Are Bruins peaking or peeking?

first_imgSACRAMENTO – Two weeks ago today UCLA notched its best win of the season. Its defense was passionate and physical, and its offense efficient as point guard Darren Collison dissected the defense with his dribble penetration. The Bruins seemed to be peaking for the postseason when they clinched the Pacific-10 Conferencce title at Washington State. But in the two winless weeks since, during which coach Ben Howland said his Bruins “have some soul searching” to do, the predictability of UCLA making another Final Four run changed dramatically. The second-seeded Bruins (26-5) are projecting confidence entering their NCAA Tournament first-round West regional meeting with No. 15-seed Weber State today at Arco Arena, but it remains unsettled as to whether the Bruins’ late-season slip-ups were because they were already peaking – or peeking ahead. “I never sensed it,” Howland said. “I never questioned it.” UCLA lost three starters from last year’s team, but the biggest change may be in the reliability of the Bruins’ bench. During the NCAAs, backup point guard Darren Collison averaged 19.5 minutes per game. Power forward/center Alfred Aboya (11.6mpg), center Lorenzo Mata (10mpg) and wing Michael Roll (9.0mpg) allowed Howland to go nine-deep and keep the starters fresh. However, in the past month Howland shortened his bench drastically, and the Bruins barely go eight-deep. Aboya averaged 19.2 minutes per game in Pac-10 play, and Roll played 16.9. But Collison’s backup this season, freshman Russell Westbrook, had his minutes trimmed to less than six per game the last month. Furthermore, when Aboya missed the game at Washington, backups Ryan Wright and James Keefe played a combined 14 minutes and did not grab a rebound. “I have confidence in my teammates, and I know if their name is called, they’ll respond,” Aboya said. “I practice with those guys every day, and in practice they’re confident, and they score, and they help me and all the people get better.” Before the Pac-10 Tournament, Afflalo said he did not believe UCLA, which does not have a senior, was a team that could afford to go into the NCAAs on a losing streak. After scoring three points, playing poorly on defense and fouling out in overtime in the loss to Cal, Afflalo is being counted on to turn around UCLA’s play. “We haven’t moved on from the loss and the things we need to work on as a team, but as far as Cal specifically, we’ve moved on from that game,” Afflalo said. “After Selection Sunday and talking to some of the guys, I remember the exciting times I went through last year during the tournament, the Gonzaga game and the opening game and all the emotions you go through. It’s a fun three weeks.” UCLA insists its confidence is intact, and Weber State guard BrodyVan Brocklin said the Bruins’ losses to Cal and Washington could wind up hurting the Wildcats. “It might be a motivating factor for them, because they’re going to want to get a victory and get refocused,” Van Brocklin said. “We know they’re going to be ready to play. We’re not coming in hoping to catch them off-guard.” [email protected] (818) 713-3607160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! All-American guard Arron Afflalo said UCLA’s confidence remains intact for a simple reason. “Because we had 26 wins,” Afflalo said. “We know what it takes to win. It’s not like we’re a .500 team, a mediocre team. We’ve been an elite team all year long. We just had some minor struggles. We know what it takes to win.” Said Bruins wing Josh Shipp: “I don’t think those two losses are indicative of our season. I think we just had a couple of mental lapses where we kind of beat ourselves.” Pre-existing momentum helped last year when the Bruins, also seeded No. 2, made an unexpected run to the title game, which it lost 73-57 to Florida. But those Bruins entered the NCAAs with a seven-game winning streak, rolling through the Pac-10 Tournament with three double-digit wins. Howland said a dip in confidence did not occur, despite ending the regular season with a 10-point loss at seventh-place Washington and bowing out in the first round of the Pac-10 Tournament with an overtime loss to eighth-place California. last_img read more

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