Friday, January 20, 2006

UCLA vs. West Virginia - Game Preview

By Bruin Basketball Report

The No.16 ranked UCLA Bruins play host to the West Virginia Mountaineers on Saturday, January 21. This is the first game between UCLA and West Virginia since Dec. 21, 1968.

The Mountaineers (13-3) are ranked No.12 in the AP and No.17 in ESPN/USA Today polls. After starting the season 2-3, they have won 11 straight games which included impressive wins over two top 10 ranked teams, Villanova and Oklahoma.

West Virginia head coach John Beilein’s team plays a much disciplined game on both ends of the court. They advanced to the Elite Eight in last year’s NCAA tournament, and return four seniors and one junior to the starting line-up.

The Mountaineers are led by two very talented seniors, Kevin Pittsnogle (Sr, 6’11, 255) and Mike Gansey (Sr, 6’4, 205).

Pittsnogle leads the team in scoring (20.6) and rebounding (6.2). He is a dual threat offensively - with a decent low post game and is an excellent jump shooter hitting 53% FG% and 47% from the 3-point line. He prefers the perimeter shot, of his field goal attempts, 40% of them are from beyond the 3-point line.

There is a chance Pittnogle may miss the UCLA game. He and his wife are expecting their first child with a due date around Feb. 1; and the team has already made provisions to get him back for the birth of the couple’s first child should it happen.

The Bruins have three centers who match up well physically against Pittsnogle: Alfred Aboya, Ryan Wright, and Ryan Hollins.

Freshman Alfred Aboya started at center against USC on Wednesday and responded with energy on the defensive end. At 6’8 and 240, Aboya has the physical size to match up with Pittsnogle inside and the speed and length to check Pittsnogle on the perimeter.

Since Aboya has not played more than 18 minutes in a game this season, the Bruins will need both Ryan Hollins and Ryan Wright to step up defensively on Pittsnogle.

Senior Ryan Hollins has been especially impressive since his return from a groin injury; he has been very active on the defensive end. Against the Trojans, he had 9 points and 3 points.

Most of the attention on the West Virginia team has gone to Pittsnogle this year, however, forward Mike Gansey might very well be West Virginia’s most valuable player.

Gansey is averaging 19.6 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. Although he tends to be a streaky shooter, he averages an astounding 62% FG% from the field and 50% from beyond the 3-point arc.

In addition to his offensive prowess, Gansey is tough as nails on defense and plays the point on top of the Mountaineer’s tough 1-3-1 defensive zone. At 6’4 Gansey is scrappy and uses his length to disrupt offenses. He leads the team with 2.3 steals per game.

The Bruins have a good defensive match-up for Gansey in Arron Afflalo. Afflalo has been given many accolades for his offense this year, but his defense deserves equal praise.

Against USC, Afflalo held all Pac-10 conference player Gabe Pruitt to just 1-9 shooting. Afflalo will need to bring an equal effort Gansey in this game.

Joining Pittsnogle and Gansey in West Virginia’s starting lineup are Frank Young, Joe Herber, and J.D. Collins.

Forward Frank Young (Jr, 6’5, 215) has reached double figures in five of his last seven games and is averaging 8.8 points per game and hits 34% on 3-pointers.

Guard Joe Herber (Sr, 6’5, 210) is averaging 9.3 points and leads the team in assists with 5.9 per game.

Collins (Sr, 5’11, 180) is scoring 4.6 points and 3.7 assists per game and shoots 36% from the beyond the 3-point line.

Patrick Beilein (Sr, 6’4 205), the coach’s son, is the first man off the bench averaging 8.7 points per game and shooting 32% on 3-pointers; guard Darris Nichols (So, 6’2, 190) is averaging 2.9 points; and Rob Summers (Jr, 7’0, 240) provides the Mountaineers some minutes.

From a player to player comparison, the Bruins appear to match-up very well against the Mountaineers. The Bruins have a size and quickness advantage over West Virginia.

In addition, even with their injuries, the Bruins have more depth than the Mountaineers who depend on 7 players in most game and lean heavily on their two stars for minutes, Pittsnogle and Gansey, who average 35 and 34 minutes per game respectively.

Most interesting factoid about West Virginia? During their current 11 game winning streak, they have been out-rebounded in 9 of the 11 games. Moreover for the season, the Mountaineers are being out-rebounded by -7 per game.

Yet, West Virginia is outscoring opponents by +13 points per game and has 70 more field goal attempts than opponents on the season.

So how does West Virginia win?

They do it with an efficient offense that shoots high percentage shots and does not turnover the ball; and a trapping defense that creates turnovers.

On offense the Mountaineers are constantly moving without the ball, and passers are always looking for cutters to the basket for easy lay-ups. West Virginia averages 7 assists more per game than opponents.

West Virginia does not turnover the ball either, they average only 8.8 turnovers per game. The team has an impressive 2.2 assists to turnover ratio.

They are also an excellent 3-point shooting team - led by Gansey and Pittsnogle. As a team they shoot over 37% from beyond the 3-point line.

Defensively, West Virginia plays primarily a trapping 1-3-1 zone with a very active Gansey on top of the zone; however the team will switch it up with a man-to-man at times to keep the opposition off balance.

The Mountaineers overplay the passing lanes and create a lot of steals and turnovers. They average almost 10 steals per game while forcing their opponent into over 18 turnovers per game.

For UCLA, Coach Ben Howland has instilled his own brand of tough and disciplined basketball.

Defensively against West Virginia, the Bruins must play like they did against USC, which Ben Howland said was the Bruins best defensive effort of the season.

The Bruins played solid man-man defense inside, contested every outside shot, and overplayed passing lanes. They come out with a lot of intensity defensively and effectively took the Trojans out of their game.

One concern with the Bruin defense is that they tend allow a lot of back door cuts for easy baskets. Against West Virginia, the Bruins will need to defend this better but at the same time they must be cognizant about closing out on the Mountaineers outside shooters.

Shutting down the West Virginia offense has been a difficult task for any team facing them this year, but the Bruins have shown they have the athleticism and discipline on defense to shut down any team – but they need to come out with a high energy performance and sustain the effort for the entire 40 minutes against the Mountaineers.

Offensively, the Bruins must do a better job in taking care of the ball. The Bruins average 15 turnovers a game and have a below water assist-turnover ratio of 0.97. With West Virginia’s trapping zone, the Bruin's ball handlers will need a lot of help.

Having a healthy Jordan Farmar will be key for a Bruin win. Farmar played his best game against USC since he re-injured his ankle against Stanford, scoring 15 points and handing out 6 assists.

Against other trapping defenses earlier in the year, like Temple, the Bruins have shown they can be efficient in handling the pressure. Again, it will depend on the level of intensity this young Bruin team shows up with on Saturday.

After having problems earlier in the season with their half-court offense, the Bruins have begun executing well out of their half-court sets recently.

Against both Washington and Washington St, the Bruins executed their offense flawlessly in the first half of both games but were not able sustain it in the second half.

However against USC, the Bruins finally put together two impressive halves in which they never let the Trojans back in the game.

Although UCLA will still prefer to run against West Virginia when they have opportunities in transition, they now have an half-court offense from which they are more confident they can score from.

Should be one of the best games of the year!



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