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Q+A with Bruins Nation Regarding Tonight's Cal-UCLA Pac10 Men's Basketball Game

Well, we got a big game tonight!  Cal!  UCLA!  Cal is coming off of an encouraging weekend against the Washingtons.  They split with a big win over WSU.  Although they did lose to UW, they hope to take last Thursday's winning spirit into Pauley tonight against the UCLA Bruins.

In the mid 00s, UCLA was the class of the Pac10 and a national elite team.  They have fallen off somewhat since then, but are still dangerous, especially for a young Cal team such as this.  Cal will need all the luck it can get against these difficult Bruins.  To get a stronger grasp of what we should expect for tonight's game, we talked shop with Ryan Rosenblatt of SBN's UCLA site, Bruins Nation, about the UCLA team.  After the jump, their answers to our questions.  GO BEARS!

1. After last year's disappointment as well as the crapping out of the #1 recruiting class in the country over the last couple of years - what's the temperature of Howland's chaise lounge? Does he still get credit for the 3 Final Fours in a row? How well does this year's Bruins team need to do to cool his seat down - if it's even warm?

There is definitely some warmth on Howland's seat. When you're coaching at UCLA, not making the tournament is not going to go over well. To made three straight Final Fours is an incredible accomplishment, but a down year in Westwood is not a year in which you miss the tournament. Tournament appearances at UCLA should be a given and that's without getting into the fact that last season was one of the worst in the last 60 years at UCLA. That said, when other top programs, like North Carolina, had a down year missed the tournament, they would win the NIT or something like that and bounce back with a really good year the next season. If Howland can turn this group into a tournament team and really build for 2011-2012 with a conference title contender and top four seed or so, that's fine, but another tournament miss has him with a really warm seat.

2. How well are this year's frosh playing? Up to expectations? And then the transfers becoming eligible - how good does the UCLA talent stockade look over the next 2-3 seasons?

Both freshmen have had their ups and downs. Josh Smith has played really well when he's gotten the chance for the most part, but he's been hampered by foul trouble. Some of that foul trouble is caused by refs not knowing how to call a guy as big as him and some is him taking stupid reaching fouls 15 feet from the basket so there are things to be worked on there. The rest of our team's ability to forget about him and not give him touches on the post hasn't helped him out a ton either, but he's coming along and is a pretty darn good player for a freshman center, a position usually associated with slow development.

Tyler Lamb is a guy who got off to a slow start offensively, but has come on strong in the last month. He's knocking down open jumpers now and making smart plays with the basketball. This is on top of great defense, which he had from day one. Lamb is athletic with great lateral movement so he's a natural to be a good defender, but he's shown an aggressiveness and willingness to defend that has really helped him out. Probably the best thing about his game is his ability to throw an entry pass though, something he's the best on the team at.

Looking at the Bruins' talent going forward, there's some there. Lamb and Smith are both good players to build with and next season the Wear twins will be eligible. The twins aren't anything close to saviors, but some solid minutes up front are a legitimate expectation. Tyler Honeycutt may or may not be around for another year or two, but he's a top talent who needs to be developed and utilized better by the coaching staff. Malcolm Lee should be back next season and he's an elite defender who can get a handful of points as well. Norman Powell is an incredibly athletic guard who will be a freshman next season, but the real key is finding a point guard in recruiting, which the Bruins desperately need. Without one, the program will have a gigantic hole. With one, there are legitimate building blocks to be pretty damn good.

3. This UCLA team looks schizophrenic - with the home-cooked loss to Kansas in the last second . . .followed up shortly by losing to Montana in Pauley. Which is the real Bruins team - how do you see this Pac-10 season playing out the rest of the way? Post-season for UCLA?

The problem is UCLA is schizophrenic from game to game, it's a matter of being schizophrenic from each five minutes to the next. The Bruins haven't put together a full 40 minutes all year and it can be argued they haven't put together a full 20 minutes. I don't think anyone has any idea what to make of this team and no one has any idea if the good Bruins will show up long enough to get a win in any single game. This team should be a tournament team, but they're impossible to predict so who knows. If I had to bet, I'd so no NCAA Tournament for UCLA because I can't trust their attitude and effort.

4. Who do you want to punch in the face?

I wouldn't quite put it as seriously as wanting to punch in the face, but as in the guy that pisses me off, Reeves Nelson is the obvious answer. He has some attitude issues and is easily upset. He can be a really great player, but then if he misses a couple shots, is on the wrong end of a bad call or who knows what, he begins to sulk and is a shell of the player he can be. Unfortunately, the rest of the team begins to take on his attitude sometimes too so when Reeves goes down, the team goes with him. It could just be a matter of immaturity and a need to grow up, but it's frustrating as hell.

If you want a Bear to pick, give me Gutierrez. The guy just needs to chill sometimes. Then again, if he were a Bruin, I'd love it.

5.  Who is the Cal player you are most concerned about?

Sanders-Frison is a huge concern for me. We've been lazy on the boards before and I can just see him sneaking in for three or four key offensive boards for second-chance points that turn the game around. It could be Kamp who does the same, but I'll take Sanders-Frison.

6.  How excited are you about Josh Smith?

I'm less excited about Smith himself and more excited about the prospect of our guys actually passing him the ball. He's listed at 310 lbs, but he's most definitely heavier. That said, he has exceptionally quick feet and soft hands so if guys really try to lean on him, he's right by them for an easy finish. If our guys would get him the ball regularly, instead of him having to get too many of his points on put backs, the offensive efficiency would sky rocket. Staying out of foul trouble and on the floor would help that too.

7.  After 3 straight trips to the Final Four, what exactly happened?  We know Ben Howland didn't magically forget how to coach...

There have been a lot of things that have gone wrong, but I'll focus on two. One is he lost a couple of his best assistants in Kerry Keating and Ernie Ziegler to head coaching jobs and did a piss poor job of replacing them. Howland has his issues, most notably not being a great communicator or connecting with kids. That was fine when he had assistants that covered for him in those areas, but when he replaced those good assistants with yes men, he was in trouble, especially in evaluating and recruiting talent.. Another issue has been his taking the foot off the pedal some. It used to be that you did it his way or you sat. It was as simple as that, but he let the foot off of the pedal and let a couple guys get away with easing up in practice, on defense and not doing all the little things that built the program into three straight Final Fours. Now other guys have picked up on those bad habits and Howland is struggling to reign it all back in.

8.  What's the difference between this year's team and last year?

Point guard play is the biggest one. Zeke Jones transferred in and is giving somewhat passable point guard play and Jerime Anderson isn't a complete disaster. That's how bad the play at the point was a year ago. Nelson, for all his faults, has taken a major step forward, which has been big and Malcolm Lee hasn't had to play point guard, which allows him to lock down on defense. Adding Smith has been a big help as well. Unfortunately, last year went so horribly that getting a few minor pluses has made for a huge difference.