Notes: Tuesday's Hoops Practice

It was a familiar scene at Pauley Pavilion Tuesday at basketball practice, with defense being the dominant factor, particularly point guard Darren Collison's on-ball defense being stifling. The projected starters look like seasoned veterans, but the freshmen have their moments...

On Tuesday, In the first practice opened to the media, the UCLA basketball team went at it for about 3 hours, spending a great deal of time installing offensive sets.

Besides the scholarship players, practicing were also the new walk-ons, including one we haven't mentioned before: Jamie Diefenbach, who looks to be about 6-9 and 240ish, and is a pretty athletic, big, practice body to have around. He's a UCLA volleyball player who, coming out of high school, we had rated as a post player of note. Since the post players now are just Alfred Aboya and Ryan Wright (with Lorenzo Mata out), it was good to have Diefenbach as a body to bang against in the post drills.

Mata did appear at practice and rode the stationary bike for a while, with no visible problem with the knee and no brace.

First the gold team, comprised of the projected starters -- Darren Collison, Arron Afflalo, Josh Shipp, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Alfred Aboya – would run through the sets, really just refreshing their memory from last year.

Then, going through them was the blue team, made up of Russell Westbrook at point guard, Mike Roll, Nikola Dragovic at small forward, James Keefe at power forward and Ryan Wright at center.

The gold team was, of course, very efficient in their execution. The blue team wasn't particularly, which is understandable, given the new players. Westbrook did stand out for his hustle and the way he talked to his teammates.

In the last hour or so, the two teams scrimmaged, and Westbrook had to move to the sideline to ride the stationary bike since he's still recovering from his concussion. Head Coach Ben Howland did say that he'll practice fully today and be ready to play in the exhibition game Thursday against Cal Poly Pomona.

Without Westbrook, walk-on guard Mustafa Abdul-Hamid stepped in to the blue team. Collison then proceeded to disrupt Abdul-Hamid in the gold-vs.-blue scrimmages, to the point that the blue team couldn't execute much. It wasn't exactly fair, with Collison, who Howland has called the best on-ball defender he's ever coached, going up against a walk-on freshman. At one point, Howland switched Collison to the blue team for a few possessions to even it out.

Probably what stood out the most was the gold team's overall defense. Not only was Collison stifling, but Afflalo, Mbah a Moute and Aboya were also overwhelming in their quickness and man defense. They forced the blue team into turnover after turnover, most of the time in just the initial pass in the half-court offense.

On offense, Collison definitely played more with a point guard's mentality, looking to find Afflalo and Shipp at every opportunity. The two veteran wings obliged him, knocking down their shots calmly and consistently.

Howland made the teams play some 1-2-2 defense, which he said they'd probably see against Pomona Thursday.

Aboya and Mbah a Moute are particularly effective catching the ball at the high post and either passing it down to the block or using their agility to take their man off the dribble for a lay-in, especially against the zone. The two showed that they worked very well together doing this. Both Aboya and Mbah a Moute were flying all over the boards, also.

On the blue team, Dragovic had a few very good moments, hitting a couple of shots, and poking away a few balls for steals. He is tentative in how he moves on the court, which you would expect from him, and he is unpolished in many aspects, trying to throw an alley-oop from his chest, catching an alley-oop with one hand, fading away on his jumper, etc. His arm goes out like a chicken wing a bit on his shot, too, but the shot goes in very consistently. One of his most impressive moments was a drive across the lane, finished by a pull-up from about 12 feet that he swished. He also blocked a dunk by Shipp, getting off the floor with ease.

James Keefe looked good for blue, making some nice dump-down passes, catching and shooting from about 15 feet well and rebounding hard.

The Bruins will have one more practice – today – before the play against Pomona Thursday.


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