Saturday, December 31, 2005

California Defeats UCLA, 68-61

By Bruin Basketball Report

Box Score

The California Bears wanted to make a statement on their trip down to southern California this week. And they did just that.

After beating USC on Thursday, Cal went into Pauley Pavilion and beat a red-hot Bruin team, 68-61, even though the Bruins held Cal's leading scorer Leon Powe to just 5 points in the game.

Cal (8-3, 2-0) led most of the game although their biggest lead never exceeded 7 points. But whenever the Bruins seemed to make a run, the Bears answered from the outside or grabbed an offensive rebound for an easy put back. The Bears had 7 offensive rebounds with most of them leading to second chance scores.

The UCLA Bruins (11-2, 1-1) began the game against Cal with the same defensive scheme they used against Stanford - double and trap the opponent's best low post player - in this case it was Leon Powe, and make the rest of the team beat them. However what worked against Stanford did not work today.

Cal shot 52% total from the field in handing the Bruins only their second loss of the season.

Although Cal's Leon Powe scored only 5 points - 15 below his season average - Powe helped his team by not forcing up bad shots against the double teams he faced. Powe took only 7 shots (he averages 13 FGA) and attracted double teams whenever he had the ball which then freed up his teammates for open shots - and Cal took full advantage.

The Cal came into the game shooting 40% from 3PT but shot even better in this game - hitting on 6-10 (60%) from behind the arc. The Cal starting guards all scored in double figures; Omar Wilkes had 12 points, Richard Midgeley scored 12, and Ayinde Ubaka finished with a team high 18 points. On the inside, 6'10 DeVon Hardin had 10 points on 4 of 5 shooting - most of them coming within 5 feet of the basket.

The Bear's head coach Ben Braun devised an effective defensive game plan. Knowing the Bruins wanted to run and push the tempo. The Bears took away the Bruin's transition game by sending three players back after every shot - whether the shot was missed or made - the Cal players were already back to stop a Bruin break.

As a result, UCLA did not have a single transition basket and the game was transformed into a slower, half-court game - a tempo in which the Bruins have not done well with this year. With no transition baskets and having to operate their offense exclusively in the half-court - the Bruins shot a season-low 36.7%.

One reason the Bears were also able to execute their defensive game plan so well was because they controlled the boards on both ends of the court. Cal outrebounded UCLA 29-23. Cal's Leon Powe and DeVon Hardin had 12 and 8 rebounds, respectively.

Freshman Luc Mbah a Moute had his string of double-figure rebounds end in this game. He got into early foul trouble and had difficulty with the big bodies of Cal's front line. As a result, Mbah a Moute had no rebounds in the first half and only three total for the game.

The Bruin bigmen could not keep up with the bigger and more physical Cal front line. Sophomore Lorenzo Mata started the game at center and had 5 rebounds but went 0-5 from the field. Freshman Ryan Wright played 15 minutes but had no rebounds in the game. They were outbattled for rebounds and position in the paint. The Bruins clearly will need a bigger and tougher presence in the paint against Cal when they face them again.

The only bright spot on the Bruin front line was Alfred Aboya who scored 8 points and grabbed 3 rebounds. He also had two nice scores after the Bruins broke the Cal press with Aboya driving the lane for layups. In addition, Aboya was the Bruins best low post defender - he was perhaps the most physical of all the Bruin bigmen down low.

The Bruins did not start the game with the same level of intensity they showed against Stanford - especially on the defensive end . The Bruin help defense was slow in their traps and rotations which allowed either wide-open 3-PT shots by the Cal guards or layups by their bigmen.

Arron Afflalo led the Bruins again in scoring with 18 points and Josh Shipp scored 10 points, but they were the only Bruins to score in double figures.

Jordan Farmar, who was questionable for the game after spraining his ankle against Stanford, played 36 minutes but he was clearly not as quick on defense nor as effective in implementing the offense. Farmar finished with only 5 points on 2 of 11 shooting and was 0-5 from 3PT. On the Bruin's first offensive possession of the game, Farmar telegraphed a post pass which Omar Wilkes literally took out of Farmar's hands. On the defensive end, he was slow to close out on Cal's outside shots.

Darren Collison chipped in 8 points but had no assists. Collison also had 3 turnovers - one which ended a potential Bruin comeback at the end of the game.

With 49 seconds left and the Bruins down by only 2 points, Arron Afflalo stripped the ball away from Ayinde Ubaka. Darren Collison saw the ball and began dribbling the other way before he gained possession - Ubaka recovered and stole the ball back from Collison and banked it from 5 feet for a Cal 4 point lead. The Bruins were unable to recover.

UCLA could have used more big bodies down low, but both seniors Michael Fey (ankle) and Ryan Hollins (groin) did not suit up for the game. The Bruins will definitely need both of them back when they face Cal again later in the Pac-10 season.

With Farmar less effective due to his injury, the Bruins needed someone else to step up besides just Afflalo and Shipp and be the Bruin's third scorer- but no one did on this New Year's eve in Westwood.

The Bruins go on the road and face the Arizona schools next week. They play Arizona on Thursday and then go to Tempe for a game against Arizona St. on Saturday.

Note: The score was 66-61 with 8 seconds left when Cal rebounded a missed shot and threw the length of court to Ayinde who waited until .01 seconds and then put in a layup to extend the score. It was a completely classless act by the Bears. In addition, the Cal bench was assessed a techincal foul for unsportsman-like conduct towards the end of the game as well.

I'm sure the Bruins will remember this game.


(photo credit: Getty images)

Friday, December 30, 2005

UCLA Men's Basketball Injury Update (12/30)

By Bruin Basketball Report

Injury Updates for Tomorrow's Game
  1. Michael Fey (ankle) will not play.
  2. Ryan Hollins (groin) will not play.
  3. Ryan Wright (ankle) is expected to play.
  4. Jordan Farmar (ankle) is a game time decision.
  5. Cedric Bozeman (shoulder) will not be back for at least 4 weeks. Bozeman is expected to attempt rehabiliation of his shoulder rather than surgery at this point.

UCLA vs. California - Game Preview

By Bruin Basketball Report

The No.11 UCLA Bruins (11-1, 1-0) take on the California Golden Bears (7-3, 1-0) in their second Pac-10 game at Pauley Pavilion on Saturday.

After a loss at Eastern Michigan to open the season, the Cal Bears went on a six game winning streak before losing to quality opponents in Kansas and DePaul.

In their Pac-10 opener against the USC Trojans on Thursday, the Bears edged the Trojans 62-58. Cal had led by 5 points with 16 seconds left in the game but then they allowed a 3-point FG and Cal's Leon Powe missed the front end of a one and one FT giving the Trojans a chance to tie the game, but USC was then called for traveling - preserving the win for Cal.

"We stayed together and had contributions from everybody," Powe said. "That's what we need on the road, especially against a team that was coming in that hot."

Cal is second in the conference in team scoring behind Washington. They have a big front line which is led by former Pac-10 freshman of the year Leon Powe (So 6'8 240) who is averaging 20.7 ppg on 52% shooting and 10.2 rpg. Powe is a tough low post player who gets to the free thow line often; however, Powe only shoots 60% from the FT line.

In addition to Powe, Cal starts DeVon Hardin (So 6'11 235) who scores 12.1 ppg and 7.4 rpg and bring in Rod Benson (Sr 6'10 220) off the bench.

On the perimeter, the Bears have good 3-point shooting - as a team they are shooting over 40% from behind the arc. Richard Midgley a senior guard ( 6'3, 190) averages 11.7 points and shoots 40% from 3PT, Ayinde Ubaka (Jr, 6'3, 200) averages 13.5 ppg and 38% from 3PT, and Omar Wilkes (So 6'4 185), a transfer from Kansas and son of former UCLA great Jamaal (Keith) Wilkes, is scoring 10.3 ppg and shooting 47% from 3PT.

Cal presents UCLA with the most difficult match-up in the Pac-10 with their big front line. In previous games when facing a dominant front court player, the Bruins have quickly doubled down in the low post forcing the player to either pass out or take a tough shot.

However doubling down on Powe may prove to be more difficult with Hardin or Benson in the game alongside him. UCLA coach Ben Howland will need to decide whether to double down or let his young Bruin front line play the Bears bigmen straight up.

Against Stanford, the Bruins were successful in doubling Matt Haryasz in the post, but in the second half Haryasz scored more easily when he played alongside 6'10 Peter Prowitt who provided Stanford another low post scoring threat and made it more difficult for the Bruins to double Haryasz as quickly as they did in the first half.

If the Bruins decide to play Cal's front line straight up they will need to have more healthy bodies available tomorrow.

Sophomore Lorenzo Mata and freshman Ryan Wright have been an efficient tandem in the five spot but they are inexperienced bigmen and are prone to fouling.

Certainly, the Bruins could use some help from their senior post men - Ryan Hollins and Michael Fey. But while it's already been announced that Hollins will miss another week, Fey is probable for the Cal game tomorrow.

Freshman power forward Alfred Aboya, who is still playing himself into shape and learning the system, played only 12 minutes against Stanford and will probably see more action against Cal especially if Fey is unavailable.

To negate Cal's front line advantage, the Bruins need to establish an up tempo game by having their guards run and create transition basket opportunities whenever possible.

The condition of Jordan Farmar's ankle takes on even more importance against Cal. Farmar injured his right ankle in the Stanford game and did not play the last part of the second half. Farmar remained on the bench and had his ankle re-taped but he did not re-enter the game.

Farmar's status for tomorrow's game has not been announced but the Bruins will definitely need their sophomore leader in the game to do well.

In addition, Darren Collison needs to rebound from a poor performance against Stanford. Collison scored no points, had eight assists but also committed five turnovers.

In previous games, it was Collison who jumped started the Bruins offense with his speed and quickness. He will be counted on heavily by his team against Cal.

Cal's team defense is somewhat suspect - in four games this year the Bears have allowed over 50% FG shooting. The Bears have experienced key defensive breakdowns in some of their losses this year.

On offense, Cal has had a tendency this year to rely too much on Leon Powe down the stretch leading to poor execution at the end of games.

The Bruin coaching staff will be keeping close tabs on Josh Shipp who will be playing in just his second game after returning from hip surgery.

Shipp had a fabulous game against Stanford scoring 11 points and creating good scoring opportunities for his teammates. The Bruins could use another stellar performance from Shipp against the Bears.

The Bruins and Golden Bears split their games last year with each winning on the opponent's home court.

Notes: The status of Cedric Bozeman's injured shoulder has not been determined. Bozeman was to be re-evaluated again today. Reports have indicated that Bozeman may be able to strengthen his shoulder to allow him to play again this year, or he may require season ending surgery.

Regardless of the finding, we shouldn't expect a quick decision on Bozeman's next step. This is Bozeman's final year so a decision to have surgery would ultimately end his college career unless he can get a waiver to redshirt - something Coach Howland has indicated he may pursue.


Bruins Trounce Stanford, End Streak

By Bruin Basketball Report

Box Score

Forward Josh Shipp returned to action and sparked the No.11 ranked Bruins to a 71-54 rout of the Stanford Cardinal before a raucous crowd of 10,984 at Pauley Pavilion.

The win snapped Stanford's six game winning streak against UCLA, and it was the Bruin's first victory against the Cardinal at Pauley Pavilion since 1997. UCLA head coach Ben Howland also earned his first win over Stanford.

Shipp played 29 minutes and gave the Bruins another weapon in their offensive arsenal. He scored 11 points, hit two key 3-point shots, and helped the Bruin offense flow with passes for easy scores - doing what Josh Shipp does the best - being in the right spot on the court at the right time. In one play against a Cardinal 2-3 zone, Shipp simply moved to the corner baseline, called for the ball, and then dribbled baseline drawing two players to him and then flipped the ball to a wide open Luc Richard Mbah a Moute under the basket for an easy score.

Coach Ben Howland had planned to use Shipp in limited minutes against Stanford, but when it was later found that senior forward Cedric Bozeman would not play, Howland had little choice but to play Shipp extended minutes. In post game comments Howland said, "we don't win today without Josh Shipp"

Shipp made his presence known right away. On Stanford's first possession they attempted to pass the ball down low, but the ball was tipped and Arron Afflalo found a streaking Josh Shipp for a lay-up and foul for the first points of the game and Shipp's season.

The cagey sophomore had hip surgery in September and returned to practice a couple of weeks ago. Shipp still needs a few games to regain his endurance and to scrape the rust off his game. Knowing he was going to play more than expected, Shipp paced himself during the game. "It was just great to come back and help the team", Shipp said after the win

The Bruins (11-1) got off to another great start as they went on an 18-1 run to begin the game, and Stanford (4-5) did not score it's first field goal until nine minutes into the game.

It was the UCLA team's best defensive effort of the season. They held Stanford to only five field goals and 20% shooting (5-25) in the first half. Stanford finished the game shooting an anemic 29% (14-48) from the field.

Senior center Matt Haryasz was constantly harassed by a Bruin defense which doubled him whenever he got the ball down low. Bruin big men - Lorenzo Mata, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Ryan Wright, and Alfred Aboya - held the Cardinal big man to 3-10 shooting and 13 points with most of his points coming after the game was determined.

Stanford senior stand-outs guards Chris Hernandez and Dan Grunfeld scored only 7 points a piece combining on 4 of 21 shooting.

Sophomore Arron Afflalo led the Bruins in scoring again with 23 points on 7-11 shooting and hit 3 of 5 from behind the arc. He made some tough shots coming off screens and switches to ignite the Bruin offense early.

Jordan Farmar had a tough game against Stanford. He scored 5 points and had 4 assists in only 15 minutes of action. Farmar got into early foul trouble which earned him a spot on the bench.

In a scary moment in the game, after a scramble for a rebound in a crowd of players, Farmar limped off the court after re-injuring his right ankle. The Pauley crowd knowing the importance of Farmar to the team grew suddently quiet as Farmar hobbled slowly to the bench. Farmar did not return to the game, but fortunately for the Bruins they were up by 20 points at the time. Farmar's playing status will be determined later today and perhaps at game time on Saturday.

With Farmar and Bozeman injured and Arron Afflalo in foul trouble, Darren Collison played 31 minutes at the point. His play was inconsistent - Collison had 8 assists but also had 5 turnovers, and on a few possessions with the clock running down he looked lost running the offense and forced his teammates into some tough buzzer beating shots.

The freshman is still learning and will have nights like this, but Collison will need to rebound strong from this effort especially if Farmar's ankle injury keeps him to limited minutes in the next game.

Freshman Luc Richard Mbah a Moute recorded another double-double scoring 12 points and grabbing 12 rebounds - leading the Bruins in rebounding for the twelfth straight game. Mbah a Moute did a great job defensively helping out on the low post doubles and had two of his three blocked shots on Matt Haryasz. He also finished with three steals.

With both seniors Ryan Hollins and Michael Fey out, Lorenzo Mata and Ryan Wright played the entire game at center combining for 11 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 blocked shots.

Both Wright and Mata could be found chasing loose balls and deflecting passes in the paint. This type of production and effort from the five spot was missing last year and earlier in the season. Ryan Wright injured his ankle during the first half and momentarily left the game but he returned a few minutes later and finished the game.

As a team, the Bruins shot a sizzling 60% to storm out to a 38-19 first half lead. They finished the game shooting 50.9%. The Bruins also hit on 43.8% of their 3-point shots (7-16) and outrebounded Stanford 37-31.

The Bruins now have an 8 game winning streak heading into their next Pac-10 game against the California Golden Bears on Saturday. Cal defeated the USC Trojans yesterday at Staples Center 62-58.

Post Game Notes: Cedric Bozeman injured his left shoulder during practice on Tuesday and had a MRI done Wednesday night. The results showed Bozeman has torn cartlidge in his shoulder which will sideline him for at least 2-4 weeks. He was on the bench wearing a sling. Before the shoulder injury, Bozeman had started every game and averaged 10.3 points and 4.0 rebounds a game after rehabilitating from a major knee injury he suffered last year.

Ryan Hollins will miss at least a week due to a groin injury, while Michael Fey's status (ankle) will be determined at game time on Saturday.


(photo credit: AP)

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Collison Creates First-Year Impact

Freshman Darren Collison has been a major contributor for the UCLA basketball team, averaging 19.2 minutes, 5.5 points and 3.1 assists off the bench. But neither Collison nor Bruins coach Ben Howland are surprised by his contribution because they both expected it.

Collison led the Eagles to last year's CIF-Southern Section Division I-AA championship, earning the divisional Player of the Year award. Instead of resting on his reputation, Collison spent his summer in the weight room adding muscle to his 6-foot, 155-pound frame and in the gym honing his skills. Inland Valley Daily Bulletin

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.


Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Pac-10 Conference 2005-06 Season Preview

By Bruin Basketball Report

The Pac-10 conference began the year with four teams ranked in preseason polls - Arizona, Stanford, UCLA, and Washington.

However, both Arizona (7-3) and especially Stanford (4-4) have stumbled in non-conference play. With the Pac-10 season opening this week, only two teams from the conference remain ranked - No.7 Washington and No.11 UCLA.

Although both Arizona and Stanford appear to have gotten back on track, the Pac-10 conference lost some of it's luster in the preseason. Teams within the conference look to regain some of their respectability during conference play.

The Pac-10 conference still looks to be one of the top conferences in the nation.

Bruin Basketball Report - Pac-10 Predictions

1.UCLA 2.Arizona 3.Washington 4.California 5.Stanford 6.Washington St 7.USC 8.Oregon 9.Oregon St 10.Arizona St

Team Previews

1. UCLA (10-1)

Probable Starters
G-Jordan Farmar (So, 6'2, 180), G-Arron Afflalo (So, 6'5, 210), F-Cedric Bozeman (Sr, 6'6, 205) F-Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (Fr, 6'7, 224), C-Lorenzo Mata (So, 6'8, 235)

Key Resevers
Darren Collison (Fr, 6'0,155), Josh Shipp (So, 6'5, 207), Ryan Wright (Fr,6'8, 225), Alfred Aboya (Fr, 6'8, 233)

see 12/26 article: UCLA Bruins Basketball: Progress Report

2. Arizona Wildcats (7-3)

Probable Starters
G-Mustafa Shakur (Junior, 6'3, 190), G-Chris Rodgers (Sr, 6'4,205), G-Hassan Adams (Sr, 6'4, 220), F-Ivan Radenovic (Jr, 6'10, 244), F-Marcus Williams (Fr, 6'7, 205)

Key Reserves
Bret Brielmaier (So, 6'6, 235), J.P. Prince (Fr, 6'6, 180), Kirk Walters (Jr, 6'10, 241)

The Wildcats have been distracted by preseason troubles and controversy around the team, however, Lute Olson always seems to pull it together for conference play. This year should be no exception. Arizona is still the most athletic teams in the conference led by their three guard group of Hassan Adams (19.3 points, 6.7 rebounds), Mustafa Shakur (9.8 points, 3.7 assists), and Chris Rodgers (12.3 points).

However, the team sorely misses Salim Stoudamire's 3-pt shooting from last year's squad as the Wildcats are shooting an anemic 26% from behind the arc. The team has also been weak on the defensive boards. Although Kirk Walters block shots (2.1 blocks), both he and Radenovic are not the toughest low post defenders.

The strength of the team lies in their defense and athletic perimeter players. Arizona has forced over 23 turnover a game mostly by their guards; Adams (2.8 steals), Rodgers (2.7 steals), and Shakur (1.8 steals). The Wildcats have won their last 5 games in a row and appear ready to put their preseason troubles behind them.

3. Washington Huskies (10-0).

Probable Starters
G-Justin Denton (Fr, 5'11, 185), G-Brandon Roy (Sr, 6'6, 210)), F-Bobby Jones (Sr, 6'7, 215), F-Jon Brockman (Fr, 6'7, 245), F-Jamaal Williams (Sr, 6'6, 235).

Key Reserves
Ryan Appleby (So,6'2,170), Mike Jensen (Sr,6'8,250), Joel Smith (So, 6'4, 205)

The Huskies are an athletic and physical team but not as physical as last year. They lack a big inside presence although Mike Jensen recently returned from a shoulder injury. Brandon Roy, a preseason Wooden award candidate, is the leader of the team and leads the team in scoring (16.0), second in rebounding (4.6) , and second and assists (4.0). The Huskies are counting on their freshmen to contribute to this team, and they're getting it from Jon Brockman (11.4 points, 7.2rebounds) and Justin Dentmon (4.5 assists)

The Huskies are off to their best start since 1976. Through ten games this season, the Huskies have thoroughly dominated their opponents by out-scoring teams by +25 point margin - shooting over 52 FG%, outrebounding teams by a 7.7 margin, averaging over 21 assists per game, and maintain a 1.33 assist/turnover ratio.

However the Huskies have not really been tested this year. They have only had one game against a quality opponent- Gonzaga, which they won but have a low SOS rating of 152. Without a big dominant presence down low, the Huskies will be severely tested in Pac-10 play. Their game against Arizona this week will tell the real story about this Huskies team. Contenders or Pretenders? We'll see.

4. California Golden Bears (6-3)

Probable Starters
G-Ayinde Ubaka (Jr, 6'3, 200), G-Richard Midgley (Sr, 6'3, 195 ), G-Omar Wilkes (So, 6'4, 185), F- Leon Powe (So, 6'8, 240), C-DeVon Hardin (So, 6'11, 235)

Key Reserves
Theo Robertson (Fr, 6'5, 240), Rod Benson (Sr, 6'10, 220), C-Jordan Wilkes (Fr, 6'11, 225)

The Bears have the biggest front line in the conference and are anchored by 2004 Pac-10 freshman of the year, Leon Powe (20.8 ppg, 9.4 rpg) who redshirted last year with an injury. The front line also includes center DeVon Hardin (12.1 points , 7.4 rebounds, 1.6 blocks) and Rod Benson a 6'10 senior off the bench who started last year.

Cal is second in the conference in team scoring behind Washington. Powe has returned with avengence scoring 22, 26,and 27 in three of the six games he's played this year. Cal has five players scoring in double figures including their backcourt of Ayinde Ubaka (14 points, 4 assists), Richard Midgley (11.8 points) both who are also good 3-pt shooters - shooting over 40% from behind the arc.

Although Cal has a big front line they are last in the conference in blocks and near the bottom in FG% defense - allowing over 50% FG shooting by opponents in 4 of their 9 games. The Bears have also experienced key defensive break downs leading to some of their losses. On offense, they've had a tendency to rely too much on Leon Powe down the stretch leading to poor execution at the end of games. If this Cal team can pull together as a team it may be the surprise of the conference.

5. Stanford Cardinal (4-4)

Probable Starters
G-Chris Hernandez (Sr, 6'2, 190) , G-Tim Morris (So, 6-4, 215) , F-Dan Grunfeld (Sr, 6'6, 220), F-Taj Morris (So, 6-8, 190) , C-Matt Haryasz (Sr, 6'11, 230)

Key Reserves
Fred Washington (Jr, 6'5, 205), Lawrence Hill (Fr, 6'8, 205), Jason Haas (Sr, 6'2, 190)

Stanford has stumbled big time during the preseason and will need to play almost perfect ball in the Pac-10 to make the tournament come selection time in March.

The Cardinal team begins and ends with their big three seniors, Matt Haryasz (18.1 points, 10.1 rebounds), Dan Grunfeld (14.8 points), and Chris Hernandez (11.5 points, 3.1 assists).

While Haryasz has been the most consistent Cardinal performer this year (7 double-doubles this year), the other two seniors have struggled. Grunfeld, returning from knee surgery, has not returned to full form shooting only 37% from the field after averaging 50% last year. Hernandez has had his own shooting woes with a 39% FG% versus 43% in 2004. As a whole, the Cardinal team is last in the Pac-10 with 40% FG%. and are only shooting 3-pt shots at 29%.

Aside from Haryasz, Stanford has not been a strong rebounding team. Throw in the fact they are last in steals and assists in the conference, and the picture begins to explain the horrible start by Stanford. But they still have their three seniors - and if they can pull it together in conference play then the season still may not be a loss.

6. Washington State Cougars (7-2)

Probable Starters
G-Derrick Low (So, 6'1, 186), G-Randy Green (Sr, 6'3, 190), G-Kyle Weaver (So, 6'5, 185), F-Ivory Clark (Jr, 6'5, 212) , C-Robbie Cowgill (So, 6'10, 207)

Key Reserves
Josh Akognon (So, 5'10, 198), Aron Baynes (Fr, 6'10, 247) , Chris Henry (So, 6'8, 257), Daven Harmeling (So, 6'7, 216)

No one likes playing Washington St. No one. In head coach Dick Bennett's last season, the Cougars are once again the conference's stingiest defense. The Cougars allow only 54 point per game, and although they only have one player scoring over 10 points per game, they are still outscoring their opponents by almost 10 points per game. Washington St allows only 35% FG% shooting and 25% 3-Pt shooting.

Guard Derrick Low is the leading scorer on the team (10.1 points, 1.2 steals). Center Robbie Cowgill averages 9.5 points and 4.8 rebounds per game. The Cougars shoot well from behind the arc at 37% 3-Pt FG% per game. They have only lost twice this year (once to Gonzaga) but have quality wins over Kansas St. and Utah and will once again be a thorn to the side of every Pac-10 team this year.

7. USC Trojans (9-2)

Probable Starters
G-Gabe Pruitt (So, 6'4, 170), G-Ryan Francis (Fr, 5'11, 170), G-Loderick Stewart (Jr, 6'4, 210), F-Nick Young (So, 6'6, 195), C- Abdoulaye Ndiaye (Jr, 6'11, 230)

Key Reserves
RouSean Cromwell (Fr, 6'10, 215), Jeremy Barr(Fr, 6'8,265), Dwayne Shackleford(Sr, 5'10, 185 )

After two bad early losses (CSUN, Oral Roberts), new head coach Tim Floyd earned his first big win at USC with a thumping of North Carolina. Floyd will try to leverage the impact of that game entering into Pac-10 play. The Trojans are led by their super sophomore pair, of Nick Young (16.2 points, 6.1 rebounds) and Gabe Pruitt (15.2 points, 5.1 rebounds). Guard Loderick Stewart (12.9 points) also returns to the team.

The Trojans are playing better defense this year allowing opponents to only 38% FG shooting and lead the conference in blocked shots with 5 per game led by transfer Ndiaye (1.8 blocks) and freshman Cromwell (1.7). The Trojans are also shooting better from the field (45%) this year with Young hitting on 53% and Stewart on 48% of their shots.

However, USC is not shooting well from the 3-pt land 29% and besides Young, Stewart, and Pruitt - the Trojans don't have another player averaging more than 7 point a game. The team also turns over the ball quite a bit averaging 16.8 turnovers a game and have a horrid assist/turnover ratio of 0.85. The Trojans have a good coach in Floyd but are probably still about 1-2 years away from approaching the top tier of the conference.

8. Oregon Ducks (6-5)

Probable Starters
G-Aaron Brooks (Jr, 6'0, 165 ), G-Malik Hairston (So, 6'6, 200), G- Bryce Taylor (So,6-5, 205), F- Maarty Leunen (So, 6-9, 215), F-Ivan Johnson(Jr, 6'8, 255)

Key Reserves
Chamberlain Oguchi (So, 6'5, 195), Adam Zahn (Jr, 6'8, 230), Brandon Lincoln (Sr, 6'4, 195)

With a star backcourt of Malik Hairston and Aaron Brooks one might expect the Ducks to be one of the elite Pac-10 teams, instead they are one of the biggest disappointments. Oregon is led by Malik Hairston (15.3 points, 46% 3-Pt%, 4.9 rebounds), Aaron Brooks (10.7 points, 4.8 assists), and Bryce Taylor (10.2 points). Maarty Leunen leads the team in rebounds (8.0)

Aside from Malik Hairston, the rest of this talented Duck team is underperforming which has resulted in a middle of the road Pac-10 team. The Ducks will win enough games to get to .500, but probably not win enough to save coach Ernie Kent's job.

9. Oregon State Beavers (6-4)

Probably Starters
G-Chris Stephens (Sr, 6'2,195), G-Jason Fontenet (Sr, 5'10, 168), F-Nick DeWitz (Sr, 6'8, 230), F-Marcel Jones (So, 6'8, 215), C-Kyle Jeffers (Jr, 6'9, 258)

Key Reserves
Sasa Cuic (So, 6'10, 253)), Lamar Hurd (Sr, 6'4, 195)

The Beavers made the NIT last year but no longer have David Lucas. The team is led by two returning starting seniors: Chris Stephens (15.9 points) and Nick DeWitz (11.0 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.9 blocks rebounds). Marcel Jones leads the team in rebounding (6.9) Forward Sasa Cuic has added some punch to the team with 11.1 points and 4.5 rebounds per game.

Aside from beating a good Georgia team earlier in the year, the Beavers have been unimpressive during the preseason giving up over 70 points a game to opponents. The Beavers will have trouble making the NIT this year.

10. Arizona State Sun Devils (6-3)

Probable Starters
G-Bryson Krueger (Jr, 6'7, 190), G-Kevin Kruger (Jr, 6'2,186), G-Tyrone Jackson (Sr, 6'2, 186), F-Jeff Pendergraph (Fr, 6'10, 210) , F-Serge Angounou (Jr, 6'8 , 230)

Key Reserves
Antwi Atuahene (So, 6'4, 205), Chad Goldstein (Fr, 6'9, 241)

Ike Diogu is now in the NBA. End of story.

After sporting the best player in the conference for 3 years, the Sun Devils will learn what life is like without him - and it's not going to be pretty. How do you replace 23 points and 10 rebounds a game? Well, Arizona St couldn't. Without Diogu, the Sun Devils have already lost to Utah Valley St.

The team is led by Bryson Krueger (15 points) and Kevin Kruger (15 ppg, 4.6 assists). Their leading rebounder is Jeff Pendergraph (5.4). Without any size and depth it's going to be a long season in Tempe.


Monday, December 26, 2005

UCLA Bruins Basketball: Progress Report (12/26)

By Bruin Basketball Report

The UCLA Bruins basketball team entered the 2005-06 season with high expectations.

In preseason polls the Bruins were ranked No.18 and picked by many to finish third in the Pac-10 this season behind Arizona and Stanford.

Since the preseason predictions, the Bruins (10-1) are off to their best start since 1995 when they last won their last championship, and they have moved up to No.11 in the most recent polls.

Although the Bruin's non-conference schedule has been criticized for being too "soft", when in actuality, the Bruins have a strength of schedule rating of No.18 and an RPI rating of No.6 - playing tough teams such as Memphis, Nevada, Michigan (away game), Temple, Drexel (which barely lost to Duke), and an under-rated Wagner team.

The Bruins have lost only a single game - to the Memphis Tigers in the Preseason NIT tournament, a Tiger team which is currently ranked No.5 in the country.

If anything, expectations are now perhaps even higher in Westwood.

How are the Bruins doing so far this year as the Pac-10 conference season begins this week?

BBR takes an indepth look at the progress of the 2005-06 Bruin squad since November.

Starters: Grade B+

The team is led by one of the best young backcourts in the nation, Jordan Farmar and Arron Afflalo.

Jordan Farmar, a preseason John Wooden Award candidate, is the steady point guard and undisputed leader of the team. When coach Ben Howland needs a big play he usually turns to his sophomore to make them.

Against a tough Memphis team, Farmar practically shot the Bruins back into the game single-handedly, and against Wagner it was Farmar who dribbled until he found a wide open Luc Richard Mbah a Moute for the game winner. He leads the team in assists (6.6) and steals (1.2)

The Bruin's fortunes are tied to Farmar. As long as Farmar can stay healthy and continue to progress as a player and leader, the Bruins will have a chance to do very well this year.

While Farmar is the fiery and vocal leader of the team, sophomore Arron Afflalo has led with his actions. Afflalo is the Bruin's leading scorer (18.2) and draws the toughest backcourt defensive assignment.

Afflalo's performance in the Michigan game reflects his contribution the best this year. Afflalo not only shot the Bruins back into the Michigan game by scoring 14 of the Bruins first 16 points, but he also clamped down on Michigan's best player Daniel Horton holding him to 5-17 shooting (0-7 from 3-pt).

Fifth-year senior Cedric Bozeman has started every game at small forward. On the defensive end his play has been steady - his speed and length makes him an ideal wing defender. However Bozeman's offense has been inconsistent, disappearing at times within the Bruin offensive half-court sets.

In Bozeman's first seven games he averaged 13 points and 5 rebounds per game, but in the last four games against tougher opponents he's averaged only 6.5 point and 2.8 rebounds.

All this comes at a time when sophomore Josh Shipp is about to return to the team after rehabilatating from knee surgery. Once Shipp improves his conditioning he will probably move back into the starting line-up with Bozeman moving to the bench.

At the beginning of the year the Bruin's power forward position was a question mark. Freshman Alfred Aboya had been penciled in as the starter by coach Ben Howland but then went out with knee surgery in October.

Howland decided to start Aboya's fellow freshman and Cameroon countryman, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute at the four. Although under-sized at 6'7 for the spot, Howland liked his speed and tenacity. Mbah a Moute has not made Howland regret his decision.

Mbah a Moute has led the Bruins in rebounding in every game this year averaging 8.9 per game and can be found not only fighting opponents for every single rebound - but also his own teammates. He is shooting 50% and averaging 8.2 points per game.

The center spot has been the Bruin's biggest weakness this year and the reason the Bruin starter's grade is below an "A". However, the recent play by underclassmen, Lorenzo Mata and Ryan Wright, who have started the last 6 games has been promising for the Bruins.

Wright has shown flashes of good play, especially against Michigan and Nevada, but is still learning the game at this level and at times gets lost on defense.

Mata has shown steady improvement this year with his rebounding and shot-blocking, and has displayed an effective hook shot. Against Sacramento St. Mata had 7 rebounds and 4 blocked shots. Mata gives the Bruins a toughness in the low post which they have lacked for a few seasons.

Coach Ben Howland has already stated that either Wright or Mata - most likely Mata - will be the starting center when the Pac-10 season starts for the Bruins against Stanford.

After an offseason of weights and workouts, seniors Michael Fey and Ryan Hollins were suppose to solidify the middle. Instead injuries, inconsistent and soft play have characterized their season thus far. The two seniors may still contribute this year especially with the Pac-10 season beginning, but more aggressive and consistent play will be needed from them.

Bench: Grade C

At the beginning of the season, coach Ben Howland stated he wanted his starters to play fewer minutes in order to keep them more fresh for tournament time; however, injuries have plagued the team and have forced the Bruins to move players he had expected to be on the bench to starting roles.

The situation has been positive in the emergence of Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and the re-emergence, yet inconsistent play, of Cedric Bozeman. However until recently, the starters had still been averaging over 30 minutes per game due to a lack of depth on the bench, but this is changing quickly as the walking wounded are returning one by one to the Bruin line-up.

Freshman guard Darren Collison has been the shining star and the first reserve off the bench. Collison sparked the Bruin offense to victory in tough games over Nevada, Michigan, and Wagner.

When Collison enters the game he changes the tempo of the game to fast and then faster. He uses his blazing speed to get past his defender and to the basket for a finish. Many times when Collison enters the game Farmar moves to the off-guard and Afflalo to small forward giving the Bruins a potent 1-2-3 scoring punch that is tough for the opposition to match-up with.

Aside from Collison, however, the rest of the bench has been inconsistent.

Freshman Michael Roll, the Bruins designated zone-buster, has had problems with a consistent shot and has not been able to create his own shot at this level yet. Janou Rubin, a sixth year senior, has not been able to earn more playing time. And the reserves at center, as mentioned above, have been inconsistent.

But this is a depleted bench due to injuries, and help is coming.

In only his fifth game, Alfred Aboya had his best game against Sacramento St. scoring 12 points and showing aggressive intensity in the low blocks.

Lastly, super sophomore Josh Shipp is scheduled to finally return to action against Stanford this week. Shipp will begin on the bench but will probably be in the starting line-up once his conditioning returns which would send Bozeman to the bench.

Certainly, a bench of Collison, Bozeman, and Aboya will improve the bench's grade as the Pac-10 season progresses.

Coaching : Grade A-

Four years ago, the Bruins would have lost games like Michigan where they got behind on the road early and close games against Albany and Wagner as well.

No doubt about it. This isn't ex-coach bashing. Just the plain truth.

Head coach Ben Howland knows how to coach and he knows how to win tough games. And it all starts on the defensive end.

When high scoring Nevada's Nick Fazekas faced the Bruins, Howland took Fazekas out of the offensive flow by doubling him whenever he touched the ball.

In the Michigan game, sure, Arron Afflalo's shooting got the Bruins back into the game, but it was the Bruin defense which kept them in it. The Bruins doubled down on the Michigan starting post players and held them to zero field goals for the game.

Against Wagner and Albany, both lesser teams, the Bruins did not fold when they got behind and were able to pull out the close games at the end by executing on the offensive end while playing tough defense.

Howland has instilled a toughness in the program. This is evidenced not only by his coaching style but by his recruiting. Arron Afflalo, Howland's first big recruit, is as tough a collegiate guard you'll find. Farmar is unflappable under pressure and will not let the Bruins lose without a fight. The post men, although still raw, are wider and tougher than in previous years.

This is Howland's simple formula for success. Tough defense. Tough players. And if he has the personnel to run - he will have the offense run. This year's team is dominated by excellent perimeter players and thus Howland wants the Bruins to push the ball up the court at every opportunity. Howland knows the team's best offense is in the transition.

The Pac-10 will bring tough games every night for the Bruins, but the Bruins are set for a special season.

Bruins Starting Line-up and Depth Chart

PG - Jordan Farmar*, Darren Collison, Cedric Bozeman
SG - Arron Afflalo*, Jordan Farmar, Michael Roll
SF - Josh Shipp*, Cedric Bozeman, Arron Afflalo
PF - Luc Richard Mbah a Moute*, Alfred Aboya, Ryan Wright
C - Lorenzo Mata*, Ryan Wright, Michael Fey, Ryan Hollins

*starters (Shipp when he improves his conditioning)


Pac-10 conference season preview coming tomorrow.