Friday, March 31, 2006

UCLA vs. LSU - NCAA Game Preview

By Bruin Basketball Report

The UCLA Bruins play in their first Final Four game since 1995 when they take on the LSU Tigers in a championship semifinal on Saturday in Indianapolis.

In 1995, led by National Player of the Year Ed O’Bannon, Tyus Edney, and crew, UCLA defeated Arkansas, 89-78, in the title game for the Bruin’s eleventh NCAA Men’s basketball championship banner.

While the 1995 title game was a high-scoring affair, the semifinal between UCLA and LSU is expected to be a low-scoring contest in a match-up of two excellent defensive teams.

UCLA Head Coach Ben Howland got his young players this year to buy into his philosophy of “defense wins games”. UCLA has allowed 41% field goal shooting and only 58.6 points per game (10th best nationally).

In the Oakland regional final against Memphis, a team averaging over 80 points per game and shooting close to 50%, the Bruins limited them to just 45 points on 31% field goal shooting.

LSU has excelled on the defensive end against tough SEC competition. The Tigers limited opponents to 39.8% field goal shooting (21st best nationally) and 64 points per game.

Against a high-powered Texas offense, the Tigers held the Longhorns to just 30.4% field goal shooting for the game.

LSU plays primarily man-to-man defense, taking advantage of their overall team athleticism, although they have played some limited zone during the season.

With their quickness they create a number of turnovers off steals, averaging 8.3 thefts per game. Six players average more than one steal per game, led by point-guard Darrel Mitchell who averages 2.0 per contest.

LSU's interior defense is led by jumping-jack freshman Tyrus Thomas (Fr, 6’9, 215) who is perhaps the best help-defender in the nation. He averages an astounding 3.1 blocks per game (9th best nationally) and recorded a season-high 9 blocks against Tennessee earlier in the season. As a team, the Tigers average 6.5 blocks per game (6th best nationally).

LSU is led by SEC Player of the Year Glen “Big Baby” Davis (So, 6’9, 310). He averages 18.7 points and 9.8 rebounds per game – all team-highs.

Davis is very quick for his size and girth and is able to get off the floor as well as someone half his size, as a result, he is an excellent offensive rebounder - 40% of rebounds are offensive rebounds and tough to stop around the basket.

He creates a match-up problem for whoever is unfortunate to guard him; against Texas, he dominated projected NBA-lottery pick LaMarcus Aldridge, using his size to push Aldridge around in the post.

UCLA’s Ryan Hollins will have a very tough match-up against Glen Davis in both defending him and keeping him off the offensive boards. He will need much help from the double-teams coach Howland already has planned for Davis. The doubles will need to come fast as Davis is very quick in the low block.

Hollins should expect help from the bench with Lorenzo Mata and perhaps even Michael Fey finding time against Davis.

Mata suffered a broken nose in practice on Wednesday but will be available to play against LSU. He will wear a protective face mask.

Coach Howland expects to use Fey in short spurts during the game. Fey has the bulk to guard Davis, although, Fey may find difficulty in keeping in front of him due to Davis’ superior foot-speed.

Tigers’ forward Tyrus Thomas, a red-shirt freshman, does not possess necessarily good offensive moves and is not a perimeter shooting threat, however, he is very active off the ball and knows how to make himself available for a pass off dribble penetration or off a double-team for easy shots as evidenced by his 61% field goal shooting during the season.

Bruin freshman Luc Richard Mbah a Moute will need to be aware of where Thomas is at all times and keep a body between Thomas and the rim. This should be one of the better match-ups to watch on Saturday.

In past games, the Bruins have typically doubled in the low block with another frontline player, however, it wouldn’t be surprising to see UCLA switch up and double more with a perimeter player since LSU is not a proficient perimeter shooting team.

The Tiger’s best perimeter shooter is Darrel Mitchell (Sr, 5’11, 178) who averages 17.0 points per game but shoots 40% from three-point distance and only 43% from the field. The next best three-point shooter after Mitchell is forward Tasmin Mitchell (Fr, 6’7, 240) who shoots only 29% from beyond the arc.

LSU’s starting two-guard, Garrett Temple (Fr, 6’5, 180), is more of a defensive specialist than a scorer and averages only 5.2 points on 34% field goal shooting in 33 minutes.

Subsequently, the Bruins perimeter defense should be able to help inside with the double-teams, yet at the same time the Bruin perimeter defenders must protect against any Tiger guard dribble-penetration and easy entry passes into the post since both Thomas and Davis are good at catching the ball inside and finishing.

Although, sometimes LSU players try to do much individually after they catch the ball. As a team the Tigers average 15.4 turnovers a game with Glen Davis, Tasmin Mitchell, and Darrell Mitchell each averaging more than 2.3 turnovers per contest.

LSU’s bench includes Darnell Lazare (Jr, 6'8, 240), Ben Voogd (Fr, 6'1, 175), and Magnum Rolle (Fr, 6'10, 215); however, aside from Lazare, none of them have seen major minutes in tight contests during the tournament where each Tiger starter has averaged close to 35 minutes in those games.

UCLA’s physical, bruising style of play has often taken its toll on opponents who play with a shorter bench. If the Tigers plan to play their starters big minutes against UCLA as they have in the tournament thus far , the Bruins will have the advantage as the second-half of the game wears on.

To begin the semifinal game, the Bruins need to come out against LSU with the same level of intensity they started with against Memphis.

In the Oakland regional final, the Bruins executed their offense and attacked Memphis inside and did not take a three-point shot until eight minutes into the game. Moreover, it allowed UCLA to get their big men involved and active inside, especially Ryan Hollins.

As a result of the Bruin’s aggressive offensive attack inside and good execution on plays, Memphis’s big men got into early foul trouble - a similar result against LSU’s dominant big men would certainly be welcomed by the Bruins.

Game Notes: UCLA played in the NCAA Tournament’s Final Four held in Indianapolis twenty six years ago. Larry Brown’s Bruins defeated Purdue in the semifinal game, 67-62.



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