Thursday, January 3, 2008

Men's Basketball vs UCLA 1/3/2008

Stanford 67 UCLA 76 It was a tough match to start off the Pac-10 season especially with school only starting the following Tuesday and most students not back yet. I was staying with my cousin in SF while Albert and Alex flew in today. There was no way we were missing UCLA. On the way up, someone on the Cal Train asked me whether I had any extra tickets to sell. I recognised him as a scalper from the Women's Volleyball Final 4 in Sacramento. He told me he was from Sacramento and had made the trip down.

After grabbing a sandwich at the Alumni Cafe which was serving its pre-basketball game hot dinners, I headed over to Maples about half an hour before doors opened. There were about 12 people in line with the earliest group arriving before 5pm. The turnout ended up being surprisingly good for a game over the break. It's true that the 6th Man Section was reduced but we were packed two deep with people spilling over by the sides. There were a fair number of alums who might have gotten 6th man shirts from students who couldn't make it. I'm not sure whether it was UCLA, the beginning of Pac-10 conference play or our team being ranked, but hopefully the excitement will build and the student section will swell when school resumes.

There were a decent number of Bruin fans in attendance, some seated in the chairs placed right beside the reduced 6th Man Section. Those who made the mistake of walking past the 6th Man Section to get to their seats were heckled pretty badly. Before tip off, some were heard complaining that they wouldn't be able to see with us standing up during the game. Someone commented that they were lucky to have gotten such good seats. The rather annoying Bruins fan who was standing in the aisle between our section and the seats (also next to the rather annoying Stanford fan who had an OJ Mayo sucks sign) was finally ushered to his seat after half time amid vehement protests. I'm surprised it took the red coats so long, especially after Albert was thrown out of last year's Senior Day game for body painting a Carlton Weatherby jersey (and hence not conforming to the required 6th Man shirt attire).

In the first half, Brook struggled mightily from the field but everyone else stepped up. Mitch probably played his finest half and game in a Stanford jersey. Sure, he had some turnovers due to aggressive passes and wasn't able to finish at the rim, but he met the challenge of playing Collison (admittedly not 100%) and penetrated well, and for the most part, under control. His step throughs on the high pick and roll double were a thing of beauty. He's not the Chris Hernandez that we all wish he was, but he's definitely improved over the past 2 years. Hopefully this game will give him some confidence and he can continue his improved play while cutting down on the mental lapses.

Fred did a great job of driving and finishing at the hole in the first. It's been just under a month since his knee surgery and I'm hoping that he's close to 100%. We definitely need a healthy Fred to drive, handle the ball and play lock down defense. Anthony also had a good first half, hitting some step back jumpers. Defensively, we were ok in the first. UCLA did a good job running their offense with lots of screens (many that appeared to be moving although only one was called) and the pick and roll which we seemed to defend rather awkwardly with one of the twins showing. They also got a couple of buckets off turnovers which we really needed to avoid. Love got great position in the post and scored even though the twins' length bothered him. UCLA also shot well from 3 point land with many of them being pretty good looks because of a break down on our part. Each team cleaned up their defensive boards pretty well.

I noticed that we had a 7 man rotation in the first half (and game). My main concern with that is fatigue and the lack of outside shooting besides Anthony, especially with Law struggling. I'm sure Trent has his reasons, but as Albert mentioned, it would be nice to give Fields or Kenny a few minutes to see what they can do. It would also be nice to perhaps have someone bigger than Goods in-bound the ball from under the basket. We had huge problems with that tonight and twice Goods tried to bounce it off the foot of the player guarding him to no avail.

In the second half, we started off well on offense but just couldn't get a stop on defense, thus allowing UCLA to maintain their lead. Then we went cold and when UCLA finally started missing, they beat us to the boards as well. It was a less than inspired effort and we let Shipp drain multiple wide open 3s due to defensive breakdowns. One of them occurred when we had Mitch on him instead of Law (and he shot over Mitch) and the other when we forget whether we were zoning or playing man after our made basket that UCLA pushed up the court. Maybe if we had practiced our zone more during non conference play, that wouldn't have happened. At the end of the game, we also should have shot more 3s instead of driving to the hoop although UCLA did a great job of taking away the 3 point shot and basically daring us to drive.

While it's tough to open the Pac-10 with a loss, there are some positive to take out of the game, especially the first half. Mitch's play was great. We hit our free throws. Fred is getting back into shape. We were also in position for a lot of layups. We just couldn't convert them in the second. Finally, UCLA is a great team. Shipp, Westbrook, Love and a healthy Collison are a handful. With the opener out of the way, we really need to bring our A-game against USC. Unlike Collison who seemed content to run the offense for the most part, Mayo is going to be looking for his shot every chance he can get, and we can't let him get hot. With Cal beating USC tonight, we really need to protect home court.
~ Zhihao

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