Wednesday, March 22, 2006

UCLA vs. Gonzaga – NCAA Game Preview

By Bruin Basketball Report

In an Oakland Regional Semifinal the NCAA tournament selection committee hoped would materialize, the No.2 UCLA Bruins play the No.3 Gonzaga Bulldogs Thursday night.

It’s an intriguing match-up between two teams with contrasting college basketball pedigrees and styles of play.

UCLA, a traditional college basketball powerhouse and winners of 11 national NCAA men’s basketball titles, are a rejuvenated program under third-year Head Coach Ben Howland.

Under Howland, UCLA has developed into a team known for its physical and punishing brand of basketball on both ends of the court.

On offense, the Bruins will run in transition when an opportunity is available, but are comfortable slowing the ball in the half-court and patiently waiting for a high-percentage shot - sometimes to a fault. UCLA led the Pac-10 in field goal percentage shooting at 46.9%.

Yet what sets the Bruins apart from most college teams is their end to end, 40 minute focus on defense.

“Defense wins.” Howland said, “It doesn’t matter which sport it is - you win by playing great defense.”

Over their last nine games, UCLA has limited opponents to an average of 54 points and a paltry 39% field goal shooting percentage.

UCLA defeated No.15 Belmont (78-44) and held off No.10 Alabama (62-59) to reach the regional finals.

The Bruins struggled mightily at times against Alabama’s zone defense which Tide’s coach Mark Gottfried employed for most of the game.

Much of the time UCLA’s offense was too passive and did not attack the seams of the zone defense, but instead settled for long outside jumpers.

UCLA did a better job solving the zone in the second-half by attacking the middle with Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and dribble-penetration by Jordan Farmar and Darren Collison, but it was not enough to avoid a close decision at the end although the Bruins persevered.

In Spokane, Gonzaga began ten years ago as Cinderella-darlings, but now bear heavier expectations of making the NCAA tournament every year. They reached the Sweet 16 by defeating No.14 Xavier (79-75) and No. 6 Indiana (90-80).

Gonzaga, like Alabama, will play primarily zone defense against UCLA, except Head Coach Mark Few figures to employ a variety of defensive schemes throughout the game to confuse the Bruins.

Against Indiana, the Bulldogs used a 2-3 zone, 1-3-1 zone, match-up zone, and man-to-man to fluster the Hoosiers. Indiana responded by hoisting up 36 three-point shots, accounting for more than 5o% of their total field goal attempts in the game.

UCLA needs to come out aggressively and attack the Zag’s defense, and not settle for the long jumper; otherwise, the Bruins will have the exact same fate as Indiana's awaiting them.

Much pressure will be placed on UCLA’s sophomore point-guard Jordan Farmar to recognize the Zag's defensive sets; and then to direct his teammates to attack accordingly.

Farmar may be hampered by a wrist brace he plans to wear during the game. He suffered a bruised wrist during a fall on a drive against Alabama.

UCLA’s back-up point-guard Darren Collison may be called upon for more minutes due to Farmar’s injury. He has been inconsistent offensively during the last stretch of games, although he has provided the team with stellar defense.

Collison, only a freshman, still has problems recognizing defenses causing the offense to stall at times; and many times, coach Howland will shuffle Farmar back into the game quickly for this very reason.

Gonzaga does not have the same type of athletes as Alabama which is a big reason why they play multiple zone defensive sets. They do not have guards who can stop dribble-penetration nor do they have a good shot-blocker patrolling the lanes.

Therefore, UCLA should be able to attack the Zag’s zone more effectively than they did against Alabama, but they need to do a good job recognizing the defenses, and then run their sets as crisply as possible.

Although the Zags give up a lot of points, 72.8 points per game, it’s probably due to their up-tempo style. They also average 80.4 points scored per game (4th in the nation) and shoot 48% from the field.

Gonzaga is an offensive-minded team which prefers getting up and down the court, although they are quite accomplished in the half court, running a multitude of sets for their main-scorers, forward Adam Morrison or low-post scorer J.P. Batista.

Morrison leads the nation in scoring at 28.2 points per game. He is in constant motion on the offensive end, running through multiple screens to get free for a shot. Morrison shoots 49% from the floor and an astounding 43% from three-point distance.

UCLA will use multiple defenders against Morrison.

Arron Afflalo, at 6’5, will get the initial assignment. He will likely try to use his speed advantage to keep the ball out of Morrison’s hands; and use his lateral quickness to try to take away Morrison's first-step if he has the ball.

Morrison stands 6’8 and has a high release on his shot, but if Afflalo can take advantage of his quickness and body him up on the perimeter, he may be effective in slowing Morrison down.

The Hoosiers used a similar tactic of using quicker 6’5 defenders against Morrison in the previous game, and held him to only 5-17 shooting.

Another successful tactic used against Morrison during the season was to defend him with a tall, long-armed player. When Memphis’s 6’7 Rodney Carney was unable to check Morrison in a December game, 6’9 freshman Shawnee Williams was switched onto Morrison and held him scoreless the rest of the game. With this reasoning, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute may be effective against Morrison.

Senior forward Cedric Bozeman, an excellent on-ball defender, will also have his shot at Morrison as well.

The second leading scorer on Gonzaga is senior center J.P. Batista (6’9, 269) who is as much an offensive threat as Morrison, but he scores primarily from the inside.

Batista is averaging 19.3 points per game on 59% field goal shooting. He has a variety of low post moves which makes him virtually impossible to stop one-on-one.

The Hoosiers tried to guard him straight-up and paid for it, Batista went on to score 20 points on 10 of 18 shooting, in addition, Indiana’s only inside threat Marco Killingsworth, got into early foul trouble trying to guard him.

"I was just trying to be aggressive.” said Batista. “It seemed like they (Indiana) were trying to play me one-on-one and I had the green light to go to work."

UCLA’s seven-footer Ryan Hollins has been playing the best basketball of his career recently, and he will face his biggest defensive challenge with Batista.

Batista is neither very mobile nor athletic, but his ability to establish good low post position makes him difficult to stop without fouling. Although Hollins will have a decided height and quickness advantage, he needs to stay out of foul trouble.

The Bruins will double-down on Batista whenever he touches the ball in the low blocks; however, that will leave a Zag open, mostly likely either forward Sean Mallon on the weak side or guard Derek Raivio on the perimeter.

Mallon (6’9, 218) tied a season-high with 15 points against Indiana; he also grabbed 10 rebounds. He has underachieved for most his career at Gonzaga but he has the ability to knock down shots facing the basket. The Bruins will need to rotate onto Mallon quickly if their double on Batista is to be effective.

Raivio (6’3, 175) averages 11.0 points per game, but his shooting has been streaky and inconsistent all year. He is shooting only 38% from the floor, but Raivio can light it up if he gets hot – and his shooting could be the difference in this game.

He scored over 20 points in the Maui Invitational against both Michigan St. and Maryland. Raivio also has the ability to drive and get to the line where he shoots over 90%.

The Bulldogs also start sophomore Pierre Marie Altidor-Cespedes (6'0, 181) who is a solid distributor of the ball in the Zag’s motion offense. He averages only 4.3 points in 21 minutes but his quickness fits the team’s up-tempo offense.

Coming off the bench are three key reserves each who play their roles well.

Freshman Jeremy Pargo (6’2, 215) is strong and athletic. He may be used by coach Few to check Farmar if Raivio has problems with him defensively.

Guard Erroll Knight (6’7, 211), a transfer from Washington, is perhaps the most athletic player on the team. He has been injury plagued for most his career but appears healthy now.

Knight provides the Zags with a strong perimeter defender and will likely be guarding Afflalo either when Gonzaga goes into a man-defense or to a match-up zone with Knight trailing Afflallo. He had 10 points against Indiana which included a couple of acrobatic dunks.

David Pendergraft (So, 6'6, 218) is a spark off the bench with his hustle and hard-nosed play. He can play both the frontcourt and backcourt positions. He averaged 3.2 points and 4.0 rebounds during the season.

UCLA has not been to the Sweet 16 since the 2002 season, and they should hardly need any prodding to get motivated for the game.

Yet, this Bruin team is still young, with 3 sophomores and 4 freshmen in the rotation, and can be prone to start off games tentatively - even during the tournament as they did against low-seed Belmont.

UCLA needs to come out of the gate and aggressively attack the Zag’s defensive zone. If the Bruins begin settling for long jumpers as they did for stretches of time against Alabama, this game can get away from them quickly, especially considering the Zag’s high-scoring offense.



At Jun 12, 2006, 1:37:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I just read this game preview months after the Gonzaga game in the tourney, and you were right on the money with your pregame analysis.!


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