Sunday, March 12, 2006

Kings and Bruins win

Didn't really see any of the Kings game because the party moved down the street to a local bar. However, I was checking the score on my phone, saw that they were headed into a shootout, and ran back to my apartment (about 100 yards away) to catch the action. I think it's safe to say that I made it back to my apartment in less time than it took Luc to skate in and score the only goal of the shootout, but it was enough for the Kings to add another two points against a team that they really have to beat. I'm not really worried about giving up a point to St. Louis.

The Kings remain five points clear of the ninth place Sucks and 8 points clear of the 10th place Sharks, but each of those teams have three games in hand. They hold their destiny in their own hands.

Congratulations to the UCLA Bruins who blitzed their way to a Pac-10 championship, winning each game going away. After letting a big lead slip away at the end of the first half, the Bruins turned up the defense and got to the basket. They dominated the second half, and they didn't do it with a quick spurt, but rather with deliberate dominance. They won their three games in this tournament by an average of 21 points. They're going into the tournament playing their best basketball of the season.

What's so nice to see is that they're getting the contributions from everywhere. Darren Collison is practically outplaying Jordan Farmar. Afflalo is shooting the ball well, getting into the lane, and the play he made to draw defenders before feeding Hollins for the dunk was terrific. LRMAM and Aboya have continued to progress. Michael Roll is providing solid defense on the one end while extending the defense on the other. Ryan Hollins looked at a calendar and decided it was pretty much now or never, and has really started to turn himself into a force inside. Ced Bozeman has really elevated his game. His defense is fantastic, and he has been much more active on the offensive end, flying into the lane at times and drawing contact.

The three blowouts allowed Coach Howland to give extended minutes to Lorenzo Mata, who I believe will be called upon to provide very valuable minutes at some point in this tournament. They now have six guys on the front line that defend and give fouls (LRMAM, Aboya, Wright, Fey, Hollins, Mata), which is very valuable against teams who are thin up front. Those late '90s Stanford teams often did that against UCLA when they really only had Gadzuric up front. It seemed liked they would pull seven footers out of the stands. That's such a luxury at this time of year.

Before the season I thought a trip to the sweet sixteen was a reasonable expectation, and that a trip to the elite 8 was within reach. Bump those up a notch now. And anything short of sweet sixteen would be a failure. I've made the comparison a number of times, and going into this tournament, this team really reminds me of the 2003-2004 Illini. A lot expected of them, but ultimately, the window is next year. That means it will be easy to get over an earlier than expected exit from the tournament, because there is so much to look forward to.

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