Wednesday, December 14, 2005

UCLA vs. Michigan (Ann Arbor) - Game Preview

By Bruin Basketball Report

The No. 14 ranked UCLA Bruins (7-1) travel to Ann Arbor for an early Saturday afternoon game against the Michigan Wolverines (7-0) in front of a nationally televised audience.

Michigan has steadily been climbing in both polls and just missed a top 25 ranking this week which makes the upcoming contest against UCLA a huge game for the Wolverines. "It's going to be a big game for us", Michigan forward Lester Abram said. "It's an ESPN game and Dicky V. is coming to town".

Last year the UCLA defeated Michigan in Westwood 81-79. Fifth year head coach Tommy Amaker has a veteran team this year (10 seniors/juniors), and returns all five starters from last year's squad which consists of three seniors, a red-shirt junior, and a junior.

The undisputed leader of the team is 6'3 205lb senior guard Daniel Horton. He is averaging 15.1 ppg (51% FG%), 5.1 apg, 2.5 steals, and is a 3-pt threat (41%). The senior guard is a big game performer - in an earlier game versus Notre Dame the Wolverines lost a big lead in the second half but Horton wouldn't let the them falter by hitting three key 3-point shots down the stretch. Horton did not play in last year's game against UCLA which has buoyed the Wolverine's hopes for a better showing in this year's game.

Horton's backcourt mate, junior Dion Harris is powerfully built just like Horton at 6'3 205lb . Harris is averaging 9.1 ppg and 3.4 apg. He likes to shoot from behind the arc - more than half of his field goal attempts have been 3-point attempts (35 of 61). His 3pt FG% is the same as his total FG% at 37%.

Courtney Sims is the Wolverine's 6'11 245lb junior center who leads the team in scoring 16.4 ppg, blocks 1.3 bpg, and is second on the team in rebounds 8.0. He is most effective down low although he does not possess soft hands as evidenced by his 2.7 turnover per game, yet he has made an astounding percentage of his shots this year at a 68% (FG%) clip.

At the wing position is 6'6 red-shirt junior Lester Abram. He has been somewhat of an inconsistent performer for Michigan this year but is still scoring 12.9 ppg with a 52 FG%. Abram knows how to get to the free throw line going 7-7 in his last game versus S. Florida.

The starting five is rounded off by their blue-collar senior power forward 6'9 255lb Graham Brown, the Wolverines leading rebounder (8.7 rpg). Brown has absolutely no offensive game but he will be busy on Saturday setting hard picks to get their wing players free for open shots.

The Wolverines don't make many mistakes on offense especially in the backcourt. Both Horton and Harris have almost a 3:1 assist/turnover ratio. They like to play pressure defense but do not like to get into a transition game - and probably will not want to get into one with the Bruins.

Daniel Horton is a physical guard who poses the biggest threat for UCLA, but fortunately for the Bruins, Arron Afflalo is their best man-to-man defender and should match up well physically against Horton.

Injuries again at the five spot will be a challenge for the Bruins. Both Alfred Aboya and Michael Fey will most likely miss the game and Lorenzo Mata is questionable. (see injury report below)

Although Courtney Sims is not an offensive weapon like Nevada's Nick Fazekas, he still is the leading scorer for the Wolverines. After an impressive solid 33 minutes effort against Nevada last weekend, look for freshman Ryan Wright to get the start against Michigan - that is if he outrebounded the other centers during practice, a ritual that coach Ben Howland started a few games ago. Ryan Hollins will be the primary back-up at center or may play more if Wright falters.

With the Bruin offense it is always about tempo, specifically setting a fast tempo. As coach Howland has stated many times before - the Bruins best offense is their "fastbreak". The Bruins must set the tempo although it will be more difficult to do in an away game and with such a young Bruin squad. Nevertheless, easy transition baskets are what the Bruins will need to win against Michigan on Saturday.

And of course solid Bruin defense will be called upon again. UCLA will need to communicate effectively off the Michigan screens and picks, and pressure the ball on the perimeter as much as possible. The Bruins match up well defensively at every position expect perhaps at center which is a wildcard at this point considering the Bruins are starting a freshman against a veteran college center.

Injury notes:

Freshman Alfred Aboya had a set back with his injured knee. After the Nevada game his knee developed some fluid which limited his minutes, however during practice this week Aboya banged knees with Ryan Hollins and he experienced even more swelling - thus Aboya will probably not play this weekend.

Senior center Michael Fey has not fully recovered from his sprained ankle and is doubtful against Michigan unless it improves dramatically over the next couple of days.

Still recovering from a concussion he suffered during practice a week ago, Lorenzo Mata is listed as day to day. He has not received permission from doctors to begin playing.

Great news about Josh Shipp and his rehabilatation progress. Shipp has been participating in 2 on 2 drills and has been practicing for up to 45 minutes. Howland still has him slated to play in his first game this year against Wagner on Dec. 21., in order to give Shipp some game experience prior to the start of the Pac-10 season.



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