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Need 40 Minutes Tonight; VCU v. UCLA NIT Preview

Today I join the Bruin fans at MSG for the NIT (ESPN and ESPN 3 at 11:30 Pacific).  I am excited and not at all down about our loss against Villanova.  I  feel that the ghosts of 2009-10 are getting behind us.  However, VCU is another tough team for UCLA and this will be a very tough game.  We are a young team that needs to realize that while you can take some time off against Pepperdine at home, you can't against good teams on the road or in a neutral site.  If you don't play 40 minutes, we will lose again.  Especially against VCU,  one brief let up is all it takes, as NIT regional top seed Wake Forest found out the hard way:

Unleashing a zone press that fueled an incredible blitz in the final 13 minutes, VCU turned a four-point deficit into a 90-69 rout of Wake Forest last night in the second round of the NIT Season Tip-Off at Wake Forest. . .

In a span of 84 seconds, VCU harassed the Deacons into four turnovers in the press and reeled off 12 unanswered points. Wake, which got 10 points from Travis McKie (John Marshall High), had trouble just getting the ball past halfcourt. . ..

The Rams extended the spree until the end, outscoring Wake 41-16. The Deacons had nine of their 20 turnovers in the final 13 minutes.

"That was the first time I've seen [the press] like that," Rodriguez said. "It's awesome like that. We've been trying to get it like for about a year now."

More on VCU and notes on the first NIT game after the jump.

VCU is an experienced  fast paced team that will press UCLA:

The Rams have a nucleus of upperclassmen who have been part of 76 wins the past three seasons and now have a year in the fast-paced system of second-year coach Shaka Smart. Four starters return from a team that racked up the second-highest point total (2,737; 76.0 per game) in school history. Point guard Joey Rodriguez, a preseason all-CAA pick, averaged 12.9 points and ranked 15th nationally in assists per game (5.8). 

Most VCU fans already know Smart’s battle cry. "We are going to wreak havoc on the opponent’s psyche and their plan of attack,"  Smart has often said.

This is the kind of game UCLA really needs to win.  UCLA is playing a good veteran mid-major team in a neutral court on two days rest that likes to press.  In 09-10, this was a blow out waiting to happen.  But this year's team has proven it will fight.  Unlike 2009-10, the team did not fold despite playing four awful minutes against Villanova in the NIT semifinal at the end of the first half and choking at the free throw line when we had a chance to come back.  But the key is we did not give up:

In fact, UCLA was only trailing 30-27 with 4:31 to play in the first half, but then Villanova hit its stride at just the right time. The school from Philadelphia was all of a sudden heading into its Garden locker room up by 15 points.

"We thought we had a chance to win," Howland said. "So it was disappointing at halftime to be down as much as we were."

But Howland’s team did not back down after the break, pushing the lead back down into single digits on multiple occasions. UCLA had a player at the free-throw line down six two separate times in the second half, but neither free throw was converted, and that was as close as the Bruins would get to their veteran Big East opponent.

"These experiences will help us," Howland said. "Bottom line is we have to learn from it."

 The end of the first half was as bad as possible.  

Villanova closed the first half with a 14-2 run to take a 44-29 lead. Fisher had six points in the spurt and Wayns had four. The Bruins were their own worst enemy during the run, not making a field goal over the last 5:30 and committing five turnovers.

UCLA was able to get within eight points four times midway through the second half as Villanova started the half making four of its first 20 shots from the field. But each time the Bruins seemed ready to make a big run, the Wildcats answered to get the lead back to double figures.

The fifth time the Bruins got within eight they scored to get within 58-52, but they hurt themselves at the free throw line.

UCLA made 11 of its first 12 free throws in the game. Once the Bruins got within six with 7:53 to play, they made just two of seven attempts over the next two minutes and Villanova took advantage to start opening the lead again. UCLA never got closer than eight points the rest of the way.

The key to the second half was defense and an adjustment by CBH.  Instead of hedging and trying to disrupt the offense, we packed in the defense and baffled Villanova.  This is a good sign for the future when we play someone like Washington (who like Villanova Wednesday, seems to get many calls at home and is guard heavy):

Fisher and Wayns enjoyed success in the first half taking their defenders to the basket at will. But in the second half, the drives weren’t nearly as effective, with the Bruins forcing them into the occasional wild shot off the drive.

The Wildcats hit just 4 of their first 20 shots from the field in the second half, including a drought of 6 minutes, 43 seconds without a field goal.
. . .
[Villanova Coach Jay] Wright appreciated the constant attacking but admitted Fisher and Wayns might have been a little overly aggressive at times, especially with the defense backing into the lane.

 "I knew that team was not going to go away," he said. "They grinded it. They did a good job. That’s a sign of Ben’s teams – great discipline and they did a really good job."

It bears repeating that this is a young team in their first road game against a veteran top ten team. How young?  Keep in mind, our PG is four games removed from JC.  Again, except for some let ups the team really fought.  As CBH said:

"They are a fine team and we'll get better with experience," Bruins Coach Ben Howland said. "Lazeric's playing in a big game really for the first time against a top-10 team. … We have to learn from it and bounce back."

One last tidbit.  Enough with the positive stuff, now a couple items to watch.   The +/- bears out that Reeves Nelson and Malcolm Lee stunk up the joint in the first half as people have commented.  This was Nelson's second bad half in a row.  Lee's ankle may have bothered him and he probably deserves a pass.  But the fact remains Lee was blanked in the first half and got burned on D while Nelson forced some shots and  was horrid on defense.  With UCLA's guards, the bigs have to help on D, including Reeves.  They both played better in the second half.

Lee and Nelson may have to play more this game as Brendan Lane is hurting and will be a gametime decision.

It will be interesting to see how CBH plays these two in this game.  Will he play Lamb more if Lee disappears?  I think it was great that after a non-foul call when Nelson slumped his shoulders, stopped and bitched to the ref  that CBH benched Nelson instantly. Hopefully, Nelson won't do that again, but if he does CBH better pull him, even if it means Honeycutt at 4. 

I'll be there tonight cheering on our Bruins and despite this team's warts I think they will fight and win.  But they can't check out for 4 minutes off again or we will likely get our second loss.

Go Bruins!