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Bruins revel at top, but still can improve

first_imgThe defensive lapses Afflalo spoke of have recently been evident in the opposition’s shooting percentage. Before shutting down Washington State in the second half (holding the Cougars to 29 percent shooting), opponents had shot 50 percent or better in five consecutive halves against UCLA. However, during a season in which highly ranked teams are routinely defeated and no dominant team has emerged, dissecting UCLA’s faults may be nit-picking. “I think we’re playing our best basketball,” UCLA coach Ben Howland said. “We are better (than last season), and part of that is the experience of having last year. (Now it is), `We’re going to win on the road. We’re going to win close games. This is what we do.’ That’s their mindset.” UCLA has won five straight overall and eight consecutive conference games. Collison said playing seven of the last 12 games on the road is helping mold a closer team. “Everybody is real unselfish, our chemistry is improving every day, and that’s all it takes to win a national championship,” Collison said. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! In so many of No.2 UCLA’s 26 wins this season, Afflalo was the central figure, offensively and defensively. And as it has been since Afflalo announced he was returning for his junior season, he is the one who measures the heartbeat of the Bruins best. So it was striking when Afflalo said that there are shortcomings, on a team that is 26-3, 15-2 in the Pac-10, that still needed fixing. SEATTLE – A few minutes after UCLA guard Arron Afflalo’s latest well-rounded performance, he leaned against a hallway wall, about 30 feet from the Bruins’ locker room, let out a deep sigh and smiled. It was a rare moment of relaxation for Afflalo, UCLA’s unquestioned leader, as he absorbed the significance of a 53-45 defeat of 13th-ranked Washington State on Thursday as the Bruins clinched their second straight Pacific-10 Conference title and 29th overall. center_img “You’re never going to be perfect, but you strive for it and there are some things we still need to work on,” Afflalo said. “We have a few lapses on the way we execute offensively, and then (with) our intensity defensively. There were times last year where we were just focused in and it seemed like every possession was hard for the other team. Every shot was contested, every pass, every move, was complicated for the other team. You could tell. “This year, we still have some little lapses. I think if we take care of those things, we’ll be fine when the time is right.” Today’s contest at Washington (17-12, 7-10) has no bearing on the conference race, but still has great meaning for the Bruins. UCLA likely will be the No. 1 seed in the West when the NCAA Tournament begins in less than two weeks, but a few more wins would help even more in securing it. By the time the NCAA Tournament rolls around, UCLA wants to iron out a few other issues. The Bruins still have too many possessions in which point guard Darren Collison, an Etiwanda graduate, is dribbling out of trouble as the shot clock winds down, and it usually ends in a hurried shot. Also, the post play of center Lorenzo Mata, power forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Alfred Aboya, the player who backs up both of them, remains inconsistent. A left knee injury to Aboya is UCLA’s latest concern, and his availability for today’s contest against the Huskies will be a game-time decision. last_img