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UCLA Hoops Thoughts: Mix Of Silver Linings In A Mostly Infuriating Game Against An 0-9 Road Team

So Ben Howland's Bruins are now tied for "first place" in the PAthetiC-10. Yet I am not feeling the same joy or excitement around this team, like I felt during previous 5 seasons including Howland's tourney run in his second year in Westwood. Bruins pulled it out against a sorry Stanford basketball team at Pauley last night. However, they had to do it in crunch time because they could not play defense or be patient on offense for most of the game until the final six or seven minutes of the game. The end result was a feeling of relief after watching a game that was infuriating for most of the night.

There are obvious bright spots in this team. They are none other than two freshmen - Tyler Honeycutt and Reeves Nelson - who are doing their part to keep this team's faint hopes alive despite the predictably inconsistent performances from rest of the core players in this rotation (except for Michael Roll). It is too bad Honeycutt was injured for an extended stretch during early part of the season. If he had him healthy all along, I am guessing this team would have beaten Cal State Fullerton, Long Beach State, Butler and perhaps gotten one or two toss up wins from other games early in the season. Honeycutt, Nelson, and Roll and forming the same chemistry that existed between AA, JF and DT in Howland's second season in Westwood (it's just too bad lot of it at times get ruined by the other  senior scrubs on our roster).

Tyler Honeycutt is living up to his pre-college reputation. Gold wrote in the Daily News:

While still showing some freshmanitis, missing a pair of clutch free throws and two 3-pointers, Honeycutt displayed the passing skills that drew coach Ben Howland's eyes.

"The thing he does a great job of is seeing the floor," Howland said. "He's learning now not to over-dribble. He's got that height - like a Magic Johnson advantage. He made some great passes tonight. He's doing a great job rebounding. He made some unbelievable plays today."

It is very interesting to see Honeycutt and Nelson flourishing in front of our eyes, as they are taking advantage of a situation, where Howland had no choice but to give them minutes. I wonder how their game would have developed (or stunted) if they were on this roster two-three years ago, and played with the mindset as if they are walking on eggshell, constantly fearful and tentative of getting the hook after very first mistake. It's the same luxury that allowed AA and JF to flourish in their first seasons, and also enabled guys like LMR and PAA to give minutes for their defense, even if they were getting burned every now and then and picking up cheap fouls.

I also liked the fact that Howland made a critical adjustment late in the game by going man-to-man which sparked a 9-0 run:

Fields' layup off an offensive rebound gave Stanford a 60-54 lead with eight minutes left. The Bruins went man, Howland's preference until his current team changed his mind.

The zone has become so embedded in the Bruins' game plan that they have not worked on man defense in practice, "not a bit," Howland said.

They seemed to remember how. Stanford, leading 60-56, made only two of six shots and turned the ball over three times in the next five minutes.

"I think it confused them," Roll said.

It's too bad we were confused for the first 32 minutes of the game. More after the jump.

I know there is that whole cliché of taking one game at a time. However, not sure if this team that continues to feature a player who shows no commitment to play defense (for 90 percent of the game), deserves that kind of commitment from its fan base.   Regarding Ragovic, his apologists are sounding more and more like Dorrelistas from back in the day. Otherwise, there is no other explanation for some of these people with short attention span to over look the first 30-35 minutes, when he was getting  PWNed on D one possession after another and just flat out quitting on trying to get offensive boards. 

His defense except for getting couple of loose balls at the end of the game was worse than useless. For the idiots, celebrating his "big shot" and "clutch free throws," are completely forgetting that it was his atrocious play for most of the game that was one of the big reasons, we need those freaking clutch shots against a team which is now 0-9 on the road.

Rago is of course not the only problem (read that line before posting one liner whiny comment about how we just hate on Rago). We still don't have a point guard on this team who can shoot from outside. We have a walkon who can make some shots, but he doesn't get the minutues.  Patroclus keeps a separate spread sheet but at one during the game thread he noted Malcolm Lee is something like 3 for 23 from the three point line since the Pac-10 season started. That is just insane.

Moreover, our rotation looks tired and drained down the stretch because our head coach doesn't have the guts to trust the potential talent of his freshmen (who were just as hyped as any other freshmen group in America). I wonder if Moser and Lane's parents are wondering whether Howland wasted their entire freshmen season by not redshirting them. It is a very good question.

Going back to a positive data point from last night, the team did cut down on TOs. They had 23 against the Cardinal up in Maples and were looking pathetic in that department against Oregon State this past Saturday.  They only had 5 TOs last night. Yet at the same time number of time they were taking hurried shots (including a brain freezing three point attempt from Ragovic during the closing minutes of first half) amounted to few that do not show up on box score.

Despite the win, I can't stay I am really looking forward to rest of the regular season. We have a brutal stretch coming up against Cal and then consecutive road games against Southern Cal, Washington State, and Washington. I doubt we are going to win three out of those four. I doubt if even win 2 and there is a chance we get swept, killing the laughable aspect of having an 11-11 team winning this joke of a conference.

Guess tomorrow afternoon's tilt against Cal is a  "big" game. You know those guys are going to be looking for vengeance after the way we got lucky up in the Bay Area. Our zone defense hasn't really improved all that much despite all the chatter from the players this week. They shredded it pretty good last time we played them by consistently going after you know who. Marques Johnson took note of that trend in Berkeley, while Don MacLean did the same in Pauley last night.  They will most likely kill us on man-to-man because our guards are incapable of staying in front of them and I don't see the Bears shooting 3 for 18 from the three point line again.

If someone wants to pimp sunshine about this 11-11 team and write a long post on why we should all get excited about this team's next few games, they are more than welcome to. From what I am seeing with my own eyes, I see a team that has couple of bright stars and hard working role playing senior, who are often getting pulled down by an inconsistent, maddening bunch, who are infuriating to watch. Thank god we have had so much football news to keep us occupied during this dreadful hoops season. It hasn't been fun and I can't wait till the Senior Day.