Watching is Working for Coaches

Scout.com's Frank Burlison got an inside look at how the UCLA coaches prepared this week for the Final Four. While they didn't have time to catch the latest movies, that doesn't mean they're not spending a lot of time lately staring at TV monitors and laptop screens...

SAN ANTONIO – As Coach Rick Barnes' University of Texas basketball team continued to foul the Memphis Tigers Sunday in Houston in an attempt to extend the game and/or test that "they can't knock in free throws when it counts" theory, a coaching staff in Los Angeles was looking at footage of that same Memphis team in action.

 

It was six days before UCLA's Final Four semifinal with the Tigers in the Alamodome and there was no time for wasting.

 

In fact, for Coach Ben Howland and his staff, there wasn't going to be much time in the next week for anything but preparing for an opponent that polished off the Longhorns, 85-67, and took a 37-1 record with it back to Memphis.

 

As was the case with their counterparts in Chapel Hill, Lawrence and Memphis, the UCLA coaches were facing a near-week of mornings that would blur into afternoons, of afternoons blending into nights, and nights turning into the very early hours of the next morning while they were getting bleary-eyed staring at laptop monitors and TV flat screens.

 

It's what a well-prepared college staff does to get its team ready to play a game on the sport's biggest stage.

 

"We had already pulled a lot of video from both Memphis and Texas games (before the teams tipped off in the South Regional final Sunday) and were in the office before the game began, waiting to get ready,'' said UCLA's Scott Duncan, who drew the Tigers' as his "scout", meaning he was the Howland assistant most responsible for the overall video study and analysis of Memphis.

 

By late Sunday night, Duncan and fellow assistants Donny Daniels and Scott Garson had already watched complete videos of the Bruins' 50-45 victory over the Tigers in the West Regional final two years before in Oakland, as well as Memphis' most recent seven games, from start to finish.

 

By early Monday morning, Howland and his assistants had polished off at least 10 of the Tigers' most recent games, and video coordinator Clay McKnight was assembling "edits" (breakdowns of various aspects of the Tigers' offensive and defensive concepts, along with individual breakdowns of Memphis players) from all the footage they'd looked at in game-form.

 

Sure, Howland and his assistants had a pretty good feel for the Memphis personnel and Calipari's coaching philosophy, because of the two games the teams played two years ago (Memphis knocked off the Bruins earlier in the 2005-06 season during the Preseason NIT) and because, well, who doesn't know Calipari has a national championship-caliber club?

 

The goal was to get by the obvious as quickly as possible – yeah, Derrick Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts are two of the 10 or 12 best players in college basketball – and then delve into the subtleties of why the Tigers are so overpowering that they have outscored opponents by 20 points a game.

 

"We are looking as closely as possible at their (individual) personnel, and we want to get to know the concepts of what they're doing, offensively and defensively, and all of their tendencies," said Garson.

 

The Bruins practiced Tuesday and Wednesday in Pauley Pavilion "but it was just ‘UCLA stuff'," said Duncan.

 

By Thursday, Howland and his staff began talking to their players about Tigers' personnel and specifics about Memphis' offensive and defensive approach.

 

"We (coaches) had a pretty good idea of what we wanted to do (schematically, offensively and defensively against the Tigers), so we began trying out some stuff in practice, to see how it works," explained Garson.

 

And, as far as Howland and his staff are concerned, there is never, ever any danger of "paralysis by over-analysis".

 

"Most (head) coaches work hard at game preparation," said Duncan.

 

"But Ben takes it to a whole different level. He is just so much more detailed (in preparation) than most other coaches."

 

All-American center Kevin Love has experienced that first hand during his freshman season.

 

"We spend so much time preparing for a team, watching film every night and having ‘walk-thrus'," he said. "So, when we play, we know the team's tendencies and there isn't much that surprises us."

 

Although the game plan may already be pretty much in place for the Bruins' game with the Tigers Saturday night, Howland isn't going to stop watching footage of Memphis until . . . well, maybe until it's time for him to leave the locker room and join his team on the Alamodome floor.

 

"He can pick stuff out of video that we (his assistants) don't see," said Duncan.

 

"He'll point it out and we're scratching our heads. It might be the most subtle of things. But that's one of the reasons this program is playing in its third consecutive Final Four."



 

Inducted into the USBWA Hall of Fame in April, 2005, Frank Burlison is Scout.com's national basketball expert and is also a columnist for the Long Beach (Calif.) Press-Telegram. He can be reached at frank.burlison@presstelegram.com. Read more of Burlison's pieces at www.collegehoops.scout.com


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