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UCLA vs. U$C: Ben Howland on the Spot

Not much has changed since our first preview of UCLA vs. U$C.  The main difference is the Trogans are not playing quite as well, especially guard Jio Fontan. (Donte Smith off the bench has had a couple good games though and is a streaky player.). U$C is 2-4 since they played UCLA, while UCLA is 5-1.   So instead of matchups, let's talk about some of the other factors in the game tonight. 

So four things briefly, then to the important fifth:

1. Losing 5 in a row to any team is unacceptable, to U$C is unthinkable. 

UCLA heads into tonight's clash with USC at Pauley Pavilion having lost four consecutive games to the Trojans, equaling the longest skid against an opponent of the Ben Howland era, yet the Bruins are focused more on their own shortcomings than their crosstown rival.

2. The worst loss in the CBH era was last year to U$C as Nestor described here and here.  It is important to note that CBH said at the time: 

"I'm embarrassed for our team," UCLA Coach Ben Howland said. "I feel embarrassed for the program, for the former players and coaches. That's all you can say, it was embarrassing."

Winning tonight is not just another game. This would be the game for the Bruins not just to win but to win big.

3. The ticket to the Big Dance.  We can't have anymore bad losses. If it were not for the loss to Montana, our worse RPI loss this year would be to U$C, we can't have that happen twice in a year and make the tournament. 

4. Speaking of Montana, one of the excuses for that loss was that everyone from the students who did not show up to the players who stayed out too late for the game were effected by the U$C football game the night before. Everyone involved with UCLA should be up for this game. 

5. But most of all CBH better not lose it because of his coaching decisions. Which is what the rest of this post is about after the jump.

CBH in the pre-U$C interview talks about he will "never say never" on a zone but states that he is very "unlikely" to play zone against U$C.  The conventional wisdom is to beat U$C, you play zone.  There are a multitude of reasons for this but there seem to be some UCLA specific ones:

  • Need to keep Joshua Smith on the court and out of foul trouble and Reeves Nelson is still playing on a bad ankle.  It seems you would want to keep those two on the court, possibly by protecting/resting them in a zone.
  • The bench, specifically Brendan Lane, cannot cover Vucevic as CBH details in the press conference and states Lane will not play him this game. 
  • UCLA has had problems with quality bigs this year, as detailed here.  A zone would seem to be a possible solution, certainly worth trying in this game.

However, CBH will not play zone.  Given the fact that Lane will not play Vucevic and the fact that Smith can't cover him (he is too quick and good outside shooting) that means that Nelson will have to play the guy that CBH considers one of the three best bigs in the Pac-10 for much of the game. 

Which brings us to the last and most troubling point of the press conference linked above.  CBH took Joshua Smith out of the game against Arizona State after he argued with the referee about a non-foul call and did not go back on defense.  Arizona State promptly took advantage of the 5 on 4 situation to score a three.  That much is not in dispute.  After this it gets a bit weird.  At the 2:48 mark CBH responds to a question is there a difference when Reeves walks back?

"Uh, yeah there is no difference [when Reeves walks back]."

I checked the game threads and there was only one time I saw when Reeves was benched for walking back.  I am sure it has happen more but I am just as sure that Reeves, unlike Smith in this case, was not punished when he walked back on defense. CBH goes on to say that they just talked about it and that Smith has done it before as well.

There is a lot of consternation at BN over the treatment of players being unequal, especially last year with Drago.  Let me emphasize no one should compare Reeves to Drago, there is no comparison.  Reeves is a contributing player to this UCLA team.  But the question is does CBH treat different players by different standards and, more importantly, is that fair?  No coach, not even Coach, treated all players exactly the same.  That said, the second part "is this fair" is more important.  Why is Reeves seemingly getting away with walking back while Josh is not.  It could be as CBH says that they had just talked about it, so he felt the need to take Josh out.  But last year, in particular, CBH seemed to have a quick hook for some players while letting other players get away with the same mistake. 

Tonight will be a good test of Reeves and CBH on this front.  Reeves will likely have his toughest defensive job of the year for much of the game.  If Reeves does not play defense hard, will CBH yank him?   BN and Bruin fans will be watching closely. 

UCLA must beat U$C tonight and CBH had better have the team ready with a good game plan to win.  During the loss in the last USC game, Zeek Jones was not himself and favoring his finger.  The Bruins have no excuses tonight.  CBH has to win for the fans, for this team and for himself.

Go Bruins and Beat $C!