Saturday, March 04, 2006

UCLA vs. Stanford - Game Preview

By Bruin Basketball Report

After clinching at least a share of the Pac-10 conference championship with a win over California on Thursday, UCLA travels to Stanford for a chance to win the championship outright with a victory over the Cardinal on Saturday.

"Right now, we're co-Pac-10 champs, and we're definitely not satisfied with that," sophomore Arron Afflalo said. "Co-champs means nothing to us. There's a satisfaction level in beating the California Bears, a team that beat us earlier this season. They're a great team, but being co-champs was not what one of our goals was. It was to be Pac-10 champs."

The Bruins are one game ahead of Washington in the Pac-10 standings, a loss by the Huskies to Arizona on Saturday would also guarantee an outright championship for UCLA.

But with upcoming the Pac-10 and NCAA tournaments, UCLA would much rather head into postseason play with positive momentum rather than backing into a championship.

"Co-champs is not good enough for us," UCLA point guard Jordan Farmar said. "We want to do our best and win every game, so that's what we're going to have to do Saturday."

Standing in the way of UCLA is the Stanford Cardinal.

In the first meeting between the two teams at Pauley Pavilion in December, the Bruins trounced the Cardinal, 71-54, with the outcome of the game determined by halftime after UCLA raced out to a 19 point lead at intermission.

The Bruins won the game despite Jordan Farmar playing only 14 minutes after he re-aggravated his sprained ankle during the game.

Stanford has three returning senior players who were named to the All Pac-10 conference first team last year. The team had high expectations placed on them even before the season began. Sports Illustrated, among other national publications, ranked them as a top 10 team during the preseason.

But Stanford stumbled out of the gates early with losses to teams like UC Davis and Montana, and have not been able to establish any rhythm or momentum this season.

With an overall record of 15-11 (11-6 in Pac-10) and an RPI of 75, it appears Stanford's only chance of making the NCAA tournament will be by sweeping through the Pac-10 tournament next week - and Stanford certainly has a talented and experienced enough line-up to do so.

Senior center Matt Haryasz (6'11, 230) has been solid throughout the year - when he has not been injured. Haryasz has suffered ankle sprains and sustained a severe eye injury this season, yet he has put up POY-worthy numbers averaging 16.9 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks per game.

Although Haryasz has struggled offensively over his last two games, scoring only single-digits in against Washington St. and USC, the Bruins will need to make a concerted effort to stop the Cardinal big man.

In the first game, the Bruins doubled down on Haryasz from the perimeter whenever he got the ball down low forcing him into tough shots or turnovers.

Haryasz should expect more of the same Bruin double-teams on Saturday, in addition, 7-footer Ryan Hollins, who did not play in the first game, will get the start against Haryasz.

Haryasz will also have to deal with freshman Alfred Aboya who was still on the mend when the two teams last faced, and was limited to just eleven minutes in the contest.

Aboya has been splitting time between power forward and center in recent games. He has given the Bruins a physical presence inside defensively and has provided low post scoring.

A primary reason the double teams against Haryasz were effective for the Bruins in the first game was due to the poor outside shooting by Stanford. They shot only 29% from the floor and 27% on three-pointers.

If Stanford expects to stay in the game with UCLA, they will need to hit their perimeter shots to open up things for Haryasz inside.

However, they have not shot well from the outside and especially not from the three-point line. As a team, they are shooting only 34% on three-pointers with only one player shooting above 35% from beyond the arc - Chris Hernandez (49%).

After struggling with his shooting at the beginning of the year, senior Chris Hernandez (6'2, 190) has been on a tear of late.

He is third in the conference in 3-pt FG made (2.60) per game and leads, second in 3-point FG% (49%), and leads in free throw percentage (91%). Hernandez is averaging 14.1 points and 3.3 assists per game.

Due to the lack of offensive production on the Stanford team this year, Hernandez has not only been playing point guard, but more often shooting guard with either freshmen Mitch Johnson or Anthony Goods running the point.

Hernandez had a horrific shooting day in the first game against UCLA making only 2-9 shots for 7 points. Of course, the defensive effort by UCLA's Arron Afflalo may have had something to do with Hernandez's poor performance.

However, if Hernandez gets hot and the Bruins are unable to contain him - a combination of an inside and outside game with Haryasz and Hernandez could be lethal.

Forward Dan Grunfeld (6'6, 220) is averaging 12.4 points and 5.2 rebounds per game this year. The senior was an all-conference pick last year but he suffered a season-ending knee injury and has not been able to regain his form this year.

Grunfeld is shooting only 39% from the floor after shooting over 50% last year.

Grunfeld struggled from the field in the first game against the Bruins. He was only 2-12 from the field for 7 points.

Stanford coach Trent Johnson goes deep into his bench with over five of his reserves averaging over 10 minutes per game. Guard Tim Morris and forward Lawrence Hill headline the bench.

In the game at Pauley, UCLA came out to start the game with high energy and intensity; and they immediately took Stanford out of the game on both ends of the court. UCLA needs to come out with the same strong effort this Saturday.

Stanford will have some extra motivaiton for this game as well.

They will be celebrating Senior day before the game, and thus the big three seniors of Haryasz, Hernandez, and Grunfeld will be extra hyped for their last game at Maples Pavilion.

In addition, a victory over the 13th ranked Bruins in the last conference game would help ease some of the pain from a mediocre Stanford season which began with higher promise and expectations.

In each of the last three games, the Bruins have got into a bad habit of falling behind in the first half, and then rallying in the second half to win.

It's a habit this young UCLA team needs to break soon especially with the upcoming single-elimination NCAA tournament format.



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