Wednesday, December 21, 2011

UCLA Bball, first step to a winning season

Well, we're above .500 for the first time all year.  Considering a putrid 1-4 start, a 6-5 record is great news.  I figured as much, so I made it an all men's family outing: my dad, my brother in law, and my two sons trekked out to downtown with me.

True, UC Irvine, just like UC Davis before them, is less Kansas than it is Chaminade, but it is obvious to all that we are playing much better basketball.  Without Reeves Nelson, we are unquestionably more focused and more relaxed.  Perhaps the Wears now have more room (and more minutes) to operate.  Perhaps Josh Smith's mind has been scared straight, seeing what happened to his frontcourt mate.  Perhaps the guards have snapped out of their funk and are simply shooting better.  Perhaps Zeek Jones can now be the leader he clearly is with Reeves gone.  Perhaps Howland has simply had the practice and game time to vastly improve our team defense.  Or perhaps we're just playing much weaker opponents.  Whatever the reason, I'm glad we're on the right track and may still have a chance to make a improbable run at the NCAA tourney.

Clearly jettisoning Reeves was the right move, perhaps even later than what it should have been, since both of Reeves' parents have come out in support of Howland's decision. We fans, though, are incredulous that we are actually losing our best player.  I think 10 years from now he will look back in deep regret.  Lithuania cannot possibly be better for his pro hopes than a starting job at UCLA.

Back to our team:

- Our guards are shooting a much better clip.  Jerime shot 3-5.  Tyler shot 7-13 and finished with 17 points.  Zeek was 4-9.  Norman was 6-11.  From 3 point land, we shot 50% (9 for 18).

- Since the horror 0-5 showing against Michigan late November, Zeek Jones has shot 60% (34 for 57).  He looks more relaxed but still aggressive and in control.

- The Wears are finally shrugging off the cobwebs from sitting a season and are coming into their own.  Travis' foot infection aside, they are starting to show off their multi-faceted skills.

- One good thing about Josh Smith's poor conditioned offseason is that he will probably hate being called "fat" all season and come into next season in shape.  With the two offensively skilled perimeter players coming in next season, we could have an extremely dynamic team to open the new Pauley Pavilion.

- The big story of the night though was Norman Powell, who exploded for 19 points, including 4-6 from 3 point land.  Incredibly, he grabbed 7 boards, had 3 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks to complete his great scoreline.  He also had a couple monstrous dunks, which UCLA fans have missed since the days of Westbrook.  This freshmen is not afraid of failure.  I'm glad Howland is giving him PT.

If we can beat perennial NCAA tourney participants, Richmond, on Friday, we'll be 7-5 and ready to give the Pac-12 a run.

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