Ben Howland's Bruins have a short practice this week before heading out of town for what should be a brutal and ugly road trip to Washington. It gets started with matchup against the Cougars in Pullman on Thursday night where the Bruins have won 16 games in a row. I think it is almost safe to assume that streak is going to end tomorrow, before the Bruins either get humiliated or get a true moral victory in Seattle in front of a national TV audience on tWWL on Saturday.
Bruins are thankfully not sounding delusional by talking about winning the regular season conference title. Instead they are now talking about how they need to play next 6 games to set up a run in the Pac-10 tournament. That is a nice thought but it is not going to matter much if their head coach keeps going with pretty much the same rotation. Sure he may do a little tinkering necessitated by James Keefe's injuries (more on that below), however he is going to stick with the same core when it matters, which has been mostly ineffective, uninspiring and often just unwatchable the entire season.
In the meantime, it looks like players are calling each other out. Michael Roll blurted out what we have been seeing all season. He called out Ragovic (and Reeves Nelson) for lollygagging through games (emphasis added throughout):
"I wouldn't even say it's about being part of the offense; it's about being into the game," UCLA senior shooting guard Michael Roll said. "When they're not playing well, as a team we have a tendency to check out. They have a tendency to not play as hard if things aren't going their way. If we can get them to turn that around - as a team, we all need to play harder if they're not playing well, just to pick up the slack."
Let me get to Nelson first. There is no doubt he has gotten frustrated at times. He has also goofed up on defense numbers of times. However, he has three legit reasons. He is a FRESHMAN. It happens all the time with freshman at UCLA. It takes a while for them to pick up all intricacies of a Howland defense (and this year it has been more challenging given Howland has been coaching a zone defense which he hasn't done much in his career). Second, he is playing out of position as an undersized 5. Lastly, he has dealt with serious injuries this season ranging from swollen eye to concussions due to his playing hard.
Ragovic on the other hand has no excuse whatsoever. He is a senior who has been around the program for four years and has caught all kinds of break from his head coach after getting himself in bad situations, and somehow managing to stay in the program while others were shown the door for not playing tough defense. He has repeatedly gotten away by lollygagging as a defender, even though Howland uses the quick hook for most of his other players. So he has no excuse and it is telling for him to get exposed by a fellow senior. Embarrassing for him and for Ben Howland who still thinks this guy somehow has "leadership" qualities to anchor a UCLA basketball program.
Ben Howland's disparate treatment of Ragovic hasn't been helpful because it seems right now that there is definite internal dissension within the team. More on this after the jump.Bald Eagle made a pretty interesting observation about team chemistry following the ugly, record setting loss against the Trogans. He noted how at one point of the game Malcolm Lee went down hard and Reeves Nelson didn't come over to help out even though he was close by. Well Nelson is openly calling out our guards in the paper today:
Nelson's touches have been erratic at times, and so have his points - from 19 against Washington State on Jan. 23 to 11 at Oregon on Jan. 28, from 18 against Stanford on Feb. 4 to a combined 16 against Cal and USC - as he continues to learn how to get open and how to use his legs in the post.
"You can't really pass the ball into yourself, so it's just up to the guards to either take open shots or get the ball inside," Nelson said. "It's easier said than done, I guess. But it's up to them - they run the offense."
Ooof. So much for sticking together as a team through the adversity. Then again I can understand freshmen being a little bewildered and bemused through this season when they see how players like Ragovic who don't have to play any defense keeps getting their 35+ minutes, and guards like Anderson routinely put in before the end of half or during crunch time in second half to cough away leads and momentum.
Moving over to injury news, as referenced up top Keefe is still out this week. Howland mentioned he will need surgery when the season is over:
"He's unlikely for this week - he did have the MRI read that he had on Sunday morning, and basically it showed that there's not a lot of new activity," Howland said. "My hope is he'll be able to play in our last four regular-season games. He's gonna need surgery once the season's over - the screws are still in place, but I think it's pretty clear they're going to have to go back in there and take a look."
At this point I think James Keefe needs to think about the overall health of Keefe and put that above the interest of this team. His career at UCLA hasn't worked out the way we all envisioned it to be. However, he has been nothing short of a Ben Ball warrior given the way he has dedicated his heart and soul and sacrificed his body (and his career when he gave up a medical redshirt) for the four letter.
Keefe had his moments of glory when he helped us get into the Final-4. So, I think Keefe should rest up, focus on getting healthy and finish on a high note in classroom in his last few months in Westwood. He along with Michael Roll will be two seniors, we will be celebrate and bid goodbye with some happy memories from great days. So James Keefe, please put your health above the game during these remaining days of 2009-10 basketball season. You have done enough.
Lastly, Howland is saying Morgan is going to "get a chance to play more":
"Bobo's going to get a chance to play more. We can't obviously afford any more injuries. That would be difficult.
Guess we will have to see. Howland has been saying a lot of things this season. Unfortunately they have not been translating on the court since he keeps doing the same things.