Monday, April 07, 2008

I Remember How the Darkness Tripled: UCLA Bows Out Again

I've gotta say, I took this loss surprisingly well, probably because I was sober (unlike last year), and because even though the Bruins made a run or two, I never really felt like they were in the game. In all of their big comebacks this season, there was a sense of 'what the hell is going on' when the opponent was building it's lead. Those were games in which the opponents didn't look that great, but the Bruins clearly were simply not playing well. I didn't get that feeling on Saturday. I got the feeling that the Bruins were playing poorly because Memphis was forcing them to play poorly, and subsequently, I never really expected the big run that would make the game close.

For the third straight year, the Bruins fell victim to matchup problems. Derrick Rose was simply too big and strong for Darren Collison, and Rose was their smallest guy most of the time. Memphis drove to the basket very well, and created a lot of help situations that led to offensive rebounds and easy put backs. They torched the Bruins in transition. The Tigers' superior athleticism and ability to finish was really the Bruins' undoing on the defensive end.

When they had the ball, UCLA had a hard time holding onto it. They turned it over 12 times, often with sloppy plays or lapses in concentration. James Keefe dropped a rebound out of bounds with no Tiger within 50 feet. Russel Westbrook dropped on in bounds pass off his foot. Darren Collison stepped out of bounds on what could have been a fast break, one of his five turnovers in a game he'd really just like to forget. He made only one of nine shots, a floater at the end of the first half that pulled the Bruins to within three, giving us all hope at halftime. Only Russell Westbrook, with 22 points on 10-19 shooting made more than half his shots, and he did nothing to lower his NBA stock.

In the end, Memphis was simply more athletic and longer. I won't say they're more talented, because UCLA is very talented, but the matchups were simply not in their favor, and they had to play a top notch game to beat Memphis. As it turns out, they played one of their worst. But with a couple of days to reflect, I'd like to put a couple of myths to rest:
  1. Ben Howland does not need to do anything different. He's reached the final four for the third straight year. From 1981 to his hiring in 2003, UCLA reached two final fours. He's doing something right, and in a one and done tournament, too much emphasis is placed on one game. He doesn't need to teach a zone. He doesn't need to run a different offense. He doesn't need to manage time outs differently. He just needs to keep doing what he's doing. And you can argue that he needs better athletes, but can really argue with the guy who's bringing in the top recruiting class in the country next season?
  2. Kevin Love and Darren Collison are no more or less ready for the NBA than they were before the Memphis game. If you're draft expert, and you had these guys in your lottery/top 20 before the game, and have now dropped them, you're a really crappy draft expert. I'm not trying to argue that they are or aren't lottery picks. But you've had an entire season to evaluate them, and you've essentially boiled it down to one game. You're either wrong now, or you weren't doing your job back then, but either way, just stop it. You're embarrassing yourself. That goes for the all of the amateur draft experts on message boards across the country. Alex Rodriguez doesn't stop being a hall of famer after a bad week. These guys are the same players everyone was drooling over a week ago.
And so ends another season of Bruin basketball. We'll all wait with anxiety for the decisions from Love, Collison, and Westbrook. We'll all look forward to welcoming Jrue Holiday, Jerime Anderson, Malcolm Lee, and Drew Gordon. We'll all hope for an off season of improvement from Chace Stanback, and for the return to health of Mike Roll. But it was fun five month ride. Congratulations to UCLA on another successful season.

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