Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Bruin Freshmen Hope to Avoid the Wall

By Bruin Basketball Report

The UCLA Bruins approach the toughest stretch of their 2005-06 schedule with 5 of their last 7 games on the road through Washington and the Bay area.

However, their biggest obstacle to success in finishing the season strong might not be Brandon Roy, Leon Powe, or Matt Haryasz. Instead the obstacle is something a coach can't throw a zone press at, afflicts freshmen in particular, and is well known on the collegiate hard courts.

Coaches simply call it the "freshman wall"

It's the point of the season when freshmen begin to wear down and struggle due to the hectic game and practice schedules at the collegiate level.

Just when a freshman feels like he has it all figured out, it HITS like a ton of bricks - he doesn't feel like his legs are under him and the intensity in his game just can't be found.

It usually happens around February, when the old high school alarm says basketball should be over. Most freshmen aren't use to daily 2-3 hour practices and so many games.

UCLA's Jordan Farmar and Arron Afflalo hit the wall around this time last year. Over a four game stretch Farmar and Afflalo played their worst basketball of the season.

Last year’s UCLA senior Dijon Thompson was supportive yet jabbing at his freshmen teammates when he talked about their "slump". "It's that freshman wall that all freshmen get," Thompson said. "It's a little bit overwhelming.

The wall is more mental than it is physical, a player can become more reckless and careless than normal, and productivity may drop off.

This year's Bruin team may be highly susceptible since five freshmen play significant roles for the team; Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Alfred Aboya, Michael Roll, Ryan Wright, and Darren Collison.

Mbah a Moute is the Bruin's leading rebounder with 8.8 per game. Although Luc’s less than usual production against Arizona was more the result of foul trouble, the wall does not discriminate between a prince or a pauper. Mbah a Moute's game is based upon energy, and he may be susceptible in upcoming games.

The fact Alfred Aboya missed the first six games of the season may explain why his game has begun to flourish rather than diminish at this time of year. Against Arizona, Aboya had his best game as a Bruin recording 6 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 steals in a season-high 22 minutes.

Michael Roll has played in 22 of 23 games this year, his minutes unexpectedly increased as a result of injuries to Josh Shipp and Cedric Bozeman - averaging 16.1 minutes a game. Roll has been rather inconsistent with his shooting, but his defensive effort has been excellent.

Against Arizona, Roll did a good job in defending Hassan Adams. His ability to maintain defensive intensity on small forwards, as much as his three-point shooting, will be his key contribution to the team this year.

Ryan Wright stepped into a bigger role after senior centers, Michael Fey and Ryan Hollins got injured. He had his best game of the season back in December when scored 8 points and grabbed rebounds against Michigan in December.

However his minutes have diminished since Ryan Hollins has returned with improved play especially on the defensive end. In the last five games, Wright has averaged only a bit over 1 point and 1 rebound in 8 minutes of play per game.

Yet, Wright's continued improvement in the low post will be a key to the Bruins run in the postseason.

As for Darren Collison, the freshman from Etiwanda high school may have hit the wall four games ago.

Over the last four games, Collison is averaging only 2.2 points and 1.2 assists per game after averaging nearly 6 points and 3 assists earlier in the season.

Whether he has hit the wall or not, the Bruins will certainly need Darren Collison, and the other freshmen, to play well if they hope to finish strong down the stretch in their Pac-10 conference games.


(photo credit: AP)

(updated 1/8/06 with information on Ryan Wright - Thank you Canadian contingent)


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