Thursday, February 28, 2013

UCLA downs ASU in OT, my sons meet 'Bazz

This was my family's last visit to Pauley this year (and perhaps for many years) so an 8:30pm start time didn't deter us at all.  By the way, what is up with so many strange start times this season?  Back when we were almost exclusively on FSN, 7:30pm every games was the norm.  Anyway, all I hoped for was a W so that our last night of new Pauley would live on in our minds just as our last night at old Pauley did (when we upset a ranked Arizona, Trapani scored the last basket of classic Pauley and we took pictures on the old court).

Our 3 freshmen starters certainly carried the scoring load as they each individually outscored the combined output of the other 4 players.  Shabazz started the night strong and finished with 21 points (3-4 from 3-point land) and 7 boards.  Kyle Anderson had a career high 21 points (8-8 on FTs!) as well and grabbed 15 boards, which was more than twice the number of any other Bruin.  Jordan Adams scored a game-high 22 points, his 3rd consecutive game with 20 points or more, including 9 of our last 12 points (6 in OT).

It was also a big statistical night for Larry Drew, whose 13 assists catapulted him from 6th place (205) to 2nd place on UCLA's all-time single season assists list with 218.  Pooh Richardson's 1989 mark of 236 is definitely in danger since Drew has somewhere between 4 to 12 (championship!) games left this year.  He also posted a season high of 7 turnovers (never even getting to 6 previously) - being haphazard with the ball is certainly uncharacteristic of his year.

Much has been said of Howland, but you cannot deny that his freshmen class has lived up to the enormous expectations placed on them.  He recruited them and they are producing.  They are not the issue.  Our biggest problem is and will continue to be our interior defense and rebounding.  The blame rests with Josh Smith's lack of discipline, the Wears lack of athleticism and Tony Parker's lack of experience.  A Sweet 16 appearance at this point would be an achievement.

The best part of the night however was that we were able to get down to court level after the game.  True, we stayed another 30 minutes after an already late game, but it was worth it.  Joe Bruin took my boys on the court and posed for a picture.  Kyle, Norman, Jordan and Shabazz were all nice enough to take pics with the boys too.  A friend of ours had made my eldest son a shirt which has Shabazz's face on Buzz Lightyear's body - a perfect gift considering my son's twin loves for Disneyland and UCLA bball.  My boy couldn't wait to show it to Bazz, who said he liked it and made my son's day.  Up to this point, I think his favorite player was Josh Smith.  It was one last memorable night at Pauley for one and all.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Jeremy Lin comes to town

I took my brother-in-law to see Jeremy play in person for the first time.  The NBA celebrated the night as Chinese New Year.  They had a chinese artist do the national anthem, the Clippers wore Chinese-themed warmups, there were Chinese subtitles on the Jumbotron and they rolled out a pathetic martial arts demo at halftime.  It was pretty comical.

We didn't count on James Harden sitting out with a sprained ankle or the Clippers dropping 46 points on Houston in the 1st quarter, including a couple monstrous dunks by Griffin and Jordan, to essentially put the game out of reach.

Jeremy had a strong first half, but a poor 2nd half, as he was fouled hard a few times, including being kicked by Ryan Hollins when he was down.  He finished with 14 points, 7 assists and 2 boards.  He could have easily had twice the assists, if his teammates had shot just moderately well.  I think the fact that Harden was out, and it was the 2nd night of a back-to-back, poor perimeter shooting by Houston, and Jeremy being battered all night by hard fouls, all contributed to a down night for Houston.  But Jeremy showed his ability to dive into the lane, even against Chris Paul, to create opportunities for others.  Still, minus Harden, I would've liked to see him look for his own shot more.

As for the Clippers, I couldn't be happier that they are ruling the city.  With Paul, who is probably one of the top 3 players in the league alongside Lebron and Durant, they have the quality and the depth to make a run at the title.  But with two other great teams in the West in SA and OKC and a dominant Heat in the East, it will definitely have to be earned (unlike Kobe's championships against the undermanned Magic and elderly Celtics).

The biggest downside to this loss is the fact that it brings the Lakers closer to the playoffs.  As much as I am enjoying their disastrous and embarrassing season, I actually would prefer that they make the playoffs as a 6th or 7th seed (as long as Jeremy makes it too) and believe that they are close to getting it right.  Being stuck in the land of NBA mediocrity is better for Laker haters than seeing them blow it up and starting over.  A team like the Lakers can recover with free agents in no time.  So that's the goal, keeping them mediocre - not a true contender, but, you know, not too bad.

The most comical part about the Lakers season is that the one guy they should be trying to keep happy, Dwight, is the one guy they are criticizing and ostracizing the most.  The dude has a torn labrum and a bad back.  He knows that he has to get healthy because he will be a free agent this summer.  He is the only piece that must be considered as critical to the Lakers future.  He also plays much better when he is coddled and treated delicately.  Kobe and Nash are nearing the end, believe that now is the time and have little patience for Dwight.  Add to the fact that D'Antoni is the absolute worst coach for an old and slow team with two of the best post players in the game.  It seems he would rather eliminate post play completely.  D'Antoni is the guy who took a look at Pau Gasol, who dominated teams in the summer Olympics single-handedly, and decided to start Earl Clark.  Hahahaha.  This is great.  It is also as plain as day now, that Kobe will never be considered the great champion that Jordan is.  He has a team with Nash, Dwight, Pau, and they aren't even at .500 at the all-star break.  Really?  Would Jordan have ever allowed his team to be in this position?

But I digress.  It was great to see Jeremy live.  I was reminded that his greatest ability is to drive into the paint and create from there.  In the open court, he is a fantastic to watch.  His jumpshots look great in warmup, but need consistency in the games.  It was interesting to see that Houston's offense was completely lost without Jeremy in the game.  And not since Yao came into the L, have so many Asian people, including numerous older Asian couples, attend NBA games.  They definitely seemed out of place.

With my Kings on the way to Seattle, I think I'll probably never have my own team to root for.  I'll follow Jeremy and other ex-Bruins.  I'll root for Duncan's Spurs, Durant's Thunder and Lebron's Heat and whoever's playing the Lakers.  I might even raise my boys as Clipper fans just to try and make sure they aren't lured to the dark side.  But this is the year that I'm done being a true fan of a team.  Unless one day I end up a Clipper season tix holder or something.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

US loses to Honduras in 1st game of Hex WCQ

Honduras definitely deserved a point with that amazing bicycle kick.  But we gifted them 2 more points with a defensive breakdown.  These are the main story lines from the game.

- Clint Dempsey's volley goal off a pass from over his left shoulder was a beautiful goal.  In these kinds of games, we are most apt to score a scrappy goal off a set piece or a rebound, etc.  But his beautifully timed run, Jermaine's perfectly weighted pass, and his made-it-look-easy finish across the keeper was an early candidate for goal of the year.  Too bad it was wasted.

- Timothy Chandler is captied, finally.  After nearly two years of indecision, Chandler finally made good on his promise to play for the US.  Unfortunately, he was uncharacteristically outclassed, even getting beat badly a few times.  Ironically, we probably would have been better off defensively with Cherundolo.  Speaking of defensive veterans...

- Klinsmann's landmark decision to play Gonzalez over Bocanegra backfired badly, but it means that Bocanegra is most likely all but eliminated from Brazil 2014 roster consideration.  I get that Klinsmann needs to start testing viable options for Brazil 2014, since Boca will be 35 in a year and a half.  Gonzalez is definitely coming off a mercurial MLS season and deserves to be part of the fold.  But to pick the first game of the Hex WCQs to be Omar's first meaningful international game of his career, on the road, seems to be a bit rash.  Bocanegra's strength is backline organization and leadership, which seem critical in a road WCQ, played in the heat of day.  And I'd bet he wouldn't have been left dozing as Gonzalez was for that 2nd goal.  Both CBs were culpable on that play -  Cameron didn't clear the ball and Gonzalez lost focus, hesitated, and got beat to the pass.  Big picture however, it seems that Klinsmann intends to go with Gonzalez and Cameron, if at all possible.  I suppose it is the right decision, as long as we qualify.

- Klinsmann continues to play 3 defensive central midfielders together.  Fans used to hate on Bob Bradley for always playing two defensive midfielders together - Bradley & Edu, etc.  They derisively called it the "empty bucket", implying that we lacked a central offensive midfielder behind the forwards and inside the wings, essentially leaving them stranded.  Numbers wise, fans wanted to see at least 5 players in attack (2 forwards, 3 mids) instead of 4 (2 forwards, 2 wings).  With Klinsmann's hiring and promise to play a more attractive, attacking, possession style offense, we figured by now we'd be in set in the formation and style that he/we want.  So what do we have? 3 defensive midfielders.  Danny Williams sat right in front of the CBs while Bradley and Jones played just above him.  I know that Klinsmann does not see Bradley and Jones as defensive players, but as 2 way players instead.  But I think its clear that their natural strengths are more defensive-oriented, and less the creative playmaker.  At this point, switch out Jones for a Kljestan/Torres/Donovan and we'd be happy.

- Donovan is still needed.  I can't wrap my head around the fact that he might retire from international soccer sooner than Brazil 2014.  This is the type of game that his experience might have had a huge impact on.  We ran out of gas and we ran out of ideas.

The good thing is the Mexico managed to draw at home, leaving us only 1 point behind in the group.  The bad thing is that we are in last place by ourselves, the only team to not finish with a draw.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

49ers' Worst Loss Ever

It hurts.  We don't lose Superbowls.  And yet, after a 109 yard 2nd half kickoff return, we found ourselves down by an ultimately insurmountable 22 points.  Do we deserve to win if we're ever down by 22?  No.  Were we cheated by a holding call at the end?  (Or even a pass interference on 2nd down?)

Maybe.  But that's not the reason we lost.  We lost because our defense couldn't stop them from scoring TDs in the first half.  We lost because we couldn't get pressure on Flacco to prevent some of those long pass plays.  We lost because Culliver couldn't prevent that long bomb or the ridiculous TD run-after-catch.  We lost because our offense couldn't score more than 6 points in the entire first half.  We lost because LaMichael James pulled a Kyle Williams and didn't protect the ball.  We lost because of terrible time management right before the half - had we scored, it would have been just 21-10 at the half.  We lost because our shoddy kickoff coverage allowed Jacoby to run straight up the middle for a 109 yard back-breaking TD.  We lost because Kaepernick's inexperience cost us 2 valuable timeouts - nobody should be allowed to take a timeout mid 3rd quarter ever.  We lost because the play-calling on our last 4 downs was terrible - no passes into the endzone until the last 4th down gasp.

Give Baltimore the credit.  They imposed their offensive will on us right off the bat.  They were disciplined enough to maintain all three 2nd half timeouts to the very end - had we scored a TD on our last drive, there's a great chance they would've have tied/won the game with a last second FG.  Their defense made it difficult on our last 4 downs to score.  They realized that Kaepernick's inexperience might manifest on the most critical downs with a overloaded blitz - he didn't have a go-to hot route rapport with any WR.

Just like our first two playoff games, we were a team of two halves, especially on defense.  In the divisional round, Green Bay scored 24 points in the first half and 3 in the 2nd half.  In the NFC Championship, Atlanta scored 24 points in the 1st half, and zero in the 2nd.  Here, Baltimore scored 21 in the 1st half and only 6 points against our defense in the 2nd half.  But, that kickoff return TD is what killed us.  How can we expect to mount comebacks in back-to-back playoff games?  We can't expect to go down 17 points one week and then 22 points the next and emerge with wins.

That we had a chance to go ahead in the last few minutes of the game is a testament to SF's resiliency.  We scored 17 straight points in the 3rd quarter to pull within 5.  We had a chance to tie the game with a 2 point conversion with 10 minutes left.  Kaepernick actually had more yards than Flacco with 302 yards and rushed for another 62.  We had a pair of 100 yd receivers - Crabtree with 109, Davis with 104.  Gore finished with  with 110 yards on 19 carries (5.8 average).  We just needed one more stinkin' TD.

I haven't been able to bring myself to watch TV or go to sports sites.  I'm in sports depression.  This is the worst loss ever.

Friday, February 1, 2013

San Francisco 49ers Superbowl History & Prediction

1981 Superbowl XVI vs Cincinnati Bengals
January 24, 1982
Stadium: Pontiac Silverdome, Detroit
Final Score: 26-21
Key Moment: Up 20-7 in the 3rd quarter, the 49ers defense stuff the Bengals 4 times from inside the 3 yd line.
MVP: Joe Montana, 157 yards, 1 TD; 18 yards rushing, 1 rushing TD
Notes: Montana and Walsh shock the world by taking a 6 win team to a 13 win championship team, announcing their arrival to NFL dominance.

1984 Superbowl XIX vs Miami Dolphins
January 20, 1985
Stadium: Stanford Stadium, Stanford
Final Score: 38-16
Key Moment: Montana leads 3 straight TD drives to open up 18 point lead in 2nd quarter.
MVP: Joe Montana, 331 yards, 3 TDs; 59 yards rushing, 1 rushing TD
Notes: In essentially a home game, Montana destroys the much heralded Marino to prove the 49ers' first SB was no fluke. 

1988 Superbowl XXIII vs Cincinnati Bengals
January 22, 1989
Stadium: Joe Robbie Stadium, Miami
Final Score: 20-16
Key Moment: Down 3 points on the 8 yard line with 3:10 left, Montana leads a 11 play drive, culminating in Taylor's 10 yard TD catch.
MVP: Jerry Rice, 11 receptions, 215 yards, 1 TD
Notes: Montana becomes legendary with the greatest comeback drive in NFL history.

1989 Superbowl XXIV vs Denver Broncos
January 28, 1990
Stadium: Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans
Final Score: 55-10
Key Moment: 49ers score TDs on 6 of first 8 possessions.  Early 3rd quarter, Montana's 28 yard TD to Rice immediately after an Elway INT pushed the score to 34-3, snuffing out any last comeback hopes.
MVP: Joe Montana, 297 yards, 5 TDs. 
Notes: Montana's last superbowl was his best performance, cementing his status as best ever.

1994 Superbowl XXIX vs San Diego Chargers
January 29, 1995
Stadium: Joe Robbie Stadium, Miami
Final Score: 49-26
Key Moment: 49ers score 2 TDs in each of the first 3 quarters.
MVP: Steve Young, 325 yards, 6 TDs; 49 yards rushing
Notes: Young gets the monkey off his back with the single greatest performance in SB history.  49ers are the first franchise to achieve 5 Superbowl championships.

Superbowl Prediction:

2012 Superbowl XLVII vs Baltimore Ravens
February 3, 2013
Stadium: Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans
Final Score: 34-23
Key Moment: Kaepernick leads 4th quarter TD drive to go up by 2 scores.
MVP: Frank Gore, 107 yards, 2 TDs.
Notes: 49ers dominate line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and applies enough pressure to Flacco to minimize the deep threat.  Akers makes both FG attempts.