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Weekend Sports Roundup Sunday, January 13, 2008

by Tony Medley

1. UCLA Basketball: This UCLA basketball team gives a new meaning to “winning ugly,” which doesn’t begin to describe the way this team plays basketball. It beat a very good Washington State team on Saturday, helped by Washington State’s obvious nervousness of playing in Pauley Pavilion, and a feisty defense. But when UCLA gets the ball, it’s time to take a bathroom break. UCLA has the most dominant basketball player in the country playing center, freshman Kevin Love. It also has two shot-hungry point guards, Darren Collison and Russell Westbrook. Westbrook, in particular, has apparently never learned the meaning of the word “pass.” All he wants to do is drive the basket for spectacular dunks, so he can show up on YouTube.

Worse, Love is a terrific outlet passer and he’s got lots of teammates who can run. Alas, the way UCLA runs a fast break makes them look more like the Keystone Kops than basketball players, which is why they rarely run, I guess.

I wonder when Love will begin to suspect he made a mistake signing up with Coach Ben Howland. He would be far better off at North Carolina under Coach Roy Williams, who knows something about offense. Love is constantly backing his man in under the basket becoming wide open for a layup or dunk, but nobody on the team can get him the ball.

Howland’s “motion offense” consists of Collison and Westbrook dribbling for about 30 seconds and then either taking a shot or passing off to someone who has to shoot with the clock running down. Compare that with Williams’ offense that consists mostly of passing, rather than one man dribbling.

As to defense, I question Howland’s alleged “genius” as a defensive coach because Love is a marvelous defensive center, maybe the best I’ve seen since Bill Walton. He’s got instincts for the ball that are natural; they can’t be taught. His timing is superb. Yet against Texas, Howland pulled him for the last 3 minutes because he thought his backup, Mata-Real, was better on defense. That doesn’t border on absurd, it is absurd. Because UCLA has such overwhelming talent, the Bruins could win it all this year, but it will sure be ugly.

2 . NFL Playoffs: Jacksonville lost a game they could have won because they only blitzed New England’s Tom Brady once. Jacksonville played the entire game with a four man rush. Any team that gives Brady time is destined to lose.

Actually, Jacksonville did blitz once in the second half, and they succeeded in flushing Brady out of the pocket. Unfortunately for them, Brady threw an amazing pass on the run that resulted in a sensational finger-tip circus catch that turned the game around.

Even though that turned out well for New England, it was just very good luck for New England. Had Jacksonville blitzed Brady the entire game, the outcome could have been different because Brady isn’t nearly as accurate when pressured, the spectacular catch to the contrary notwithstanding. Even without applying pressure to Brady, they kept the game close. One thing that the last part of the season proved is that Brady is a different passer when he’s under pressure, as is any quarterback. But one who can run is less bothered by pressure than Brady, who runs only slightly better than Joe Namath.

Given that, I hope that the Giants beat the Packers next week because their strong pass rush is what allowed them to beat Dallas, turning Tony Romo into just another quarterback as he couldn’t stand the pressure. The Giants’ pass rush against Dallas was the best I’ve seen all year. Since that’s the way to beat New England, anyone who is an NFC fan or wants New England to lose, should be for the team with the best pass rush and who will use it, and that’s the Giants.

The Giants also impressed me by realizing that at the end of the game the clock was their most important ally. Twice they had the ball deep in their own territory with third and short. Instead of trying to throw for the first down, risking an incomplete pass and a clock stoppage, they ran the ball. While they didn’t make a first down either time, they did keep the clock running, the second time forcing Dallas into calling its last timeout. That alone won me to their side because so many coaches today don’t know how to work the clock.

While San Diego’s backup quarterback, Billy Volek, produced one of the great drives of the season to beat Indianapolis, if San Diego has to play New England without quarterback Phillip Rivers and NFL league-leading rusher LaDainian Tomlinson, both of whom were injured today, to rate their chances at slim would be an overstatement.