Friday, March 17, 2006

UCLA vs. Alabama - NCAA Game Preview

By Bruin Basketball Report

With each team winning their first round game in contrasting fashion, the No.2 seed UCLA Bruins meet the No.10 seed Alabama Crimson Tide in the second round of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament on Saturday in San Diego.

The Bruins (28-6) recovered from a slow start against No.15 seed Belmont, and went on to crush the Atlantic Sun conference champions, 78-44.

Luc Richard Mbah a Moute had a career-game, scoring 17 points, pulling down 8 rebounds, and handing out 6 assists; while Darren Collison had 10 points and 3 key steals to help the Bruins win its first NCAA tournament game since 2002.

Alabama (18-10) had a much more difficult task against Marquette. In a game which went back and forth in the second-half, Marquette had a chance to tie the game with 19 seconds remaining, but forward Steve Novak missed a three-pointer from the wing, and Alabama went on to win, 90-85.

The Crimson Tide won behind a career-high 31 points from reserve Jean Felix. The 6’7 forward from the Congo hit 8 of 11 from three-point distance. Felix entered the game averaging only 8.9 points per game.

Sophomore guard Ronald Steele and junior forward Jermareo Davidson also had huge contributions in the victory, scoring 23 and 21 points, respectively. Davidson also pulled down 12 rebounds.

Many did not figure Alabama would even make it to the NCAA tournament this season after they lost their senior and leading scorer, Chuck Davis to a knee injury in their SEC conference opener.

However Alabama Head Coach Mark Gottfried rallied his team, making adjustments – namely reducing his rotation of key players to just seven.

In addition, both Steele and Davidson have raised their games on both ends of the court, helping the Crimson Tide to a second place tie in the SEC and an invitation to the NCAA tournament.

Davidson (Jr, 6’10, 220) possesses excellent mobility for someone his size which makes him difficult to handle underneath. He averaged 14.3 points, 9.1 rebounds, and almost 2 blocks a game.

He controls the paint well for Alabama and will be a tough match-up down on the low blocks.

Richard Hendrix (Fr, 6’8, 265) is another big body on the frontline. He averages 9.3 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks a game. Hendrix is a load underneath, and when joined with Davidson, the pair creates a size match-up problem for most teams.

Against Marquette, the pair combined for 19 rebounds, in addition, they muscled down low for 11 offensive rebounds and several put-back scores.

The Bruin big men will certainly have their hands full with the Tide’s physical pair. Yet, UCLA has been getting strong physical play from their own frontline which is suddenly at near-full strength.

UCLA’s 7’0 center Ryan Hollins has been playing the best basketball in his career over the last five games. He is averaging over 12 points and 6 rebounds over this span, and has been outstanding in defending the paint.

Hollins has the speed and size to defend either Davidson or Hendrix, however in the past, Hollins has been shown he can be dominated by more physical opponents. The Bruins need their senior to step forward in this game.

If Hollins is unable to sustain his effort in the game, especially on defense and rebounding, then UCLA coach Ben Howland will not hesitate to play sophomore Lorenzo Mata and freshman Alfred Aboya more minutes.

Mata has surprised many with quality play so soon after returning from injury. He has played tremendously on defense in limited minutes of play. Although he does not have all his stamina yet, his contributions on defense and rebounding are sorely needed against Alabama.

Aboya has struggled in his last two games averaging only 1.5 points and 2.5 rebounds, but he provides UCLA with an active and physical presence. He would perhaps be UCLA’s best match-up against Davidson, but Aboya needs to avoid early foul trouble to have an impact.

Conversely, with the lack of depth Alabama has at every position due to a shortened rotation, the Tide can find themselves in trouble with fouls if they try to match UCLA’s expected physical play, especially Davidson who is crucial to Alabama’s interior game.

The marquee match-up of the game will be between super sophomore point-guards, Alabama’s Ronald Steele (6’3, 185) and UCLA’s Jordan Farmar.

Steele is averaging 14.1 points, 4.3 assists, and 1.5 steals per game. He is a tremendous decision-maker and sets-up his teammates well. He has struggled from the field this year shooting only 41%, but is shooting well from the three-point arc (41%). He is also an excellent defender.

Although the game features these two outstanding point-guards, neither Farmar nor Steele may be guarding each other for most of the game. For UCLA the honors will likely go to Arron Afflalo who usually gets the top opponent’s scoring guard.

Alabama has two outstanding players off the bench in Jean Felix and freshman Alonzo Gee.

Felix has already shown what he is capable of doing if he gets hot, yet one would expect it to be difficult for him to shoot 23 points above his season's average two games in a row.

Felix will be no surprise to UCLA, and whether it is Cedric Bozeman or Michael Roll, they will be sure to make Felix put the ball on the floor to beat them, rather than allow him to shoot over them as Marquette allowed Felix to do all game long.

Gee (Fr, 6’6, 215) is an active and scrappy player. He averages 8.6 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 1.0 steal a game. He is quick to the ball and hard to block out, and is a good complement to Davidson and Hendrix when they’re in the game together.

Brandon Hollinger ( Fr, 5’11, 170) and Evan Brock (Sr, 6’9, 210) start the game for the Crimson Tide, but it’s to allow Felix and Gee to come off the bench and provide the team balance in their rotations.

As a team, aside from Steele and Felix, the Tide do not shoot particularly well from the perimeter. They average 45% from the floor and only 34% from three-point distance. The team averaged 70 points per contest this season.

Alabama likes to pound it inside to Davidson and Hendrix, or allow Steele to create offensive opportunities. UCLA will likely double down in the post against either Davidson or Hendrix, which will require the Bruins to be quick on the weak side to cover the open man.

Controlling Steele will also certainly be key, and Afflalo will likely get the primary assignment.

Defensively, Alabama will play primarily a 2-3 zone. One reason is to preserve their players and keep their big men out of foul trouble. Secondly, UCLA's offense has struggled at times against the zone.

Although in recent games, UCLA has solved the zone, forcing opponents to switch out of the zone defense - Alabama will more be patient and stay with the zone out of necessity.

Basketball is a game of match-ups, and although Alabama is just a No.10 seed and plays seven players, the Bruins will have a tough game. Primarily due to Alabama’s big frontline match-up, and secondly, UCLA will likely face a 2-3 zone for most of the game.

UCLA can not start the game slowly and hope to recover as it did against Belmont. Alabama has too much size and skill at key positions, and is perhaps one of the most dangerous lower seeded teams in the tournament.

UCLA’s Jordan Farmar needs to have his “A game” ready, and begin the game with intensity and energy. His Bruin teammates usually feed off their leader, and when Farmar starts slowly the Bruins usually follow.



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