Friday, March 28, 2008

UCLA Dominates, Chokes, Recovers, Against WKU

Well, that was a little too close for comfort if you ask me. But like I did for the last game, I'll just bullet out my thoughts. Keep in mind that I watched the first half in a bar, and that they turned the game off in the second half except on a couple of small TVs, after which I walked the (literally) 250 feet from the bar to my apartment to watch the rest. It was during this time that WKU started their run:
  • Do not overlook the importance of free throws in this win. UCLA shot a 74.3% for the game, but they really nutted up in the clutch, hitting 12 of their final 14 to salt the game away. They way Brazelton was canning threes, they needed every one of those. Special congratulations to Russel Westbrook, who has been a little spotty from the line this year, but hit seven of eight last night, and was 6 for 6 in the final 1:11 of the game.
  • Obviously the big stories of the game were the huge night for Kevin Love and the surprising performance from James Keefe. People forget, or are unaware, that Keefe was a McDonald's All American. I think he's struggled fitting in on the Bruins for the last two years, but the guy is a good basketball player, and he's really benefiting from the increase in playing time. He just looks more comfortable in the rotation, and last night he really emerged. That said, I don't expect another game like that from him in this tournament, but hopefully they won't need one. More than anything, it gives me a little more comfort with regard to next season, when Love likely won't be around. They'll be solid on the perimeter, and after last night's explosion, I think they'll be alright on the interior as well.
  • I also don't expect another performance like last night out of Darren Collison. It's funny, but I didn't see or hear much "UCLA gets all the calls" smack last night. Maybe in some parallel universe, Collison actually touched the guy on that fifth foul.
  • I'm not overly concerned about this game "exposing" the Bruins, or giving Xavier a roadmap to victory tomorrow night. I don't think UCLA's problem was with full court press, although that's going to be the dominant narrative. The problem is that they built a big lead, came out unfocused in the second half, started making mistakes, and couldn't get their heads back in the game. They let WKU speed them up, and they had a tough time re-grabbing the reins.
  • To add to the point above, I think that a big flaw in the way they played wasn't so much the press per se, but rather the fact that they allowed WKU to set the tempo. The talk before the game was that WKU will speed things up, and the game will be fast paced, etc. But there are two sides of that coin. UCLA likes a slower style, and what they didn't do was force THEIR pace. This is UCLA, a number one seed. They should not allow their opponent to dictate the tempo. When you're UCLA, and especially a Bruins team that is this good, you need to make your opponent adjust to you, not the other way around.
  • When Joe Shipp was at Cal, he always seemed like one of those enigma type players to me. He wasn't a speedy ball-handling point guard. He wasn't a three point gunner. He wasn't a high flying dunker. What he was was a scorer. He didn't do anything great, but he did a lot of things well, and at the end of the game, he'd have 15-20 points. That's the way Josh Shipp plays when he's at his best. Somewhere along the line, he convinced himself he was a spot up shooter, and I think that's contributed to his slump this year. But in the later part of the first half last night, he slashed to the basket twice for layups. I don't know if they made a difference in his confidence, but his circus shot at the end of the game was huge. He just needs to convince himself that there are shot worth taking from closer than 20 feet.
  • Come to think of it, that's two circus shots he's hit with a clock expiring (either game or 35 second). Perhaps he's been TOO open during his slump. In other words, he's not shooting unless he's got a perfect opportunity, which unfortunately includes time to think about missing. I'm not saying he should take more contested shots. I'm saying that he probably shoots better when he doesn't have time to think about it, or more importantly, just isn't thinking. Shooting isn't a cerebral exercise. It's feel and mechanics. To paraphrase Crash Davis, don't think, just shoot.
  • There's nothing about the recent play of either team that should make me feel confident about tomorrow's matchup with Xavier. That said, I think the Bruins will win, and while it won't be said and done until near the end, I don't think it will take overtime or a buzzer beater. It just has the makings of one of those games where everyone is convinced that Xavier is is going to really take it to UCLA, and the Bruins won't be able to respond, but when teams actually take the floor, the cream rises to the top. Get ready for all of the pundits to pick the upset. Those guys are usually wrong.

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