Saturday, February 17, 2007

UCLA 81; Arizona 66

While Jordan Farmar gets his minutes in the NBA, Darren Collison has turned himself into UCLA's best point guard since Earl Watson, and maybe their best point guard since Tyus Edney. Collison was tremendous today, and only a tremendous performance could overshadow the resurgence of Josh Shipp, who played his best game in months. Collison added 17 points to go along with 15, and that's not a typo, 15 assists against only two turnovers. It was a Deron Williams like performance. 15 of his 17 points came from beyond the arc on 5-7 shooting from three, including, for the second straight week, an absolute dagger as the shot clock expired. He actually did it twice, once to open the second half, and again to give the Bruins a 10 point lead with just over seven minutes to play.

As for Shipp, all he did was toss in 24 points to go along with four rebounds and two steals. Shipp is a scorer, and UCLA needs him to score. Today he brought it. He had three dunks, and two three pointers, and that's what he needs to do for UCLA to go deep into the post-season. He makes Collison and Aaron Afflalo much better when he shoulders his portion of the scoring load. Afflalo had another ho-hum 15 point game, and though he didn't shoot for a very impressive percentage, he once against seemed to make big shots, including three at the end of the shot clock. It was contagious, as not only Collison followed suit, but so did Michael Roll and LRMAM, who's three pointer at the buzzer pushed the lead to 14 with about 2:30 to play, and really put the game away.

For the second straight game UCLA turned up the defense in the second half. Where Arizona found an extra gear to pull the game back in the first half, UCLA completely denied them the opportunity to do so in the second half. And they absolutely took Ivan Radenovic out of the game. I'll admit, I was worried that he'd bring them back. He's usually lights out for 30 minutes, then invisible for the last 10. After being invisible for the first 30 today, I thought he'd take over in the last 10, but he was a real disappointment for Arizona. On the other hand, that Jordan Hill is going to be very good. I really liked his poise inside, and he's a terrific athlete for his size. He's going to be a force next year, and depending on how long he stays, he's going to be a factor in conference play for a while.

Arizona spent a good portion of the game in the zone defense. I understand that the Bruins have looked uncomfortable against zone defenses this season, though more often than not, they go on to win games against teams that play zones. Now, I'm no basketball expert, but it seems like a team would play zone for a number of reasons, among the most obvious being:
  1. Protect a big man who's in foul trouble;
  2. It make it tougher to go inside, so if you're playing a team with a very good inside presence, it takes them out of their game;
  3. Forces your opponent to beat you with their guards;
  4. Slows the tempo, and frustrates an up tempo opponent.

Clearly 1) and 4) aren't really concerns for Arizona. Basically, a zone defense forces the ball into the hands of your opponents guards and wings.

Well, if teams want to keep challenging UCLA to make Shipp, Collison, and Afflalo beat them, then hell, more power to 'em! Those three are UCLA's three best players. By all means, force them to make those guys beat you.

And of course, please play a zone when you're down by 10 with 3+ minutes to go. Worst case scenario for your opponent is that they take 35 seconds off the clock and still have a 10 point lead. At least in man to man, you make your opponent work to run down the clock, or maybe you get a steal, or force a quick shot. That strategy made no sense to me today.

Arizona still strikes me as a team that's loaded with good players, though I don't think they've been a very good "team" this year. Still, I think they could do damage in the tournament, much like the UCLA team that got into the tournament as an 8 seed and took out top seeded Cincinnati in 2002. I wouldn't want to see them in my bracket as a low seed that I'd have to meet in the first or second round. They still don't play defense, and I've never been a fan of Shakur's decision making, but they're still very talented and athletic, and they can cause a lot of matchup problems for a good but less than complete team.

One tough road trip to go in the Northwest. UC Berkeley and Stanford come south next week before the Bruins finish up in Washington. I'm not all that concerned about Stanford and Berkeley, but Washington State is obviously very good, and Washington, like Arizona, has enough talent to make anyone look bad on a given night, though they haven't had success doing that this year. The Bruins lead the Cougars by one in the Pac 10, but Wazzu still has to travel to Oregon before facing the L.A. schools. UCLA has the upper hand in the quest to secure its second straight conference championship.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Illinois, Jamar, and the Chief

Jamar Smith

Another tidbit of information in the continuing Jamar Smith saga. Bruce Weber released a statement today that Jamar will be taking the rest of the season off. Read into that what you will. I have been in a few small car accidents, none serious, none with any injuries to anyone involved. Right now, all of the factual information available can be explained in a direction that makes things look awful for Jamar, or in a direction that looks very favorable. Every piece of sinister looking information can be fairly easily explained away. A lot of key facts simply aren't yet in evidence.

I have never suffered a concussion, so I can't speak to how I've ever reacted to one. I've heard all sorts of stories about people sustaining concussions, then continuing to act fairly normally, only to end up completely unable to remember the events immediately following the injury. It kind of reminds me of Dwight on that episode of the Office where Michael cooked his foot. Anyway, I'm not sure we'll ever get the whole story unless there's a trial.

But what has really bugged me about this whole thing are the people who cite "whispers" and "sources I know". Look, I know we all want to know what happened, but what we think we know now isn't going to change what has already happened. What results are message board flame wars where it becomes primarily about being right, regardless of the real world consequences for those involved. I know, because I've been in positions where I've wanted the Angels (for example) to win, not because them doing so made me genuinely happy, but rather just to show up more pessimistic Angels fans who had been really pissing me off.

As I said above, there are a hundred different things that may have happened that night that we simply don't know about yet, and as someone who's never been in Jamar's position, I can't really speculate as to how I would act under similar circumstances. And if I can't speculate as to how I would act, I certainly am not able to do it for anyone else. So I suggest we sit back, let the investigation proceed, and comment on the facts as we know them when we know them.

Chief Illiniwek

Now, about the Chief, as some of you have probably heard, the University of Illinois announced today that Chief Illiniwek is pretty much done as a symbol of the University. There has been outside pressure to make this move for a long time, and almost as much inside pressure to maintain the status quo. I'm not sure which straw broke the camel's back, so to speak, but keep in mind that the N.I.T. utilizes home sites for early round games, and if this Illini team is going to play in the post-season, right now, that looks like the mostly likely destination. As long as the Chief was dancing, Illinois was not going to host a post-season competition.

Personally, I've never had particularly strong feelings about the Chief one way or another. I'll be honest, I like going to football and basketball games and watching the Chief perform. It was an exciting spectacle, and most of the crowd really got into it. But it's not going to kill me if/when they get rid of him.

My position is pretty simple. I'd like to think that if I were Native American, I wouldn't be offended by the Chief, but I can't say for sure without being in that position. And I realize that it appears to be a small minorities of Native Americans who have expressed anger with the Chief. But there are lots of mascots out there. There's a choice between having a mascot that offends very few people, and a mascot that offends no one. Isn't the choice to offend no one pretty obviously the right one? This isn't about being politically correct. It's about not being an asshole. Granted, I didn't grow up in Illinois. I didn't grow up with the tradition, and I'm glad I got a chance to see the Chief while I was in school. But if UCLA felt they needed to change their mascot, or if UCR decided that it was no longer going to be known as the Highlanders, I've gotta think I wouldn't be particularly outraged. I certainly wouldn't stop donating money to UCR. Hell, I stopped doing that a long time ago!

So to sum up, it seems like a decision that was inevitable, and it's not really going to bother me either way. I'm not so sure why people are apoplectic about it, but people get crazy about weird stuff. Whaddya gonna do?

Thank God for Darren Collison

Is there any question now why UCLA lost against West Virginia? Aaron Afflalo had the bigger numbers last night (and take nothing away from Aaron, who played a very fine game), but Darren Collison was the difference in last night's 67-61 victory at Arizona State.

With 11 minutes to go, the Bruins trailed by 10 points. They had scored five points in the half to that point, both coming on jump shots by Michael Roll. UCLA got four points in one possession on a layup by Alfred Aboya --> foul --> missed free throw --> offensive rebound --> dunk by Josh Shipp. That started an 18-2 Bruins run, and directly preceded 11 straight points from Collison, including three 3-pointers. After an Afflalo three pointer capped the run, putting the Bruins up by six, it became a free throw fest for UCLA, and they got the job done at the line to preserve the victory.

Collison's 18 points were a career high, but the difference in the game was the lift he gave the Bruins during that run. One of those threes came as the shot clock expired, and it gave the Bruins the lead. What could have been, SHOULD have been a fruitless possession, turned into a three point lead, and the Bruins never looked back.

Josh Shipp was disappointing, and it's becoming a trend. His only field goal was the dunk, although he did hit some big free throws down the stretch, and added 6 assists. But he was 1-5 from the field, with three rebounds and four turnovers. Maybe he's not completely healthy. Maybe his hip is bothering him. But he needs to step up. I hope he wasn't just looking past this game. If he can't get up for a game against his brother, that's not a good sign.

Still, the Bruins got back on the winning track. ASU is not very good, but they aren't awful, despite their winless Pac 10 season to this point. The Pac 10 is very good, and they've lost a ton of very close games. But the Bruins are going to need to play much better to beat an Arizona team that's much better than it has shown this season. And with the season they've had, nothing would lift their spirits more than a win over UCLA. Coming off their loss to U$C, they're going to be very hungry.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

A Flat Out Embarrassment...Almost

Right now there's 11:35 to go and UCLA trails the worst team in the conference by eight. They not only deserve to lose this game, hell, I'd drop them out of my top 25 right now, regardless of what happens against Arizona on Saturday. This is probably the most pathetic "effort" I've ever seen.

Update - OK, so they pulled it out, thank to Darren Collison, and good free throw shooting down the stretch. More to come later.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Jamar Smith News - With Update x2

Updated below - See point #2.

New article with a few (emphasis on "few") more details about the accident. To sum up, Jamar has been charged with improper lane usage, whatever the hell that is. Brian Carlwell has been upgraded to fair condition, and word is that after a full recovery, his basketball future will not be affected.

In the age of the internet, this sort of stuff is inevitable, but what I find really pathetic is the speculation and insinuation, based on what we know at this point, that Jamar did anything wrong. Message boards have speculated about everything from Jamar being drunk (which is certainly a possibility) to him driving home and hanging out in his apartment while a neighbor called the police. That last one is my favorite, since it was essentially presented as fact, regardless of the fact that it was invented out of whole cloth.

As of the time of this post, here's what we know, with my editorial comments in italics:
  1. Jamar was driving with Carlwell in the passenger seat. They were headed north on first street, south of the Assembly Hall, and south of St. Mary's street. Near where the accident is said to have occurred, the road bends to the left and back to the right, while also climbing slightly uphill. The was some snow and ice on the ground, though to this point, we don't know if or to what extent that was a factor. Jamar suffered a concussion, which was treated that night. Carlwell suffered a severe concussion, and was treated in ICU. He remains in the hospital, in fair condition, as I write this
  2. After the accident, Jamar Smith drove home, the corner of First and Curtis Road, a little under two miles away. Someone then called the authorities for help. We don't know whether it was a neighbor, a friend, a passerby, or Jamar himself who made this call. To the extent that someone else made the call, it's possible it was done at Jamar's behest. It's equally possible that it was done without any direction from Jamar. WCIA reported that "a call was made", and the Champaign County State's Attorney has said that she does not know who made the call. *UPDATE* - Per the Chicago Tribune Associated Press, as reported in the Chicago Tribune, Kent Brown, U of I's Sports Information Director, is saying that Jamar made the call. To quote the AP:
    Brown said Smith called an ambulance from the complex.
    Take that for what it's worth.
    **Further Update** - Per the Sun Times, sources say that Jamar did NOT make the 911 call, and now Kent Brown has backtracked. So either he spoke too soon (or lied) the first time, or the AP reporter misquoted him. So now we're back to a question of who made the call, and under what circumstances. In addition, the article states " The investigation is intent on determining why Smith didn't call 911 on his cell phone." This implies that there was a cell phone in the car at the time of the accident, and it's the first report I've seen indicating that. Still, I'd urge caution before speculating, as there are all sorts of reasons that he may not have called, both good and bad.
  3. Authorities responded to the call, and it took them 15 minutes to extricate Carlwell from the passenger seat. For those wondering why Jamar might have left his friend in the car, a good reason may have been that it was impossible for him to get him out without a lot of help.
  4. Jamar has been charged with improper lane usage, and the State's Attorney has said that more charges MAY be forthcoming. That also means that more charges MAY NOT be forthcoming, but that they aren't closing the book on that until they complete their investigation. A prosecutor makes that statement so that the press and other idiots don't assume the investigation is complete. It looks a lot better to say what was said then to say "we aren't charging him with anything else", only to bring more charges a week later. It's standard operating procedure. A blood test was conducted at the hospital, and the toxicology report has not been made available to date. Jamar Smith has retained counsel.

That's it. That's all we know for sure. A lot of noise has been made about leaving the scene of the accident, as if it would have been preferable for them to just sit there, in a low traffic area, late at night, on a night in which there was poor weather (fewer travelers), instead of going for help. The hospital where Carlwell is currently recovering is about 2.5 miles away, on Lincoln and University. I'm not sure if that was the nearest emergency facility, or if they even have an emergency facility. I spent three years in Champaign, and I have no idea where and which hospitals have emergency rooms. So for people saying "why didn't he just drive to the hospital", he may not have known which one to go to, and that's before contemplating the fact that he'd just been in a major accident and sustained a concussion of his own.

That last aspect kind of reminds me of Justin Medlock. For those that don't remember, last year, UCLA's place-kicker, Justin Medlock, was in an accident where he rolled his SUV. He *had* been drinking, and the vehicle was found, with the injured passenger inside (Hannah Jun of the golf team), but no Justin. It looked really bad. Turns out, he either didn't have or couldn't find his cell phone. He was near an off-ramp, and had run down to a gas station to call for help. The attendant saw the blood and freaked, and Medlock ended up running down the street to get help. So everything may not be as nefarious as it seems. There's no reason for, and no excuse for, jumping to conclusions.

The bottom line is that there are scenarios that we can dream up that don't turn out very well for Jamar (or Brian, for that matter, since I'm going to assume that if Jamar was drinking, it's equally likely that Brian was as well). There are also scenarios in which the instant facts make perfect sense with virtually no wrongdoing, outside of less than perfect driving in poor weather. I want to believe the best, but I understand that there may be details that don't reflect well on all involved.

So how about we do this: Let the professionals do their jobs, and wait for all the facts to come out before we convict anyone.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Jamar Smith Watch 2/13/07

I've had some fun at the expense of Jamar Smith and his shooting slump this season. Well, not fun so much as I've just sort of taken out my frustration with him in this space. But I've never stopped rooting for him.

Well, Jamar Smith and Brian Carlwell were in a car accident last night. Both were injured and Carlwell is in critical condition. Pretty much every player on the team has been hurt this year. Strange season.

Get well soon, Brian and Jamar.

Update: Carlwell has been upgraded to serious but stable condition. Jamar has evidently been cited for illegal lane usage, whatever the hell that means. The Illini don't play against until Saturday at home vs. Northwestern.

Apropos of nothing, the accident occurred on First street around the intersection with St. Mary's, just south of the Assembly Hall. That's about a block from where I used to live second year, on First just south of Gerty. Assuming the arrow on that picture is close, but not 100% accurate, the accident could have happened right where that little curve in the road is. The road also goes slightly uphill there, and when there's snow, it could be a little treacherous. I actually got into an accident at that same corner on the first day of second semester during my second year, also a snowy day (I hit the brakes and didn't stop, bumping the car in front of me).

Monday, February 12, 2007

Light daytime blogging

I'm at a client location for the next couple of days, so while I can screw around a little, I can't screw around as much as I normally would while in the office. As a result, blogging will be light for the next day or two.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Lost Weekend

Sorry. Had company in town. Trips to and from the airport. Went to a concert. All sorts of drama there. I'll try and catch up later sometime, but that's why there's nothing here on either the UCLA or Illinois losses.