First, it is stranger than a Ben Howland team playing zone to imagine BN without Nestor every morning . . . afternoon . . . and evening.
Nestor and I met when we both were complaining about CHP while others were still drinking the Kool-Aid. They would say "Lavin wins" or "Lavin can recruit" but missed the important picture that Lavin could not coach and was a snake oil salesman who did not represent UCLA or Wooden's legacy.
I bring this up today mainly because of Nestor's departure but also because of the next three games for UCLA Basketball. UCLA COULD potentially play VIllanova #6 ranked (*pseudo road game), Tennessee #24, and Kansas #7(road game) in its next three games. That would be a tough test for any team especially one as young as ours. While we don't believe in moral victories, this is November so progress and how this teams deals with its first tough road games are important. No CHP blow outs or confusion. It is not only about wins, which UCLA fans should be realistic about, but how do these young Bruins represent the four letters in their first tough stretch.
Brief notes on each player and CBH going into the game tonight.
The Captain -- Malcolm Lee
Malcolm Lee is probable for the game tonight. To me this means he is likely to go but will not be a 100%. We will really need him on defense as Villanova starts two very quick and good PGs. I am hoping he is not risking further injury but he is showing leadership something that quite frankly we lacked last year:
"It's a big stage, we're playing Villanova," Lee said on Friday. "Our team is short on scholarship players, so I just want to get out there and help my team."
The Star--Tyler Honeycutt
Tonight we begin to get a taste of how good Tyler Honeycutt can be. Villanova's Stokes is a very good defender and has the athletic ability to play with Honeycutt. Honeycutt is the UCLA leader or second best in virtually every statistical category. MIN (1st), PPG (2nd), RPG (2nd), APG (2nd),SPG(2nd), 3PM (1st). Yes, he is also leading us in TOs but overall he has been very good in the first three games.
Reeves Nelson was PAC 10 player of the week based on his outstanding games, that caused the OCR to say Reeves: " produced one of the most dominant performances so far this college basketball season." While that is a bit over the top, what is more interesting is what Howland and Reeves said after the Pacific game:
"I'm expecting a double-double from Reeves and Honeycutt," Howland said. "Those guys are capable of averaging a double-double for the year. There's no doubt about that. I've talked to both of them about that - double-doubles on a consistent basis."
. . . Honeycutt and Nelson both admitted to being exhausted after the game, and Howland said the players will have two straight days off for the first time since the preseason started.
"With all the combinations - Josh in foul trouble, us already being thin on the front, back-to-back nights - it all got to me," Nelson said. "But that's no excuse for how I played (in the second half)."
There are high expectations on Nelson and an exhausted Nelson let up on defense in the second half. It is encouraging that he is not just taking the glory but knows he has to work to get better. He will likely be matched up tonight with Antonio Pena, a guy with a habit of taking advantage of lesser competition but can be exploited by better players. I am hoping a focused Nelson can really win the battle of the 4s on both ends of the court. From a Philly sports blog:
F- Antonio Pena, Sr (24.9mpg, 10.5 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 57.7% / 69.6% / n/a)
Decent numbers, adequate big man in the Big East, but just drove me crazy at times last year. Played a lot better against the cupcakes to start the season than when we played the big boys.
The Big Guy
Do we have another word for "big" for Smith yet? He outweighs his banging large Big East opponent tonight but the key is he needs to stay on the floor. He is averaging a foul every four minutes! Yep, that means if he did not come out, on average, he would foul out in the the first half. We need to see more of him on the floor. He is so big, he changes everything just being there.
Lazeric has done a good job as PG. He leads UCLA in assists and has hit all his FTs. He is looking solid. Tonight solid may not be enough. Villanova starts two guys who would be the PG on most teams in Fisher and Wyans. If Jones gets Wyans, it will be interesting if he backs off him and dares him to shoot the three. Wyans is quicker than Jones and a monster off the dribble but the jury is still out on if he can hit the three. The guard matchup is the biggest worry.
The bad news so far is that Smith gets too many fouls, the good news is that Lane has done a very good job filling in for Smith. Lane's stats are awesome so far this season, 71% FG, 3-3 from 3, 5.3 Rebounds, and 2.3 blocks per game! Lane has really stepped up and proven why CBH chose him as the first sub off the bench each game. He has done everything asked of him and done it well.
However, it was another Bench player that CBH has gone out of his way to praise: Tyler Lamb. As Nestor noted earlier, Lamb even drew comparisons to AA from CBH. We may need some AA type defense tonight on the Villanova guards, I hope Lamb can prove worthy of the praise.
CBH has proved he can be a genius on games with long breaks. He has had 8 days to prepare for this game. It will be fascinating to watch the chess game. Against a Big East team, will we revert to a defense first approach like the second half of the Pacific game which we lost on the scoreboard 20-17? Or will we be the "push it" Bruins? In honor of Nestor, I will close with a point Nestor liked to make earlier this year, we are not necessarily that different:
With incoming freshmen such as the rangy Tyler Lamb and ultra-quick Jones, Howland knew he'd have the athletes to go back to the high-pressure, man-to-man style that helped take UCLA to three Final Fours in four years. He also thought this season's team would be better off as an up-tempo offensive team, instead of a half-court, set-play oriented attack. .
"I think [becoming more up-tempo] is something we need to do. Our personnel is good for this right now. Our wings can get out and run. We got a lot of easy baskets the last few games.
"It's not like we haven't run before. The image of that is created by I-don't-know-who?
Regardless of what happens tonight, I am excited to watch this team develop.