January 12, 2008

Yawn, yawn, yawn... uh oh... phew.

Big, big thanks to the folks at Bruins Nation for adding me to their blogroll. Hopefully, I'll be able to add valuable information both here and over there for the forseeable future. Anyway, enough with the ass-kissing, ON TO THE SPORTS!

Washington State visisted Pauley Pavilion today, and as they have for the past few seasons, they managed to make things interesting. Oddly-enough, today's game ties the largest margin of victory for a UCLA/WSU game in Pauley Pavilion since 2003, when the Bruins beat the Cougars 86-71. They would lose at home the following year, but that margin of victory was also 7. In the years since then, WSU has lost to UCLA by 3, 2, and 3 points. The Cougs always find a way to keep it close in the house that John built, and they did so inspectacular fashion today.

For more fun errata, a nearly-identical game was played between the Bruins and Cougars at Pauley two seasons ago. However, Derrick Low was not involved. Exactly 2 years ago today, Josh Akognon (now with Cal State Fullerton) hit six of eight 3 points attempts, scoring all of his 25 points in the second half. For comparison, today Low went 6-9 from deep, with 24 points all in the second half. The Bruins absolutely suffocated WSU in the first half, allowing only 17 points in jumping to a 31-17 lead at the break. In today's game, UCLA had a 13-point lead at the half, allowing only 22 points to the Cougars. With 3:30 left in the 2006 game, UCLA was up 11. But Akognon kept hitting on his 3s, and UCLA escaped with a 2-point win after a missed WSU lay-up at the buzzer. With 1:45 left in today's game, the Bruins were ahead by 15 points. However, Low and his teammates made 7 straight 3-point baskets, coming to within 3. But clutch free throws by Darren Collison and Kevin Love put the game back out of reach, keeping the Bruins atop the Pac-10 for another week.

I was at that game in '06 - that's when Farmar and Mata slammed into each other and Mata fractured his knee. Despite the (rather ridiculous) injury issues, UCLA would go on to play in the National Title game that season, losing to Florida for the first of two consecutive Gator national titles. Hopefully, this year's team can have the same sort of success (though maybe a 'w' on that last game in addition to all the rest, heh).

Brief analyses on THIS year's game:

Kevin Love was simply awesome. Quietly awesome, but awesome. Interestingly enough, it never felt like he was totally taking over the game (see Bryant, Kobe). But almost every time UCLA needed a bucket or a stop, he was banking in a shot or snatching away a potential WSU offensive board. He showed range (two 3-balls), as well as a nifty new turnaround fallaway 12-foot jumper that he hasn't really used to date.

Not in the box-score: how well UCLA prevented WSU from getting second chances. Though the final tally reads UCLA 52 shots, WSU 50, that's generally inaccurate. During the Cougars' last-minute flurry, UCLA was generally shooting foul-shots. The Bruins had about 10 more shot attempts than the Cougs up until those last few minutes. Given how both teams pride themselves on execution, being able to shot the ball an extra 10 times was vital in UCLA's win, especially given how absurdly hot Low and his teammates got at the end of the game.

Westbrook had another great game - 6-9 from the floor, 4 rebounds 4 assists, and absolutely abused Derrick Low multiple times with his crossover. However, he's getting a little careless with the ball. He has 10 turnovers in his last 2 games (5 apiece), after having only 7 turnovers in the previous FIVE games (just 1 for the entire Bay Area sweep). Granted, Wazzou's defense is very good. But UW's isn't all that great, and Stanford isn't exactly a poor defensive team. Russell is producing at an extremely high level, I'm just noting that - after a marked improvement in the TO department - he might be backsliding a tad.

Luc is really an enigma. At times he looks like the best guy on the floor. But when he settles for jumpers, it really throws UCLA's offense off. He was really the only Bruin that didn't shoot the ball very well. He's best at slashing, though WSU's defense really played off him to prevent that. This opened driving lanes for Darren and Russ, granted. And Luc also contributed with a pair of steals, 5 boards, and great defense on Cowgill and Weaver. But if he's shooting lots of jumpers, the offensive flow gets muddled.

Lastly, to give you an idea of how good UCLA's free throw shooting has been of late: UCLA shot 17-21 from the line today... and that made their team free throw percentage since the Texas game go DOWN. Including the UT game, UCLA had been 109-129 (84.5%). Today, they shot 81%. On the season, they're at 74% as a team, fairly good, and trending upwards. It's nice to be able to knock down free throws - even when you're ahead by 15 with a minute and a half left, you never know...

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