I, on the other hand, fully expected USC to make life difficult (that's kind of their niche), and predicted an ugly victory. With the flu going around, and a sexier matchup with UCLA looming on Saturday, is anyone really that surprised that CU failed to look like the '96 Bulls last night? Be honest...
|A win's a win. From: the BDC|
It's basketball. Your not going to see everyone's best every night. You just have to hope when the team isn't playing perfectly that they walk away with a 'W.' Thanks to a favorable whistle, and some poor USC strategy in the final two minutes (why weren't they sending the young Buffs to the free throw line?), CU still got the desired result.
A 66-60 win? With USC only threatening to make it a one-possession game, not a loss? If that is what passes for an off night in these parts, then I'll happily take it.
The quick turnaround serves up a high-profile matchup with UCLA on Saturday afternoon. This is the kind of game that could determine whether CU makes the Tournament. A loss doesn't necessarily hurt, but a win over a team currently in the RPI top-50 makes that resume all the more enticing for the committee.
Tip-off from a sure-to-be packed CEC is set for high noon tomorrow. The Broncos don't kick off til 2:30, so there's no excuse to miss this one. For those unable to make it to the CEC, coverage can be found on Pac-12 Network. If you're at Mile High, why not tune to AM 760 and listen to Mark Johnson while you tailgate in the freezing cold?
Click below for the preview...
When last we met -
CU got a lesson in bucket getting, as the Bruins shot 60% from the floor, and scored 1.22 ppp en route to a breezy 77-60 win over the Buffs last January. While CU was able to keep pace in the first half, cranking out 56% shooing on their end, production trailed off in the second half, which turned a close game into a laugher.
|The athletic Bruins flew right past CU last season. From: the AP|
The Buffs finished best in the conference by only allowing 40.4% shooting in '11-'12, so that 60% was an aberration. I'm sure Coach Boyle has reminded the team repeatedly in practice how freely UCLA tickled the twine last season. For their sake, I hope we don't see a repeat performance tomorrow evening.
Opponent's season so far -
UCLA got off to a rough start this season, getting pushed to the brink by UC-Irvine in opening week before dropping an inexcusable home game to Cal Poly. That loss provided the team with a soul-searching reset opportunity, which they seem to have taken full advantage of. In the aftermath coach Ben Howland tweaked the rotation, the vaunted freshmen began to assert themselves, and the team has since only lost one game - of the understandable variety to a strong SDSU squad at a neutral site.
|Cal Poly managed to stun UCLA into action.|
|The Shabazz-lead overtime run spelled victory.|
On defense, they do a great job keeping teams off the line. Their 22.8 defensive free throw rate is easily best in the conference, and good for 5th nationally. One of CU's strengths lies in getting to the line; should UCLA play to form and force the Buffs into scoring from the floor, this could get out of hand quickly.
I really like this team. UCLA has a boatload of athletic talent, and can score seemingly at will. They may not play enough defense to win anything of note, but they make watching basketball fun, and should prove strong enough to get the ravenous UCLA fanbase back into the Tournament.
In memoriam -
Earlier this month, the Pac-12 lost one of it's favorite punching bags when The Big Hefty, UCLA's 300+lbs center Josh Smith, declared his intention to transfer to Georgetown. Once a highly regarded five-star center out of Washington, his continuing battle with his weight cost him both favor and playing time.
There'd be brief moments every summer where, upon hearing rumors that Smith may have been shedding instead of adding pounds, I'd fear what the hypothetically motivated big man could do. Then I'd remember that we're talking about Josh Smith, a man who may have been spiking his gatorade with lard for all we know, and I'd calm down.
He may be gone from the Pac-12, but we'll always have this:
My only regret is that we never got to see him struggle at altitude. He will be missed.
Smith wasn't the only player to leave the Bruin bench this winter. Tyler Lamb, who killed CU last year, also decided to bolt after a discussion with coach Howland. Smith and Lamb, once the centerpieces of UCLA's 2010 recruiting class, now form only the latest chapter in the continuing saga: Ben Howland - Forever Alone.
Since 2008, the total is now up to an astonishing 11 scholarship athletes who have ditched the Blue and Gold for greener pastures. That's not even inclusive of the six players who turned pro early during that period. That's 17 scholarships that have up and vanished - like a fart in the wind (It's a miracle!) - since the start of UCLA's last Final Four season. SEVEN-FUCKING-TEEN.
With LAX crowded with fleeing Bruins, the blame easily falls at the feet of UCLA head coach Ben Howland. Sure, he can still recruit, as proven by last year's #1 recruiting class, but his inability to either keep that talent on campus, or turn it into anything of value in recent years, has nearly destroyed his legacy.
It certainly didn't help matters when SI ran this damning article about the "Howland way" last year. Stories like that on top of the seventeen early defections could be overlooked if only they were being offset with victories. Unfortunately for Howland, they simply haven't been. UCLA has only made one Tournament appearance in the last three seasons, and plenty of prominent members of the Bruins fanbase have begun calling for his head as a result.
|"So a few players left early and I let miscreants run my locker room... What's the big deal?"|
I have no doubt in my mind that Howland is still a great coach - you don't just fall into three straight Final Four appearances, after all - but he needs to follow the majority of his talent from the past few years, and get the hell out of Los Angeles. That partnership has become untenable, and it'd be in everybody's best interests if he were to bail.
As a postscript to the UCLA talent drain story, check out this story on current Bruin center Tony Parker. Sounds like Howland will soon be claiming his 18th victim.
Star Players -
Of the players who remain in Westwood, the best is unquestionably Shabazz Muhammad. He was the #1 recruit in the country in 2012, and has, so far, lived up to that billing. Muhammad got a late start to his (probably) lone collegiate campaign, however, as he was suspended by the NCAA for the first three games this season. The reasons behind the suspension were dubious, and the jurisprudence highly suspect, so a timetable for reinstatement was quickly settled.
|He's on the court, and tearing things up.|
A pair of highly regarded freshmen share the backcourt with Muhammad. Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams would've been the center piece of almost any other team's 2012 recruiting haul, but have taken a publicity backseat on the Bruins' roster.
Anderson, a 6-9 point guard trapped in a power forward's body (fuck you), has been coming on strong in recent weeks, and has scored in double figures in six of his last 10 outings. Commensurate with his size, he's a great rebounder for his position, and actually leads the team in rebounding with nine per game. He defines the phrase "match-up-problem," and you pretty much have to pick your poison with him.
|A 6-9 point guard? OK, Magic Johnson...|
Trying to keep the three high-profile freshmen in line is senior starting point guard Larry Drew II. A 6-2 transfer from North Carolina, he's been dropping 8.3 assists per game (fuck you), good for 3rd in the country. I'm sure UNC wasn't expecting that kind of production when he left.
|Drew seems to have put the ugly exit from UNC behind him.|
Last season has me worried. The flu-ridden CU roster appears too exhausted to chase a team as athletic as UCLA around for 40 minutes, leading me to believe open jumpers will start raining down again. A true repeat of 60% is probably out of the question, but they will hit enough to put the game away in the 2nd half.
The home whistle won't be enough to save CU this time...
The home whistle won't be enough to save CU this time...
UCLA 80 - CU 69
GO BUFFS! PROVE ME WRONG, AND BEAT THE BRUINS!