Randle, limiting him to only 11 points and frustrating him with only 5 makes in 16 attempts. I think Lee's defense had a lot to do with Randle throwing up some crazy, low percentage threes in the second half. The Cal guard finished the night going 1 for 8 from the 3 point line. This is the third straight game in which Lee has bottled up the opponent's key play maker. It worked against ASU when he shut down Glasper. He also shut down Wise but didn't get help from his team that afternoon as Howland stayed man to man most of the game (more on that point later in this post).
While Lee was playing the role of defensive stopper, Honeycutt was giving me flashbacks of LRMAM with his team-leading 10 rebounds. Honeycutt's athleticism and tenacity speaks for itself right now. Right now what he needs is basically to gain more upper body strength IMO. I think that might come as he gets in more game shape (certainly it will have during the off-season). Honeycutt only had 2 points, but I think his points will come as he gets stronger and gets more confidence to finish down low. Just love this kid's game and am glad that Coach Howland is going to stick with him in the starting rotation in the Stanford game. More after the jump.
Staying on the topic of starting rotation, Jerime Anderson had an enigmatic night. He certainly had his moments with couple of huge 3 pointers during the regulation and money shots down the stretch. Yet at the same time, he also provided those hair pulling moments during first half when he was committing absolutely silly TOs during transition and almost committed one on that game winning shot (lol). I still like the fact he came out and battled. He certainly provided a little spark on the whole coming off the bench last night and perhaps it's a role that will work for not just him but the entire team here on out.
Speaking of working, let's talk about the zone. It wasn't perfect by any means and the Bears did have a lot of success by specifically targeting Dragovic to attack our zone. However, we did stiffen up a bit as communication between Nelson and Dragovic got a little better through the game. I think the changeup in defenses caught the Bears off guard, and also enabled our guys stay fresh on the other end. Michael Roll (the hero of the night) made that point to Jon Gold after the game (emphasis added):
At the end of the game, Roll was fresh despite playing a team-high 41 minutes.
"This is what I've trained for all summer," Roll said. "This is what I want, this is what I have. Also, we played zone and that kind of helped us with the wind factor. It gives a chance to get back and set up, not as much commotion."
Well we clearly have to improve on how we are playing zone. I was ragging on Dragovic a lot during game thread (and I am not going to give that up!!) but we were also having issues as Honeycutt and our other wings were coming up to defend but were being slow in rotating over, exposing helpless Drago around the baseline. No, I am not making excuses for Drago but the dude is so sad defensively and such a liability, he needs help. Still on the balance, the zone definitely helped. I am hoping and praying, Coach Howland gives it more than just lip-service in our next outing against Stanford.
Speaking of liability. FTs. Oy vey.
Really what else there is to say? I mean I don't know what to say except I keep thinking how must those Syracuse fans have been feeling during those classic years of Jimmy B. Just ugly. This also brings me the question, given how Nelson is an obviously liability from the FT line how we kept going back to him over and over and over again. Even the game winning shot seemed to be originally designed for Nelson.
We all love Nelson's effort and tenacity. Clearly the kid "brings it" every game. However, he still is not there yet defensively (as he is also getting lost at times). Frankly he is also being put in tough situations as an undersized 5 and he is trying to make the best out of it. The most important issue for Nelson is to get stronger. Guess that is the theme - getting stronger - for the entire team which also includes Honeycutt and Lee. I have to LOL at all those peeps who are supposedly in Lee's ears telling him to go pro. Instead of worrying about his draft status, they should be figuring out how Lee can get stronger and little more bulkier building him more durability for next level. Lee clearly has the potential (and would like to see him slash to the hoop a little more) but he needs to get stronger and bigger (along with rest of his team-mates).
As we talk about potential, a shout out to Brendan Lane. Lane (just like Honeycutt did as mentioned above) really screwed up in the zone giving up the baseline. But he hung in there. He had a great block and then had a nice 3 point play on the other. Also, props to Bobo for the mins he came in. He was productive. Perhaps there is something to be said about getting him his mins, by putting him in when we are playing zone? Would love to hear more from the basketball X and O junkies specifically on this point.
Anyway, over all we are all feeling good today. However, at the same time I am weary about Saturday. We won the game because we had decent shooting nights from Michael Roll and Nikola Dragovic. I have no confidence in any of those guys that they will be able to be average (shoot around 35-44 percent from 3 pt line) against Stanford. I certainly am not expecting Anderson to connect on three point bombs against Stanford either.
I am still left with the question whether we are going to be able to come out on Saturday with an intense effort and build on the upset win from last night? Are we going to be able to play inspired defense (mixing in both zone and man-to-man) and hold our own in the rebounding department? I honestly don't know the answer right now. I want to be hopeful but given our track record this season, not sure if our glaring issues have gone away. So in other words, I can help being (extremely) skeptical about our outlook heading into Saturday.