I just wanted to quickly post and update as the Bruins board the plane to Tampa.
First the good news:
UCLA coach Ben Howland said on Monday that guard Malcolm Lee should be close to 100 percent when the Bruins open the NCAA tournament this week against Michigan State. "He's as close to full strength as possible," Howland said. "He should be ready to go." Lee, who had been fighting a knee injury, is the Bruins best perimeter scorer in the backcourt and should have an intriguing matchup with the Spartans' Durrell Summers.
This is important because Lee was limited against Oregon, some of that may have been self limiting as Lee was understandably cautious testing his knee (emphasis mine):
He played through it last Thursday in UCLA's loss to Oregon in the Pac-10 tournament and said he was pleased with how it responded.
"It was real sore and swelling and stiff, but I went to treatment to get all that stuff out and it feels good," Lee said. "That gave me a lot of confidence going into the NCAAs."
Doctors told Lee he'd need surgery after the season, but that he wouldn't risk further damage by playing through the injury. He practiced at full speed on Saturday and said he felt just fine.
"In the [Oregon] game, I was a little hesitant to be aggressive as far as trying to take my man off the dribble," Lee said. "But [Saturday] I went up and down and I was a lot more confident on it so the more I play on it and practice, it will be better for my confidence."
More after the jump.
This means Lee can cover Lucas, the Spartan's best player (the part of the quote above regarding Summers is likely wrong). However, Summers may be the key to the game. He was hot last year in the tournament but has been up and down throughout his career.
The biggest onus seems to be on Summers, the team's third-leading scorer who nevertheless endured a streak of eight consecutive games this season in which he failed to reach double figures in points. That wasn't a problem in last year's NCAA tournament, when Summers averaged 18.8 points in five games.
"Summers is very capable of going crazy," UCLA Coach Ben Howland said, "and we have to make sure he doesn't."
Howland said he expected Malcolm Lee, the Bruins' designated defensive stopper, to guard Lucas at least some of the time, particularly when Michigan State plays Keith Appling at point guard and moves Lucas to shooting guard.
Jones, Anderson and Honeycutt are going to need to step up on defense. This is the match-up that worries me. The good news is that Summers is inconsistent.
Also, the team seems to be taking the right message from the Oregon loss. Not just in words but in practice intensity (emphasis mine):
The good news for the Bruins is that the loss to Oregon seems to have opened their eyes.
"It was embarrassing to lose that way," forward Tyler Honeycutt said.
Practices since then have had a higher intensity with energy and enthusiasm, the players said. Some even said they were the best practices of the year, and Howland agreed.
"I think our practice was indicative that our guys understood how poorly we played," Howland said.
A brief footnote: Ian Eagle and Jim Spanarkel will be broadcasting the game, hopefully two Bruin games this week.