Following the loss against Southern Cal, I thought for sure the Bruins were going to finish last regular season stretch with a record of 2-4, by losing all of our road games and barely holding serve against Oregon schools at Pauley. I did not think the Bruins were going to win at Pullman (the Cougars were favored to win that game) and I still believe Bruins are going to be huge underdogs in their remaining road games in Arizona and the one against Washington tonight on prime time.
Yet the Bruins came out and put together the most impressive performance of the season against Washington State. I completely agree with the arguments presented by bruinponcho about how we should make too much out of that performance against a dreadful Washington State team. However, I do think the Bruins have given themselves a slight opening to finish this season in a positive note (even if it does not result in any kind of post-season appearance and an overall record that will leave a hole in Ben Howland's Bruin resume).
If the Bruins can build on Thursday night's performance by putting together 40 minutes of intense basketball in which they play defense with focus and effort, and then respond with a strong performance in their last home stand, I think it will give them a chance to finish the season on a decent note and especially give them some much needed confidence heading into next season. This will hinge on Coach Howland continuing to trust his bench - which was incredibly allowed to log more than 60 minutes on Thursday night - from here on out.
As far as tonight's game is concerned before anyone gets dreamy about a victory let's make sure to remind ourselves of two datapoints:
- Coach Howland has lost 5 straight games in Seattle
- Bruins were not able to beat the Huskies in Hec. Ed. despite having warriors such as AA, RW, KL, LRMAM, PAA ... you get the picture.
So, we have no shot on getting a win. Yet there is one factor that might be working for us. More on that and other game notes after the jump.
The pressure is on the Huskies to blowout UCLA on national television. While we have had a tough season, by UCLA standards, the Huskies have had a monumentally disappointing season to date, considering they were one of the favorites to win the conference. They had arguably the best player in the conference - Quincy Poindexter - leading the way in his senior season, flanked by perhaps the most athletic backcourt combo (Isaiah Thomas, Venoy Overton and Abdul Gaddy) out West.
Yet, despite all that talent and all the help they get from SPTRs on their home court, the Huskies are in sixth place in the conference with a record of 7-7 and an overall record of 17-9. They are also coming off a disappointing home loss against the Trogans. Add to that they are going to be reminded of Mustafa Abdul-Hamid's buzzer beater constantly heading into tonight's tipoff. So they are going to be fired up emotionally (with a frenzied but not too classy student section) but under a lot of pressure to blow the Bruins out of Seattle. Already the tWWL gameday crew came out this am and declared they expected the Huskies to win.
So if the Bruins come out with poise and most importantly focus, while playing with same sense of passion and energy they could make it close early on. If they can make it interesting out of the gate and if they can sustain their composure even when the Dawgs are making their expected runs, the game could be well interesting and perhaps not very comfortable for the Huskies. I know there are lot of IFs here, and ultimately I don't think we are going to be able to show that composure, but it is something to think about.
The keys for the Bruins tonight if they want to make this game "interesting" will be ball control, rebounding and free throw shooting. Let's start with ball control. Malcolm Lee talked to the Daily News about being efficient and milking the clock:
The Bruins consistently milked the clock in the second half, utilizing much of the 35-second clock throughout the second half and not once dipping under a 15-point lead.
"That's definitely on the point guard to control the game and that kind of mind-set," Lee said. "Knowing when to push it and when to pull it out is a key, and I think Jerime and I did a real good job on that. There were a lot of opportunities toward the end where we could've just took it, but time was on our side. We did a real good job milking the clock and when it was time to score, we finished our thing."
Husky guards are going to come after us relentlessly all night, and it will be up to us to make sure we are playing with poise and focusing on simple execution, rather than trying something too fancy. That brings me to Jerime Anderson, who perhaps had his most encouraging outing of this season against Washington State. If he wants to build on that performance, he will have to keep his cool and play at least average against the ball pressure he is going to face against the Husky guards. That also applies to Lee, Mustafa Abdul Hamid, and even Michael Roll, who has had his share of careless TOs in number of games this season.
The other aspect of control also includes taking good shots and not jacking up panicked, ugly looking jumpers from the three point line. This will especially become pivotal when the Dawgs go on their expected mini runs throughout the game. This is where I really hope the Bruins will build on the chemistry Roll and Honeycutt showed with their beautiful passing on Thursday night. I would also hope Coach Howland will trust Bobo with nice chunk of minutes and using his size and (apparent) court vision to locate the cutters attacking the rim. Obviously this also entails to Ragovic behaving on the court by not taking dumb shots and also looking to go underneath.
Meanwhile, the Bruins will have to hold their own in rebounding department. They cannot let Huskies get away with dominating the boards and get second, third chance points. As Rob Carpentier notes on Bruin Report Online (game preview not behind subscription firewall) Huskies have had a rough time against zone which should put added emphasis on making sure we get the rebounds:
Defensively, zone defenses have given UDub some serious trouble this season. The Huskies are not a good outside shooting team, averaging only 31% from the three-point line for the season. Their two outstanding scorers, senior Quincy Pondexter (6'6" 215 lbs.) and sophomore Isaiah Thomas (5'8" 185 lbs.), who average 20.3 PPG and 17 PPG respectively, are only shooting 36% and 31% from beyond the arc. In fact, besides Pondexter, only sophomore Scott Suggs (6'6" 185 lbs.) is shooting at least 36% from beyond the arc. Washington's strength is its ability to drive the ball to the hoop. Along with Pondexter and Thomas, Romar can count on very good athletes in juniors Venoy Overton (5'11" 185 lbs.) and Justin Holiday (6'6" 180 lbs.) as well as freshman Abdul Gaddy (6'3" 190 lbs.) to have the quickness to beat their defensive man to the hoop or attack the seams in a zone defense. The problem for Romar and the Huskies is that they don't always play smart or tough basketball and can tend to settle for outside shots.
Relatively poor outside shooting wouldn't be as much of a liability if the Huskies could rebound well on the offensive end, but quite simply the Huskies don't have a strong front line. Junior Matt Bryan-Amaning (6'9" 240 lbs.), sophomore Darnell Gant (6'8" 225 lbs.) and freshman Tyrese Breshers (6'7" 255 lbs.) do give Romar a great deal of size on the low block. However, each has some serious liabilities. Bryan-Amaning, perhaps the most effective big man on the roster, has gotten into consistent foul trouble throughout the season. Gant is incredibly raw as an offensive player and Breshers, who will ultimately be the best of the three, isn't the quickest of players. A good indicator of how much the Huskies miss Jon Brockman is that UDub's leading rebounder is Pondexter at 8.1 RPG while the three Husky big men combine to average only a little more than 10 RPG.
It will be interesting how many minutes Reeves Nelson gets tonight who had 15 stitches to repair his latest cut. Reeves told the LA Times he is ready to play:
"I slept well, no problems," Nelson said. "We're just trying to keep the swelling down with ice. But I'm ready to play."
We will see how he looks tonight on national TV. I hope Howland continues to give big minutes to Lane and Bobo, even if they make couple of mistakes early on. Bobo is obviously excited about what took place on Thursday:
Morgan was grateful for the extra playing time. The fact that the minutes came in bunches, rather than sporadically, helped him get into the game's rhythm.
"I think it's real big for me because that's the type of player I am," Morgan said. "I have to get going. I have to get into the game before I can start helping the team big.
"Coach is pretty happy with my performance, and I think I can get bigger blocks of time in the future."
I think Bobo should keep focusing on going after those rebounds, blocks, and using his court vision on offense. The points will come eventually if he stays with his defense and focusing on all the little things that help the team.
Speaking of the little things, we should talk about not so little factor about the expected FT disparity tonight in Seattle. More from Rob on BRO:
Of course, there is the proverbial elephant in the room in the form of Washington's ability to get to the free-throw line when they play in Seattle. Much has been written about the free-throw disparity between the Huskies and their opponents when the Huskies play at home. Much of that disparity, regardless if you think it comes from Pac-10 officials favoring Washington, results from UDub's aforementioned ability to drive the basketball. The question will be whether or not the Huskies can do that against an active Bruin zone defense. In the first match-up of these two teams, the Huskies were able to get good looks from the short corner and through the use of skip passes coupled with backscreens on the top two Bruin defenders. Being successful with those was much of the reason Washington was able to lead against the Bruins for much of the game at Pauley. However, when Coach Ben Howland adjusted to those plays, the Huskies didn't have an answer and that enabled the Bruins to claw their way back and ultimately win on Abdul-Hamid's buzzer beater. The main point here is that Washington was unable to drive the ball to the rack consistently against UCLA's zone in the first match-up and their hot shooting at the beginning of that game tailed off significantly in that game's second half. If the Bruins can keep the Huskies out of the lane with regularity then that will also go a long way towards a Bruin victory.
So the best the Bruins can do tonight is to make sure they seal up the perimeter as much as possible, focus on pulling those rebounds, and while making their shots on the other end. Kind of an impossible task given that we didn't get it done with warriors such as AA, LRMAM, DC and RW. Guess we will see what transpires tonight.
Like I said though the pressure is on them to make an emphatic statement, given their own disappointing season. Plus it also happens to be their senior night with Quincy Poindexter's last game in Seattle.
The tip-off is scheduled for 6 pm PST. As mentioned, thankfully there will be no Steve Lavin. I am actually intrigued to hear what Coach Bobby Knight (along with Jay Bilas) has to say about our team. See you in the game thread, which will go up about half hour before the tipoff.