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Arizona Reflections After Another Demoralizing Loss

The outcome was not surprising neither was the manner in which we completely self-destructed in clutch minutes. Still what took place last night was another excruciating loss which left many of us utterly befuddled and frustrated at the end. No matte how much we want to make ourselves believe that we are getting number, every loss hurts. A loss against Arizona this way ... BURNS.

Ben Howland should get a lot of credit for the way he had his team prepared for this Thursday night game (even though every factor was going against us). Despite being short handed the Bruins came out looking like a decent team last night.  We were in position to actually win the game until Malcolm Lee went down with cramps. Yet as good as a job Howland did in preparing our team, it's his lack of imagination and courage to trust his younger and less experienced athletes, which resulted in another demoralizing loss.

Not sure what do we gain by going over in detail what Nikola Dragovic and Jerime Anderson did wrong. Dragvoic ended up with 19 points and 5 rebounds in a team high 39 minutes. If someone didn't watch the game, they would probably think he had a decent game, without realizing how he was solely responsible for countless defensive breakdowns, putting his team-mates in bad position to foul, taking dumb shots (with plenty of time left in shot clock), and generally exerting any kind of effort on defense. Meanwhile, Anderson played 16 minutes, yet somehow managed to commit 4 fouls while playing in a 2-3 zone defense.

We all knew the game was essentially over when Lee went down with cramps, and Howland once again decided to go with Jerime Anderson over Mustafa Abdul-Hamid. Abdul-Hamid played only 6 minutes and didn't get on the box score. However, it was more than noticeable how the Bruins closed out the first half on a steady note with him at pg. As for Rag, I understand the team was short-handed without Reeves Nelson, Bobo Morgan and James Keefe.

I am not sure how Howland justify playing him for 38 mins while giving Mike Moser a grand total of 4.  During his cameo appearance Moser at least made an effort on defense and committed hard fouls, just like PAA and LMR used to do in their freshmen days. I would think it would have made sense if Moser had gotten 12-15 minutes in this game, which would have allowed to Howland to shave off Tyler's 38 minutes (keeping him fresh down the stretch) and also take some mins off Rago's PT. Howland's post game comment was a little weird (in the LA Times):

"The guys worked hard, and obviously their effort was outstanding considering we're playing guys 38, 39 minutes," Coach Ben Howland said.

I wish we could hear what exactly Howland was trying to communicate. If he is trying to sound sorry for himself for playing guys 38-39 minutes a game, that is a little weak because he still had options like Moser and Abdul-Hamid who barely got any minutes, and who defensively couldn't be any worse than what we got out Rag and Anderson. Moreover, I sure hope Howland doesn't consider the "effort" we got from Rag and Anderson to anything close to "outstanding."

We can't also blame kids like Tyler Honeycutt and Michael Roll to be totally gassed in the closing minutes, considering time and again how much energy they had to spend to recover for the defensive lapses of you know who.

It was also comical to see the Bruins not running any play to go after Derrick Williams after he had picked up his 4th foul early in second half. We made one attempt with Brendan Lane to go after him but other than that we didn't do much. You would think one of our assistants would strongly plead to Howland that we needed to go after Derrick Williams by making credible efforts to go inside. Instead we were treated with the usual dumb shots from Nikola and Jerime Anderson screwing around in the perimeter. In contrast, Arizona seemed to repeatedly attack Lane as soon as he picked up his 4th and eventually fouled him out in second half.

Watching the game I couldn't help but wonder what would have happened this year if it didn't take Howland 14 games to figure out that he needed to play zone and big injuries to James Keefe (and Reeves Nelson) to give Brendan Lane substantial PT in his rotation. I don't think Bruins ever had a chance of emerging as a tourney team this season. However, if Howland wasn't stubborn and made his coaching adjustments earlier this season and learned to trust his youngsters or players other than his pets, Bruins might have had a shot at a winning record, and a better outlook heading into this off-season.

It was also interesting to see Malcolm Lee playing with so much more aggression at the 2. This is another added benefit of having Mustafa in the lineup. Having MAH at the 1 spot, allows Lee to play a little more lose and also with lot more defensive energy at the 2 spot.  It was something that was noticeable to me late in first half and it just made me wonder even more why we couldn't go with that rotation, when Lee came back from his cramps.

Lastly, not sure how many of you were watching the sidelines.  At one juncture of the game Howland pulled Anderson from the game and tried to tell him something on the sidelines. Instead of listening to him intently (while Howland was trying to tell him something), he just walked right passed him and didn't bother paying any kind of attention. There was something bizarre in that exchange, which I had never seen take place with Howland and his pg during his seven years in Westwood.

It was also more than noticeable how Reeves Nelson and some others (yeah, it's not just Anderson) on the bench were smiling around when it looked all but certain that we were going to lose the game. It reminded me of this tweet from AA from few days ago:

I hate losin more than I like winning

I wonder if that kind of mindset will ever come back in Howland's program. Despite the effort we have gotten from kids like Roll and the wonderful promise we see in kids like Honeycutt, right now I am not feeling confident.  Perhaps there will be a fresh start at the end of this season as Howland will recommit himself to building a team around a core of players who are truly dedicated to his original principles of defense, effort and intensity on both ends of the court.  Given the way Howland has coddled mentally soft players last two years, I don't feel good about reincarnation of AA days of "Ben Ball warriors" back in Westwood.

Thankfully we probably just have 80 minutes of this nightmare left this season. The immediate bad news is that we need to brace for another ugly and gut wrenching game in this road trip. The worse news is the game against Arizona State is on national TV (CBS) and also on Saturday, which haven't been a pretty combination this season. Guess the only good news is the regular season part of this nighmare will be coming to a merciful finish on Saturday.