Thursday, March 09, 2006

UCLA Gets OSU in Quarter-Final Rematch

By Bruin Basketball Report

During the second-half of their Pac-10 tournament opening round game against injury-plagued Oregon St. (OSU), Arizona St. (ASU) began planning how it would deal with UCLA on Thursday. One problem. They forgot to win their game on Wednesday first.

After losing leading scorer, Sasa Cuic, in the game’s opening minutes and trailing by 8 points at halftime, the Beavers rallied behind a career-high 20 points and 9 rebounds from Kyle Jeffers to edge the Sun Devils 71-68.

Cuic suffered a high ankle sprain only four minutes into the game when he landed on a fallen Sun Devil player’s foot. Cuic crumpled to the floor and had to be helped off the court. He was averaging 13.9 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. Cuic is not expected to play against UCLA.

OSU is already playing without starters Lamar Hurd (groin) and Nick DeWitz (shoulder). The three injured starters account for almost 50% of the Beaver’s offensive production.

Jeffers was averaging only 5.9 points and 4.1 entering the game, but as often happens when a team’s star gets injured during a game - other players on the team step up.

Senior guard Chris Stephens, who had scored in double-digits only once in the last ten games, stepped up and scored 14 points, as did senior Jason Fontenet who added 11 points.

Jack McGillis, a 6’6 freshman forward, played a career-high 28 minutes in place of Cuic, and scored 8 points and grabbed 6 rebounds.

The Beavers’ reward for defeating the Sun Devils is a quarter-final rematch from last year with No.12 ranked UCLA.

UCLA, the No.1 seed in the tournament, must guard against complacency and not look past the game against Oregon St.

The Bruins need only look back to the opening round game (OSU vs. ASU) to see what can happen when a superior team overlooks an opponent. UCLA coach Ben Howland can also point back to the loss to a Gabe Pruitt-less USC team in February.

Although, playing the Beavers in a Pac-10 tournament game should be enough incentive for some of the older Bruin players. Last year in the opening round of the Pac-10 tournament, OSU eliminated UCLA, 79-72.

In that game, the Bruins started off slowly against the Beavers and fall behind 15 points at halftime and were unable to make up the deficit.

UCLA can not afford another slow start on Thursday, or for that matter, in any upcoming tournament contests. With three games in three consecutive days, the Bruins need to play as efficiently as possible.

Against OSU, the Bruins need to start the game with high energy and intensity to take the Beavers out of the game immediately. Such a start by the Bruins would allow coach Howland to rest his starters in preparation for the next game the following day.

Without Cuic and DeWitz, UCLA will have a rare advantage on the frontline. This game may be a good opportunity for the Bruins to continue developing their inside offensive game. Against Stanford last week, UCLA guards did their best job of the season in effectively passing the ball inside to post players for scores.

On the perimeter, the Bruins need to make sure neither Chris Stephens nor Jason Fontenet get hot from the outside.

Stephens, the all-time best three-point shooter in Beaver history, has not played well this year against the Bruins - primarily due to the lock-down job by Arron Afflalo. Stephens has averaged only 6 points against the Bruins.

Fontenet is a streaky outside shooter who can cause problems with his quickness. He was 3 of 4 from the three-point distance against ASU.

The Bruins will need to find these two guards in transition, as well as fight through the high picks Beaver head coach Jay John likes to employ in order to get them open for shots.

Nevertheless, UCLA will be the overwhelming favorite for the game against OSU; yet, it would be best for the Bruins if they were oblivious to it at all.



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