Monday, December 18, 2006

UCLA vs. Sam Houston St. - Game Preview

By Bruin Basketball Report

Top-ranked UCLA plays host to the Bearkats of Sam Houston St. tonight at Pauley Pavilion.

UCLA (9-0) is playing its last two non-conference games before the start of Pac-10 conference play.  After Sam Houston St. the Bruins face the Michigan Wolverines on Saturday in Westwood.

The Bearkats (6-4) are coming off a disappointing overtime defeat to UC Irvine on Saturday, 70-62.  Despite shooting only 27% in the game, well below their season's average, the Bearkats still had a chance to win the road game but point-guard Jejuan Plair missed a layup at the buzzer.

Sam Houston St. was selected as the preseason favorite to win the Southland Conference.  Last season they finished 22-9 overall and had the dishonor of being the only Division I team to win at least 22 games but not make either NCAA or NIT tournaments.

Bearkat Coach Bob Marlin runs the Princeton Offense made famous by former Princeton Coach Pete Carril.  The Princeton Offense is a disciplined offense which emphasizes constant motion, passing, and teamwork.  The players are constantly cutting and moving the ball until a player mismatch or uncontested lay-up, usually back-door, develops.

The style of offense helps to negate an opponent's advantage in athleticism and forces defenses to be disciplined and on constant guard.  Of course, Bruin fans remember when Pete Carril used the offense to upset defending national champion UCLA in 1996.

Not surprisingly, the Bearkats are ranked third in the nation in assists with 20.2 a game .

UCLA Coach Ben Howland feels the game against Sam Houston St. will be a good test for his young Bruin team.

"Its a good game for us because they play a similar style to Arizona St.and West Virgina whom we play later this season," Howland said.  "It will be a hard match-up for our big guys because they don't have a true center, all their bigger people are step-out three-point shooters."

The Bearkats don't start a player taller than 6'7.  The team lost their 6'8 senior center John Gardiner before the start of the season to a torn ACL which required season-ending surgery.  They are an experienced team which starts three seniors and two juniors.

Sam Houston St. starts one of the Southland Conference's best backcourts in Jejuan Plair and Shamir McDaniel.

Plair (Sr, 6'1, 188) is the leader on the team and is averaging 13.7 points and 5.6 assists a game. He is ideal for the type of offense the Bearkats run taking excellent care of the ball with a 2.33 assist/turnover ratio.  Not a good shooter from the perimeter (40%), he also struggles at the free-throw line (67%).

UCLA's Darren Collison has struggled with his turnovers averaging 4.2 in his last four games. He has struggled in particular against small quick backcourts and will be tested in this game against the veteran Plair.

Bearkat Coach Bob Marlin feels Shamir McDaniel (Jr, 6'1', 191) makes the team better with his overall hustle at the other guard spot .  Although he is averaging just 5.7 points, McDaniel is known for his defensive abilities and will be asked to check UCLA's Arron Afflalo.  Like the other Bearkats, McDaniel is a good passer and ballhander averaging 3.1 assists a game.

At one forward spot is the team's leading scorer and rebounder Ryan Bright (Jr, 6'6', 196) who is averaging 16.0 points and 7.8 rebounds a game.  He has a solid all-around game and can hit from beyond the arc (36.4%), although the Bearkats prefer to keep Bright closer to the basket due to his rebounding prowess.

Luc Richard Mbah a Moute was solid against Oakland on Saturday scoring 8 points and grabbing a team-high 12 rebounds. He appears fully recovered from a groin injury he suffered a couple of weeks ago.

At the forward-center spot is Aaron Wade (Sr, 6'7, 228) a frontcourt player more comfortable playing on the perimeter.  He is averaging 11.0 points and 5.1 rebounds a game while shooting 41% on three-pointers.  Earlier in the year against Alcorn St., Wade hit 5 of 6 three-pointers.

It won't be one of the better match-ups for UCLA's Lorenzo Mata.  Mata, who suffered a knee contusion to his non-surgical leg last week, may see his court time limited especially if Wade starts hitting from the outside.  Alfred Aboya may see extended action in the game as well as freshman James Keefe.

The Bearkats have alternated between C.J Hadley (Sr, 6'4, 180) and Reggie Rawlin (So, 6'6, 197) at the final forward spot.  Hadley is averaging  5.7 points and 2.4 rebounds a game and is a three-point threat while Rawlin is more of a slashing-type perimeter player.

Jeremy Thomas (Jr, 6'0, 180) is the first player off the bench and the team's top three-point threat. He is averaging 7.5 points and 2.8 assists and shoots over 57% from three-point distance.

Forward James Barrett (Jr, 6'5, 245) and Ashton Mitchell (Fr, 5'10, 170), a speedy point-guard, also average over 10 minutes off the bench.

UCLA should not have any trouble winning the game, however, people shouldn't be surprised if the margin of victory is kept respectable.  Sam Houston is an experienced team especially in the backcourt and takes good care of the ball. And not least of all, the Bearkats will be pumped up to play the No.1 team in their historic building.

"Obviously, playing a storied program like UCLA in Pauley Pavilion is a tremendous thrill for the players and coaches alike," Bearkat Coach Bob Marlin said. "UCLA is a very disciplined team and they know how to change gears if they need to. This is going to be a great experience for everyone involved."

BBR Notes:  Russell Westbrook, who limped off the court with an ankle sprain at the end of the game against Oakland, should be fine and will suit up.

Smart Kats.  Of the ten players on the Southland Conference All-Academic team last year, five were Sam Houston St. players.



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