Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Move Over 'Big Country", Here Comes "Big Baby"

By Bruin Basketball Report

Eleven years ago while enroute to the school’s 11th NCAA basketball title, UCLA had a huge order to contend with first in the semifinal game of the Final Four in Seattle.

Their opponent, the Oklahoma St. Cowboys, sported a 7’0 275 lb. home-grown kid named Bryant Reeves, or as people liked to call him – “Big Country”.

He was given the nickname “Big Country” by a teammate after he learned Reeves had never been on an airplane, although one look at the crew-shaven colossal-sized pivot and the double entente of the nickname becomes obvious.

Although an injury-plagued NBA career forced Reeves to retire only after six seasons, he was a dominant collegiate player while with the Cowboys. In his senior year he averaged 21.5 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game while shooting 58% from the field.

In the semifinal game against UCLA “Big Country” was a load for the Bruins to defend. Both UCLA big men George Zidek and J.R. Henderson got into foul trouble trying to guard him, as a result, the Bruins were forced to play a zone defense to control Reeves.

And the strategy worked, although Reeves scored 25 points in the game – he scored only 7 points in the second-half against the zone. With no other Cowboy providing scoring, the Bruins pulled away led by Tyus Edney’s 21 points to advance to the title game with a 74-61 victory.

Fast forward to this year’s NCAA basketball championship semifinal game in Indianapolis and yet another large figure looms in front of UCLA.

This time it’s Glen “Big Baby” Davis of LSU.

Davis, a sophomore, was named SEC Player of the Year this season and is averaging 18.7 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks.

His massive proportions have naturally been compared to former LSU Tiger alumnus Shaquille O’Neal; however, the similarities between Davis and O'Neal go beyond their size.

While Davis, at 6-9, is four inches shorter than O'Neal, his massive 310-pound frame allows him to dominate the paint in much the same way Shaq did during his three seasons at LSU..

What's more, Davis also shaves his head and has a carefree, joking manner with everybody, especially the media, just as O]Neal does.

"But I'm not Shaq,'' said Davis. "I hear it everywhere I go. I should have worn my T-shirt. It says, 'I Am Not Shaq! We've got a couple of similarities. We like to dominate. But that's about it.''

And Davis is right, if his game resembles any NBA player, it would be Charles Barkley rather than O’Neal.

Like Barkley, “Big Baby” Davis has a rotund body which he uses to clear out space on post moves, and is ultra quick off his feet and skilled. He has great instincts in reading his opponents, and is relentless on the offensive boards.

Similar to defending against Bryant Big Country” Reeves, guarding Glen “Big Baby” Davis will be by committee.

UCLA’s Ryan Hollins, coming off his Most Outstanding Player performance in the Oakland Regional, will have his hands full with Davis to start the game. At 7’0 235 pounds, Hollins will be quite challenged to keep Davis out of the paint.

In addition to Hollins, sophomore Lorenzo Mata and freshman Alfred Aboya will also get a chance at Davis.

Senior Micheal Fey has only played limited minutes in the tournament thus far, but may see time against “Big Baby" Davis in this game.

“Fey's big body could definitely be a factor for us," Howland said. "When we're talking about Big Baby, we need big bodies." Not only may Fey get some playing time, but he’ll be able to give up to five fouls if the game evolves in that direction.

Unlike the 1995 Bruins, UCLA coach Ben Howland does not employ a zone defense and prefers a tough, physical man-to-man the entire game. More likely, the Bruins will double-down and rotate on Davis whenever he receives the ball down low.

UCLA needs to keep Davis from having a "big" game if they intend on advancing to the finals on Monday.



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