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Posts Tagged ‘UCLA Bruins’

Some positives to take away from Thursday

Posted by Jeff Nusser on February 8, 2008

We already pointed out what mostly went wrong in the loss to UCLA, but perhaps Tony Bennett summed it up best after the game:

“Plays have to be made when two teams are defending that hard. … When you’re playing that kind of team, your best isn’t always good enough. Sometimes you have to come up with something a little better than that.”

And I think that’s spot on. It’s not too much of a stretch to work from the premise at this point that UCLA is just a better basketball team than WSU, as it’s safe to say that the addition of Kevin Love and the loss of Ivory Clark sent these two teams in opposite directions. If we go ahead and work from that premise, I think I can prove that we’re not just negative nancies around here by channeling my inner Vince Grippi to give you some of the real positives I saw come out of that contest.

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Posted by Jeff Nusser on February 7, 2008

Bruins (20-2 overall, 8-1 Pac-10) at Cougars (17-4, 5-4)

Beasley Coliseum (Pullman, Wash.), 7:30 p.m. PT

A week ago, this looked like it could be another showdown for first place in the Pac-10. It’s still a big game for WSU, but now it is classified as such because it presents a tremendous opportunity for the Cougs to prove their relevance both in the conference and on the national stage once again.

We all know what happened in the first matchup, so there’s not much need to rehash that. The Cougs came out flat and tense and UCLA rode the momentum of a fast start and a raucous crowd to knock off then-No. 4 WSU.

The halfway point is one of the most fascinating times in the Pac-10 schedule every year. There are no secrets anymore between these teams, and this is where great coaching often can show up. These players are intimately familiar with each other, and the tweaks in strategy coming from the bench can make all the difference in the outcome.

What kinds of tweaks might the Cougs make tonight?

Well, for one, you might see them employ a different strategy on the perimeter, because they’ve got to change something strategy-wise to try and contain penetration. I’d expect to see them doing a lot less switching on high ball screens so there is less scrambling on defense.

I’d also expect to see them try to do something — anything — to protect Aron Baynes from foul trouble. They’ll probably double him hard every time he touches the ball in the post, because they absolutely need him on the floor to combat Kevin Love’s rebounding prowess and to attempt to keep him away from the basket. Will doubling work? Love is an exceptional passer, so it will only work if the Cougars do a really good job cutting off angles to the open men and stay with the cutters. It’s risky, but it’s a risk the Cougs probably will take in order to take some of the pressure off Baynes.

Don’t be surprised if Robbie Cowgill takes some turns on Love, too. He’s better able to stay with Love on the perimeter. Remember, that game in Los Angeles didn’t truly get out of hand until Love started burying 3s in the second half. When that started happening, there was simply no way to defend UCLA, and the game was, for all intents and purposes, over.

Despite what I’ve written the past few days, this team is still good, and this team can still beat a very good team. It might take an exceptional offensive effort or a bit of an off night from UCLA or even just a few fortuitous bounces, but it can happen.

Tonight’s as good a time as any, because the Cougs are quickly running out of time to make statements.

Posted in Game Threads | Tagged: , , , , | 80 Comments »

Set up for a strong, strong finish

Posted by Jeff Nusser on January 29, 2008

There’s something just a little bit disconcerting about the way the Cougs have played at times this year, given their lofty ranking and the way they were outclassed by the two teams they have played that have truly superior athletes, and the close nature of some other games.

But when I get too down, I just remember this: No other major conference college basketball team — not one, not even a bad one — has played as many true road games and as few true home games as the Cougars. They have played nine true road games, and six of them were against teams that either are ranked or have been ranked in the Top 25. And they’ve only played five true home games — out of 19. Scenes like the one to the right have been way too few and far between for a program of our ilk. Among tournament-contending teams, only Butler has played as many road or neutral games as the Cougs. And the Bulldogs are in the Horizon League.

To come away from that schedule with just two losses really is a bigger accomplishment than a lot of people will give them credit for.

Think about it. We just played five of our first seven Pac-10 games on the road and came out of it 5-2. Yes, we were slapped around by UCLA and Arizona, but we survived all the others. In only one of those games can we say that it really looked like the Cougs didn’t come to play, and that’s really saying something in a game with 20- to 22-year-old kids who do — believe it or not — have other things going on in their lives.

It hasn’t come without a price. In watching the end of the game on Saturday, one thought just kept coming to mind: This team is tired. Really, really tired. And Kyle Weaver said as much after the game.

But playing seven of their final 11 games regular season games at Beasley Coliseum is exactly what they need for a strong finish. Why? Because the top six teams in the conference other than the Cougs still have to make a trip to Pullman! That, my friends, is huge.

And consider this: Even with what they’ve gone through, Joe Lunardi still has WSU projected as a No. 2 seed and Jerry Palm has the Cougs projected as a No. 3. The various RPI approximations have them ranked either No. 9 or No. 10. The message? A strong finish bolstered by playing at home can push the Cougs into unheard of territory. If the home court advantage helps as much as I think it might, this team could end up pushing for a No. 1 seed. I feel comfortable saying that: The committee showed with UW a few years ago that it will recognize a team with a not-so-elite record that plays in a brutal conference.

So, get fired up Cougs. We still are in great position to win the Pac-10, just one game back of UCLA, and can put ourselves in an even better position with a sweep this weekend against Cal and Stanford. I believe the best part of the season is still in front of us.

Posted in Breakdowns | Tagged: , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Crazy night in Pac-10 hoops as UCLA survives scare, Ducks go down

Posted by Jeff Nusser on November 21, 2007

Some were surprised by UCLA’s near upset against Michigan State last night. I was not.

You saw a perfect example of why I don’t have the Bruins ranked No. 1 in my Top 25: They just are not the same without Darren Collison. He is the juice in that engine. He directs the offense, giving it tempo and flow, and is absolutely nails on the defensive end, wreaking havoc with his multitude of steals — 2.2 a game last year.

That the Bruins had the talent and guts to come back in that game says a lot about them, and it was impressive. To do that with all the young players they have against a team that returned all its players, and do it without your team MVP? That’s really saying something. And if you haven’t gotten a look at just how good Kevin Love is, he’s reason A-1 why the Cougs probably can’t win the Pac-10 title this year.

UCLA will be the best team in the country … just not right now.

The other big news of the night was Oregon’s upset loss to St. Mary’s. Informed minds saw that as a potential upset, what with the Ducks traveling for a true road game at the WCC school. It’s easy to chalk up the loss to an unbelievable performance by true freshman Patty (yes, that’s his real first name) Mills, who dropped 37 on the unsuspecting Ducks.

But their problems were bigger than that last night. The No. 12 team in the country never even had the lead against the Gaels after the midway point of the first half. They gave up 61 points in the second half, and sent St. Mary’s to the line 36 times. Some of that was probably due to late fouling, but you get the picture.

In my Top 25 comments, I singled out Tajuan Porter as the key for the Ducks, and that I wasn’t sold on him as a floor leader in the absence of Aaron Brooks. Well, he scored just 13 points last night with one assist and two turnovers. He also shot nine 3s, making only three.

Porter might be 5-foot-6, but he’s no point guard, and Ernie Kent’s insistence on fitting a square peg into a round hole because he has no other true point guard on the roster will be a constant problem for the Ducks this year. On nights when the offense isn’t scoring 90 points, Oregon is going to struggle.

Posted in Pac-10 Stuff | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »