Wednesday, December 28, 2005

UCLA vs. Stanford - Game Preview

By Bruin Basketball Report

The UCLA Bruins open Pac-10 conference play against the Stanford Cardinal on Thursday, Dec.29 at Pauley Pavilion.

The Bruins head into the opener with a seven-game winning streak. UCLA (10-1) is off to the team's best start since 1995.

This may be the season when the Bruins can exorcise a few "Cardinal" demons. Stanford has a six game winning streak against UCLA and have won eight of the last ten meetings. Even worse, the UCLA has not beaten Stanford at Pauley Pavilion since 1997. And of course, head coach Ben Howland has never beaten Stanford (0-4).

In preseason, Stanford was ranked in the top 25 and was expected to challenge for the Pac-10 crown, instead the team began the season 2-4 with embarrassing losses to UC Irvine and UC Davis.

However, Stanford did win their last two games, albeit against weak opponents (Princeton and Denver), and hope to take whatever momentum from those games into Pac-10 conference play.

Much of the high expectations for Stanford this season were based upon the return of three stand-out senior starters; Matt Haryasz, Dan Grunfeld, and Chris Hernandez.

Center Matt Haryasz (6'11, 230) is an excellent shot blocker (1.3 bpg) and rebounder (10.1 rpg). He prefers to face up to the basket on offense and either spin or fall away for his shots. Although not the team's primary scorer last year, with his team struggling on offense this year, Haryasz has taken on a bigger load and has responded - he is their leading scorer (18.1 ppg, 49% FG).

Although Haryasz is not a physical player inside, the Bruin centers will need help against Haryasz down low. Howland will probably double team Haryasz whenever he gets the ball, similar to the tactics the Bruins applied against Nevada and Michigan. Lorenzo Mata who has started the last three game at center will probably get the nod against the Cardinal. Mata had a good game against Sacramento St. scoring 6 points, pulling down 7 rebounds, blocking 4 shots, and giving the Bruins a solid presence in the low post. However for Mata to succeed against Haryasz, he will need help from his teammates on quick doubles in the post.

Last year at Pauley Pavilion forward Dan Grunfeld (6'6, 220) scored 25 points grabbed 7 rebounds in Stanford's victory over UCLA. However, Grunfeld did not play in the second game due to a torn ACL he suffered against Cal which ended his season. He rehabilitated his knee over the summer and was ready enough to play 35 minutes in the Cardinal preseason opener.

Grunfeld, an all Pac-10 first team selection, averaged 17.9 ppg and shot 50% FG last year, but one wonders if he has completely come back from his injury yet. This year Grunfeld has struggled from the field averaging 14.8 ppg and an anemic 37.5% FG, in addition his 3Pt FG% also decreased from 43% to 27% this year. However, Grunfeld is a big time player and it may only be time before he regains his form - and he loves playing against the Bruins.

Senior Cedric Bozeman who was out with his own knee injury last year, will draw the starting assignment against Grunfeld. Bozeman has played steady, if not stellar defense for the Bruins all year long. His defense has been overlooked by many - but not by the defensive-minded Bruin coaching staff.

All-Pac-10 first team guard, Chris Hernandez (6'2,190) also has had his struggles offensively this year. Hernandez had considered entering the NBA draft last year after averaging 14.5 ppg, 43% FG, 4 apg, and shooting 40% from 3-Pt.

This year, Hernandez is averaging 11.5 ppg and shooting only 39.5% from the field. Hernandez is still shooting well from behind the arc and actually his 3Pt% of 41.5% is higher than his total FG%.

Bruin guard Jordan Farmar did not play well against Hernandez last year. Farmar shot 7-24 from the field against Hernandez who was bigger and more physical. Hernandez's physical domination (as well as the Texas Tech game) last year is what convinced Farmar that he needed to bulk up and get stronger. As a result, Farmar is now 15 pounds heavier this year than he was as a freshman.

Although Arron Afflalo will most likely get the defensive assignment against Hernandez, it wouldn't be surprising to see Farmar and Hernandez go head-to-head in many parts of the game.

As a team, Stanford has not executed well on the offensive end. They are last in the Pac-10 with 40% FG and are shooting 3-pt shots at a low 29% - averaging only 4.1 3-pt FG made per game. In addition, Stanford is last in assists in the Pac-10.

In prior years, Stanford had always been known to play solid defense yet this year they rank ninth in the Pac-10 in total FG% defense at 45% and 3Pt FG defense at 39%; moreover, the Cardinal team is last in steals.

To add insult to a bad preseason, Cardinal junior forward Fred Washington will not play against the Bruins due to left knee tendinitis. Washington gave the Cardinals some athleticism and depth and will be missed.

The picture painted of Stanford's preseason is not a pretty one - it's no surprise they've started the year at 4-4. But whenever a team returns three senior starters like Haryasz, Grunfeld, and Hernandez - it will be a dangerous basketball game.

And considering Stanford's past winning ways at Pauley Pavilion - the Bruins will need to play a solid game tomorrow for the win.

The Bruins welcome back sophomore forward Josh Shipp to the line-up for the Stanford game. Shipp has been practicing with the team for the past two weeks and coach Howland should be able to give Shipp 10-15 minutes in this game.

Senior center Ryan Hollins will not play this weekend against Stanford or Cal due to a groin injury he suffered during warm-ups before the Sacramento St. game.



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