Sunday, February 27, 2011

UCLA 71 - UA 49! Last game at classic Pauley

This game turned out to be one of the all time great games I've ever experienced at Pauley Pavilion.  Starved for something to truly cheer about since 2008, when we last won the Pac-10, Pauley really came to life on the most important of days, for these 5 reasons.

1) From this league's standpoint, this win put us in a tie for the Pac-10 crown, with 2 games left.  With the Washington road trip coming up (and Oregon schools at home for UA), a loss here would have essentially ended our championship hopes.

2) From the postseason standpoint, it was another chance to beat a ranked team (Arizona #10) and effectively book our place in the NCAA tournament.  After missing out last year, it was imperative that we make it back.

3) From the players' point of view, this was the last game at Pauley for the majority of our playing rotation.  Malcolm, Jones and Anderson will play their senior season homes games at random venues.  Honeycutt will in all likelihood leave for the NBA in June, while Smith and Nelson may follow him a year from now.  How sad would it have been to lose their final true home game?

4) From the historical standpoint, the last game at the classic Pauley Pavilion, college basketball's mecca, had to be a win.  On a day that we honored the '71 championship team at halftime, we scored 71 points.

5) From the John-Wooden you-couldn't-write-a better-ending-to-his-legacy-at-Classic-Pauley perspective, Wooden's great grandson, walk-on Tyler Trapani, scored the last basket ever in the house that John Wooden built.  Sure, it will re-open in 2012, but it will not be the way Wooden designed it.  It was Trapani's first points ever at UCLA.  Wooden had an astounding record of 149-2 at Pauley.

What I'll remember:
Since my days in the student section, this was the loudest I've ever heard it at Pauley.  The game was sold out by fans dutifully wearing their bruin blue.  Howland was as animated and excited after the win as I've ever seen him.  We found out later that reflecting on Trapani's basket brought him to tears several times.

The players were as emotionally high after the win as I've seen in years, celebrating with the student section and then the fans.  I was so happy for them that I could feel myself welling up.  After last year's debacle, these players finally had that indelible UCLA moment - their contribution to the proud program that will forever make them true Bruins, and it will stay with them, and with us, for life.

As for the game itself, Nelson scored a career high 27 points along with his 16 rebounds.  He outplayed UA's NBA-bound lottery pick Derrick Williams (15 and 10) and defensively held him to a 2 point 2nd half.  Joshua Smith pounded in 17 more and Honeycutt contributed 15.  Shockingly, no other player scored more than 4 - Malcolm and Lazeric combined for 5.

But this win, while attained by these determined players, was not really about them.  It was about UCLA basketball, its past and its future.

After the game, UCLA allowed fans to get their pictures taken with Joe Bruin at center court.  It actually went more efficiently than I expected and the fact that it was free was a nice gesture.  I'm glad my wife and 2 boys will always have that memory.

This made me think about other significant games at Pauley that I've been to, as best as I can remember.  (There are others, I just can't remember if I was there or not.)

1/8/1998 - over Oregon St 90-72 - my first game at Pauley, I think.
2/27/1999 - over Washington 79-62 - Baron's ridiculous dunk, his last home game.
2/15/2001 - over Arizona 79-77 - #8 Zona, we rushed the court
3/3/2001 - Stanford 69-75 - Watson's last home game (most games played record)
2/6/2002 - over USC 67-65 - Billy Knight's 3 pointer at buzzer.
12/20/2003 - over Michigan St. 64-58 - Court named after Nell and John Wooden
3/6/2008 - over Stanford 77-67 - 3rd straight Pac-10 title
1/5/2009 - over Arizona 83-60 - My 1st son's first game.
11/9/2010 - over CSULA 84-59 (exhibition) - My 2nd son's first game.
2/26/2011 - over Arizona 71-49

Friday, February 25, 2011

UCLA v ASU - balanced offense

 A common pattern of our play this season is the slow start, the mid game comeback, the double digit lead and the near collapse at the end to just eek out a win.  Fortunately, last night we skipped the last part and won 71-53.

ASU started the game with a 21-9 lead about 10 minutes into the game.  Infuriatingly, they scored their first 8 baskets on layups or dunks.  Clearly, we were not focused defensively, which is amazing considering that we had just lost our last game vs Cal.  While some of our guys were just getting beat to the basket 1 on 1, I noticed that we were also not rotating quickly enough after hedging on pick and rolls.  Their bigs were getting open layups.  Anyway, if we start this way against Zona or any of the better teams in the tourney, we're done.

After only scoring 9 points in over 10 minutes of play, we scored 30 in the next 10 min to lead 39-29 at half, and though we are prone to giving away leads, I felt secure that the game was effectively over.

Again, we were extremely impressive in our balanced attack.  5 guys in double figures is quite a rare sight.  Though Nelson had a 12 and 12 double double, Zeek's 10 and 10 assists stands out to me the most.  I also think he's probably the best 3 point shooter on the team.  Even with a bad wrist and injured finger, he shot 2-2 on threes last night.

It dawned on me that Saturday's game will be the last game in Pauley Pavilion for much of our playing rotation - Malcolm, Zeek, Jerime and Honeycutt for sure.  I think there's a good chance Smith will leave after next year and there's disturbing rumors that Reeves won't stay around for his senior year, which is confounding since a 6-7 1/2 white PF who doesn't have outstanding hops doesn't have much of a chance in the NBA.  (besides Kevin Love.  haha.)  Brendan Lane should probably transfer after this year since the Wear twins may completely kill off his playing time.  So that leaves Tyler Lamb and Anthony Stover as the 2 players in our rotation who I can comfortably say will definitely be back for the opening of new Pauley in fall of 2012.

I brought my family to this game, even though it was a late 8pm start, because after this game and next, we won't have many chances to see UCLA bball for the next 20 months or so.  I'm pretty sure I'm not taking my boys to the Sports Arena, ugh.  (Do they make kevlar in toddler sizes?)  Maybe we'll try for a family outing to a Saturday game at the Honda Ponda here or there if things work out.  Pretty sad.

Zona's loss to u$c means that we again control our destiny.  If we beat them and win out, assuming they sweep the easy Oregon teams at home next week, we'll tie for the Pac-10 crown.  Considering we have to visit Washington schools, I'll take that tie right now.

Its pretty unlikely we can win out, but I'm holding out hope that we can win the championship for the first time since 2008 in the last true pac10 conference race there will ever be.  Next year we will expand to the Pac 12 (ugh!) and conference standings can never be used to crown a true champion again since teams don't play each other the same number of times anymore.  And you all know how I feel about conference tournaments.  Oh you don't?  They idiotic.  Why play a regular season if a conference champ is determined in a 1 and done format after that?

The NCAA tourney is also not the truest way to determine a champion since the sport of basketball requires a series of games to determine the best teams.  That said, this tourney is the only way in reality to crown a college basketball champ.

And this year, with 20 wins already, we're back!  I knew we'd only miss 1 year (which by the way is the fault of Jrue's selfish early defection, Gordon's selfish innate being, and Dragovic's pathetic basketball ability and lazy effort).  If we can win out and grab a 5 or 6 seed, we'll avoid a 1st or 2nd seed in the 2nd round.  Lets go Bruins!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Afflalo's first buzzer beater (+ Bruins in NBA)

Arron Afflalo hit a game winning jumper at the buzzer over Shawn Marion to beat the Mavericks last night to complete an awesome 24 point effort.  Amazingly, he scored 19 of those 24 in the 4th quarter.  He said he had never hit a game-winner at the buzzer.

That shot definitely reminded me of the huge game-winning jumper he hit at usc in 2007 with 4 seconds left.  We won 65-64 that day in UCLA's first game at the Galen center.

 Arron will always have a special place in my heart (sniff) because he was Howland's first recruit, committing early his junior year - marking the beginning of a new, vastly superior era at UCLA.  Before he even stepped on campus, I had pieced together a amateur Afflalo slideshow, complete with Tesh's NBA on NBC theme.

Whenever I think of Howland's trademark defensive mentality that he's brought to UCLA, I think of Afflalo.  For 3 years, he prided himself on his defense and became one of the key reasons Howland's squads made those first two Final Fours.  At the end of his junior year, many UCLA fans gave him a hard time for not being able to deliver offensively in the Final Four, but we need to recognize his ginormous role in bringing UCLA back there in the first place.  I even won 2 bets (a couple rounds of golf) when Afflalo got drafted 1st round.  I figured the Pistons or Spurs could use a defensive minded, solid jump-shooting guard with great character.

Afflalo's having the best year of his career.  13.1 ppg, 3.9 rebounds, 2.4 assists.  He's started all 54 games, averaging 35.1 minutes a game, shooting career highs percentages - a ridiculous 51.1% on FG, almost 45% on 3s, 85% on FTs.  Couldn't be happier for him.

Bruins in the NBA:

There are 14 Bruins in the NBA, more than any other school.  The big story is obviously Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook's first All-Star awards this year for their unbelievable seasons.  They are averaging career highs in all major categories, as are Afflalo, Collison, Farmer and Holiday.  7 of the 14 Bruins are starting.  Here are all their stats.

Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City) 36.0 mpg, 22.5 ppg, 43.8% FG, 5.1 reb, 8.6 assists
Kevin Love (Minnesota) 36.8 mpg, 21.4 ppg, 47.1% FG, 15.6 reb, 2.5 assists

Other Starters:
Darren Collison (Indiana) 30.2 mpg, 13.8 ppg, 46.0% FG, 3.0 reb, 5.0 assists
Arron Afflalo (Denver) 35.1 mpg, 13.1 ppg, 51.1% FG, 3.9 reb, 2.4 assists
Baron Davis (LA Clippers) 28.9 mpg, 12.5 ppg, 41.9% FG, 2.8 reb, 7.1 assists
Jrue Holiday (Philadelphia) 34.8 mpg, 13.5 ppg, 43.2% FG, 3.9 reb, 6.4 assists
Trevor Ariza (New Orleans) 34.7 mpg, 11.1 ppg, 39.4% FG, 5.5 reb, 2.0 assists

Jordan Farmer (New Jersey) 24.4 mpg, 9.4 ppg, 38.3% FG, 2.2 reb, 4.5 assists
Matt Barnes (LA Lakers) 20.8 mpg, 7.4 ppg, 47.4% FG, 4.8 reb, 1.7 assists
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (Milwaukee) 24.6 mpg, 5.3 ppg, 45.9% FG, 5.2 reb, 0.8 assists
Ryan Hollins (Cleveland) 13.6 mpg, 4.4 ppg, 57.4% FG, 2.3 reb, 0.5 blocks
Earl Watson (Utah) 16.0 mpg, 3.5 ppg, 42.1% FG, 2.1 reb, 3.0 assists
Dan Gadzuric (Golden State) 10.6 mpg, 2.8 ppg, 42.0% FG, 3.1 reb, 0.6 blocks
Jason Kapono (Philadelphia) 5.2 mpg, 0.8 ppg, 27.3% FG, 0.5 reb, 0.1 assists

Lavin's got 7 guys (2 starters - Davis, Ariza), Howland's got 7 (5 starters), non-starters: Farmer, Mbah a Moute.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Aaron Rodgers, Superbowl MVP

Aaron Rodgers threw for 304 yards and 3 TDs in Superbowl XLV, earning the Superbowl MVP, and membership to the exclusive tier of great current QBs, which I believe includes Peyton, Brady and Brees.  Those 4 QBs have carried their teams to Superbowl victories and their team offense is built around their ability to throw.  To me, Big Ben and Eli Manning may be Superbowl champs, but they occupy the tier just below the big 4.  Yes, I know that Rodgers needs to put together a few more seasons of the same consistent production, but there's little doubt that he will.

During a fantasy football draft last August, I managed to select both Brett Favre and Big Ben.  (Hey, I also had Rodgers - it was a QB intense league).  Immediately I was skewered for having drafted both scumbag QBs in the NFL (which I agreed with).  Anyway, in one night, Rodgers put down both reigning scumbag QBs.

Big Ben may have had a seemingly redemptive season, but his character will be proven over the remainder of his career, or at least over multiple years, not just these past few months.  To me, it would not have felt right, it would not have been fitting, to see Roethlisberger win this year's title and "redeem" himself in the eyes of the public so soon.  What he was accused of was in my mind worse than Michael Vick's actions, if it were true.  At the very least, his behavior was disgraceful.  Since by all accounts he is now a changed man, I hope it is true.

Both Favre's annoying prima donna indecisive behavior over the past 3-4 years coupled with his immoral and disgusting behavior, on top of his vastly overrated on field achievements (playing for a long time is not the same as playing well for a long time) has made him my least favorite football player in recent memory, even less likable than Tom Brady, if that's possible for me.  After the worst season of his career both on and off the field, Favre now has to face Rodgers' ascension to the NFL peak.

We all clearly remember Ted Thompson's decision 3 years ago to jettison Favre in favor of the unproven Rodgers.  At the time, it was controversial especially since Favre was still well liked and had not yet chosen to betray his legion of Packers fans to suit up for Minnesota, or shamelessly brandish his cell phone.  At the time, Favre was not any of those things I wrote in the first sentence of the last paragraph, except for "annoying".  Oh, and "overrated".  But Thompson's decision was the catalyst of two diverging paths - Rodgers' road to greatness in SB XLV and Favre's road to Jenn Sterger in NY.

So I'm happy today.  I'm happy that a respected, hard-working, new elite QB has emerged.  I'm happy that he showed up on the biggest stage and wowed us with his poise, his gutsyness and his accuracy.  I'm happy he didn't throw a INT or 3 like Favre would have.  I'm happy he has a SB MVP that Favre never did (but all the great ones have).  I'm happy he has brought home to Green Bay as many Lombardi trophies as Favre did and that he has a great chance to bring back many more to surpass Favre as the most important name in modern Packer history.

I guess I've come to terms with the likelihood that Rodgers' would never have been the player he is now had the 49ers drafted him #1 in 2005.  Who knows what being thrown into a starting job right away with a revolving door of coaches and pathetic front office management would have done to Rodgers' development.  I'd like to think that his determination and work ethic would have still brought some success, but without a GM like Ted Thompson, a 49ers SB would've been extremely unlikely anyway.

So I'm content that the Steelers are stuck on 6 championships and still within striking distance, should Harbaugh fulfill 49er expectations one day.  Perhaps Andrew Luck next year will be our own Aaron Rodgers.

Friday, February 4, 2011

I apologize to you, Kevin Love, NBA Allstar

I was completely wrong.  I was so mad at Kevin Love for leaving UCLA after a year.  I was still mad even when he was picked #5 overall.  I argued that his glory years were in college.  If he truly wanted to make his mark and be GREAT, he had to do it in at UCLA.  I thought he could be LEGEND here, but he gave it up for money and mediocrity there.  I thought that this 6-7 1/2 white guy would probably average a solid 10-12 points and 7-8 rebounds at most and be a good contributor in the NBA, but never an allstar.  No way.  NEVER.

This season stats: 21.4 points a game (16th leading scorer), 15.4 rebounds per game (overall NBA leader by a whopping 1.9 rebounds). 43.9% 3 point shooting (10th overall), 43 double-doubles on the season (1st overall by 3 games over Blake Griffin).

So, I hereby apologize to Kevin Love for saying what I said and believing what I believed.  Congrats.  You made the right decision.  You are THE man.

Packers v Steelers in the SB

Jets would've been insufferable had they won.  So I'm glad its the Steelers and Packers, two teams that are currently relatively likable and are led by two big name QBs.  There's nothing worse than a SB team led by a mediocre game-manager of a QB, like Trent Dilfer.  I want to see games won and lost, legacies built or buried by the QBs in the SB.

Roethlisberger might've already won 2 rings, but he's never been SB MVP.  Plus, a win Sunday would catapult him into the rare air of 3 time champions.  A ring for Rodgers would elevate him into the tier of current great quarterbacks alongside Peyton, Brady, Brees and Big Ben, even higher than Eli Manning ( the only other QB champion starting in the league currently), because of the stats that he's put up.  Also, if he wins, he will have more than justified Ted Thompson, the Packers GM, and his decision 3 years ago to trade Brett Favre.

That reason alone makes me pull for the Packers this Sunday.  Yes, I've always had a deep distaste for the Packers after what they did to my 49ers in the latter 90s.  (And I really dislike the green and yellow scheme - even though, or perhaps as a result of, they were my youth soccer club and high school colors.  But I see those teams as Brett's Packers and any success Rodgers has is anti-Favre.  Rodgers has a chance to equal (and perhaps eventually surpass) Brett's ring count and therefore take away the one thing Favre has going for him - being the only QB since the 1960s to bring a championship to Green Bay.

Side note: Brett's had a horrible year, hasn't he?  Consecutive games streak broken.  Team isn't even close to playoffs.  He has the worst stats of his career.  The Jenn Sterger saga (and also 2 masseuse's lawsuits) was embarrassing and put a permanent damper on his nice country boy image.  And now, the reason he was no longer wanted in GB has quietly put together 3 consecutive MVP stat worthy years culminating in a SB appearance?  So yes, if Rodgers wins the SB MVP, this will be Favre's worst year ever.

Another reason I'm rooting for the Pack is that I'm tired of the Steelers winning championships.  They've already won 2 in the last 5 years and now they alone have 6 total.  Another championship and my 49ers might not ever catch up.

The last reason is simply that I like Rodgers better.  Big Ben was not the nicest to women, to put it mildly, no matter how much he has changed in the last few months.  Its time for Rodgers to become the next big time QB.  Man, I wish he was a 49er.

Prediction: Steelers 23 - Packers 20.  It seems dead even to me so this is a complete guess.  Both teams are great defensively but the Steelers run the ball better and have championship experience.  Big Ben seems indestructible and always makes plays in crunchtime.  I guess I'll have to pick them until I see them lose.  The Santonio Holmes TD catch, wrecking Kurt Warner's story, is burned into my mind.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

UCLA 64 - sc 50

I can't remember ever seeing this many students at a UCLA game before.  In addition to the full courtside section, students occupied the entire West sideline of the upper tier and wrapped around behind my section to halfway behind the basket.  They were worked up and loud for this game.  I think it probably has to do with the fact that Howland went to visit many frats and sororities to demand that they support the team.

I'm glad I didn't bring my son to this game.  Replacing "fight fight fight" with chants of "blank-s-c" is not my idea of a family atmosphere.  I guess that's one good thing about the 8pm start time - less kids in the building.  I wish the students would try to show a little more class.  Or at least replace the chant.  But, I love the spirit.

Having not beat sc in 4 games was embarrassing and this would've set a series record for consecutive defeats.  I cared more about winning this game than even football signing day.

I will always remember two moments from this game.

First, Josh Smith's first touch in the post just minutes in set the tone for the game.  He made one strong move through his defender and dunked it.  I leapt out of my seat.  It wasn't even just about this game.  This was about the 300 pound bull we recruited.  This is what should happen the rest of his career.  Smith had his way in this game.

Second, up by 8 with 4:30 left, a trojan guard had an easy cherrypicking layup to cut it to 6 as well as possibly generate a momentum swing.  Lazeric Jones came sprinting after him and devastatingly blocked the shot.  We managed to grab possession while the trojan fell emascalated to the ground.  Students and alumni alike jumped out of their seats to let out a gutteral yell.  Or maybe it was just me.  Had Honeycutt made the subsequent 3, Pauley might've collapsed.

The celebration by the players at final buzzer was memorable as well.  You'd think they might be overreacting but you have to remember that the freshmen, sophomores and 1 junior transfer (basically our whole team except Malcolm and Jerime) have never beaten sc before.  I say, party on.  Its wins like this that can change a season for a tourney bubble team like ours.

Please beat Lavin on Saturday.  Please.

Other observations:

- Howland's team held sc to 15 2nd half points.

- Jerime Anderson is so much better than last year.  He has developed himself into being a great option off the bench and is confidently hitting much needed jumpers at opportune times.

- Going forward, Stover might be the better option than Lane off the bench because of his ability to block shots.  Lane needs to either assert himself more offensively by taking and making jumpers, which I know he can do, or grab more rebounds.  Otherwise, at least Stover is positively contributing to one side of the court.  Sadly, with the twins coming in next year, Lane may have to consider a transfer in the offseason.

- Honeycutt is not showing the ability to dominate games as you would assume a future 1st rounder should be able to.  I still think he's leaving after this season, but his nondescript play is giving me hope.  Or maybe its just the flu.