Wednesday, January 18, 2006

UCLA vs. USC - Game Preview

By Bruin Basketball Report

The No.16 ranked UCLA Bruins (14-3, 4-2) clash with cross-town rivals the USC Trojans (12-5, 3-3) at Pauley Pavilion on Wednesday, January 18th.

The Bruins finally received some encouraging news on the injury front yesterday. A MRI test on the knee of freshman forward Alfred Aboya revealed no new injury and he will be available for the game. In addition, senior Cedric Bozeman was cleared to dribble and shoot the basketball this week in the next step of his rehabilitation process.

UCLA split their games at home last week defeating the Washington St. Cougars 63-61 and losing 69-65 to the Washington Huskies.

The Bruins swept the Trojans last year beating them 72-69 at the Sports Arena and smashing them 90-69 at Pauley Pavilion.

The Trojans come into Westwood having won 12 of their last 15 games and have matched their win total from a year ago.

USC split their games with the Washington schools last week, losing 86-77 to Washington and defeating Washington State 71-66.

USC is having their own injury problems. At the end of December, the Trojans lost 6’10 forward RouSean Cromwell who suffered a fractured right foot.

And yesterday, freshman point guard Ryan Francis bruised his right knee during a collision with a teammate at practice. Francis is listed as day to day.

This is the first season of the Tim Floyd coaching era. Floyd began coaching duties on April 1st this year and has not slowed down since recruiting a nationally-ranked incoming class and installing a new offensive and defensive system.

During non-conference play, the Trojans were shooting an efficient FG% due to better shot selection, and the players appeared to had bought into Floyd’s defensive system. USC was holding opponents to ten points less per game than last year.

However after holding non-conference opponents to 38% FG shooting, Pac-10 conference play has been a different story for the Trojans. USC’s offense and defense has regressed and is giving up almost 47% FG shooting, in addition, it is not defending the three well, allowing 40% from behind the 3-point arc.

In addition, USC is a poor rebounding team. The Trojans are being out rebounded by almost 5 rebounds per game. They really miss an injured RouSean Cromwell underneath the boards.

On the offensive end, most of their scoring is done on the perimeter. The Trojans take a lot of outside jumpers and lead the league in 3-point field goal attempts.

Without any consistent interior scoring threat, the Trojan offense is vulnerable if an opponent can shut down its perimeter scoring. However, the Trojans have some impressive perimeter players for defenses to deal with.

USC is led by a dynamic sophomore duo; guard Gabe Pruitt and forward Nick Young.

Gabe Pruitt (So, 6'4, 170) from Westchester HS is averaging 16.7 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 3.2 assists per game. He is shooting 39% from the 3-point arc and has made five or more 3-pointers in four consecutive games.

Pruitt has NBA offensive skills and made the All Pac-10 conference team. Pruitt scored 19 points against the Bruins at home last year but then was held to 10 points at Pauley.

As usual, Bruin sophomore guard, Arron Afflalo will take on Pruitt - the biggest scoring threat on the Trojan team.

Nick Young (So, 6'6, 195) is the other high scoring Trojan bookend. Young is averaging 17.3 points and 6.2 rebounds per game, and is shooting 50% from the field and 42% from 3-point land.

Young was an honorable-mention to the All Pac-10 conference team last year. He has improved his FG% shooting under coach Floyd. Last year he shot only 42% but he has improved his shot selection dramatically this year.

Young can work from both the inside and outside offensively, and he is the Trojans leading rebounder this season.

Freshman forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute will draw the assignment against the versatile Young. Mbah a Moute’s defense has been inconsistent this year. His length and athleticism allows him to be an effective defender but he sometimes has lapses on the defensive end.

The Trojans only other starter averaging over 10 points a game is junior guard Lodrick Stewart (Jr, 6'4, 210). Stewart is averaging 12.6 points and 4.1 rebounds. He shoots well from behind the arc at a 38% clip.

UCLA freshman guard/forward Michael Roll will likely start on Stewart. Coach Ben Howland has credited Roll for his much improved defense, and he will be challenged by Stewart in this game.

Roll is coming off a season high 17 points against Washington. The Bruins will need consistent production from Roll for the rest of the year, both offensively and defensively.

With USC guard Ryan Francis (Fr, 5’11, 170) day-to-day, senior guard Dwayne Shackleford (5’10, 185) may need to provide extra minutes. So far, Shackleford is averaging only 1.7 points in only 10 minutes per contest.

The Trojans truly need a healthy Francis for this game. He is averaging 7.0 points and a team-high 3.9 assists per game. Francis plays tough defense and would have been a good match-up for UCLA guard Jordan Farmar.

Farmar is still nursing a sore ankle. He played 30 minutes against Washington and dished out a season high 12 assists; however, Farmar only scored 3 points on 1-7 shooting. “We need Jordan to shoot more”, Howland said, especially considering the injuries the team has sustained this season.

The Trojans start a juco transfer, Abdoulaye Ndiaye (Jr, 6'11, 230) from Senegal, at center. Ndiaye is very physical underneath averaging 4.5 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game. He does not possess any sort of offensive game but leads the Trojans in offensive rebounds.

It’s unclear who the Bruins will start at center against USC. Freshman Ryan Wright started the last game in place of the injured Lorenzo Mata; however, Wright has struggled with his rebounding in Pac-10 play, averaging 1.0 rebound per game.

Coach Howland values rebounding and defense above all from his centers, and unless Wright can regain his rebounding edge, we may see senior center Ryan Hollins start the game against USC.

Hollins, who was limited to 15 minutes of play against Washington after returning from a groin injury, will be expected to play more against USC. He grabbed 4 rebounds against Washington.

Senior center Michael Fey played only 1 minute against Washington and may still see his minutes limited due to an ankle sprain and lack of conditioning.

The key to the game, and this will repeated for every UCLA preview write-up while Ben Howland is coach, is defense and rebounding.

The Bruins need to shut down the perimeter game of the Trojans by controlling Pruitt, Young, and Stewart. No easy task but the Bruins have the athleticism, length, and coaching to get it done.

Second, the Bruins must take advantage of the Trojan’s weak rebounding and not allow second chance shots. In addition, controlling the boards will help the Bruins ignite their transition game.

Although, it would appear based upon match-ups the Bruins should be able to score efficiently through their half-court sets against the Trojans. In the first half of both games against the Washington schools, the Bruins executed their half-court offensive sets flawlessly.

However, this young Bruin team needs to demonstrate it can execute their offense effectively for an entire 40 minutes.



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