For the Bruins (13-14, 8-7) who are heading out to Pauley this afternoon to take in the last home game of this regular season, it should be a win-win situation. You will get to enjoy the festivities around "Senior Day" celebrating the careers of some terrific Bruins, honor the 1970 NCAA champions including newly minted HOFer Sidney Wicks, and most importantly leave the arena marking the end of the home part of the toughest regular season since Howland's first year in Westwood. Yeah, there is a chance Bruins could come back to Pauley for an (gah) NIT game, but we will leave that discussion for another day.
Bruins will have a tough game against an Oregon Ducks team (13-14, 5-10) which is coming into Pauley with a bit of rare momentum and their own window of getting hot at the right time heading into the Pac-10 tournament. Ernie Kent by some accounts have been a Dead Duck Walking all season long. However, his team is now looking at 3 more winnable games (an injury riddled UCLA team and a closing homestand against mediocre Washington teams) to close out the regular season and enter the wide open Pac-10 tourney on a hot streak.
Bruins under Ben Howland have always had a tough time against the Ducks because of their athleticism in the back court. Bruin guards have always had a hard time dealing with Ducks quickness and dribble penetration (especially since the departure of LRMAM who in the golden days use to seal up any leaks in our perimeter defense). This year the problem have gotten worse as our backcourt has had a brutal time handling ball pressure on the other end (which has been an issue against every team with more athletic backcourt).
The problem is going to be even more interesting this afternoon against this Ducks team which is playing a variation of 2-3 zone defense. Kent is calling the scheme - "Golden State Small Ball" - which Ducks used effectively against the Trogans on Thursday night:
Kent called it "Golden State small ball,'' referring to Don Nelson's strategy of giving up size inside in favor of disrupting quickness on the outside. The Ducks withstood USC's considerable inside power - Alex Stepheson and Nikola Vucevic combined for 29 rebounds - and denied the Trojans open three-pointers.
After making 5 of 10 threes in the first half, USC missed all 13 of its three-point tries in the second.
"We kept making them have to make one more pass, one more pass, one more pass,'' said Tajuan Porter, snapping his fingers in rhythm. "Until they had to take a contested shot.''
You all know how the story goes here. To deal with this the Bruins will have to show patience. We will once again probably see Jerime Anderson starting the game 1, Malcolm Lee at 2 and Michael Roll at 3, with Howland counting on Roll to bring up the ball from backcourt. We will have a shot if Anderson and Lee decide to come in with defense first mindset and just focus on being steady on the other end (playing within their abilities).
"In their 2-3 zone, they apply more pressure (than Oregon State)," UCLA sophomore guard Malcolm Lee said. "We're just going to have to keep our composure during that game. Oregon, in the past, used to play man and pressure you. Now they pressure you on the zone. We're going to have to expect zone and stick with our game plan."
Hopefully that game play will rely on emphasizing the roles of complete basketball players such as Tyler Honeycutt and Michael Roll, instead of counting on a great day from one-dimensional lazy players who have an established track record of jacking up ill advised shots.
Nikola Ragovic probably has had 2-3 decent games in his 4 year career at UCLA. It would be helpful if he makes an honest effort to play another one in what thankfully will be his last home game at Pauley. I would hope on a day like today, he will focus on playing team basketball and work on getting the best shot for the team (not just for himself) taking cues from team-mates such as Roll and Honeycutt.
Depth will once again will be an issue for the banged up Bruins. Reeves Nelson is not going to be around. Brendan Lane was supposed to "test" his ankle yesterday but will most likely be out this afternoon. Dragovic has a sore shoulder but I am sure that will not stop Howland from giving his favorite player 30+ minutes for one last time to show off his basketball IQ on John and Nell Wooden Court. Interestingly though Oregon's big man - Michael Dunigan - is a bit banged up. From Bob Clark in the Register-Guard:
Michael Dunigan, on his sore hips that kept him out last weekend: "Still in pain, but it's less."
Dunigan said he was having ultrasound treatments, lots of icing, and takes anti-inflammatory drugs. He said it's similar to pain he had a year ago that forced him to miss action.
"It just comes and goes," Dunigan said. "It gets to the point where I can't stand it and I have to sit out."
Dunigan played 12 minutes against USC. He said Friday "It's still sore, it's pretty tight right now," but thinks he could be available for more minutes Saturday.
Again, I really hope Howland gives Bobo Morgan a chance than just the lip service minutes he gave him on Thursday night. Morgan should have gotten more than the 12 minutes he got in that game. I would think having Morgan out there for 15-20 minutes could help because he could hardly do worse defensively than what we get out of Ragovic.
Hopefully the advantage the Ducks will have this afternoon in terms of depth will be negated by the fact that the Bruins should come out and play with fire and intensity in front of an emotional home crowd fired up by the introductions of James Keefe, Michael Roll, Mustafa Abdul-Hamid and Spencer Soo (with golf claps for Nikola).
In terms of game day reports, the LA Times discovers the shocking & fresh revelation that the freshman class of 2008 has not lived up to expectations and the OC Register has a nice profile on home town kid Michael Roll. The tipoff is scheduled for 2:00 pm PST. Our game thread will go up about half an hour before it.