Thursday, December 07, 2006

UCLA vs. Texas A&M - Game Preview

By Bruin Basketball Report

In the 13th rendition of the John R. Wooden Classic the top-ranked UCLA Bruins battle the No. 6 Texas A&M Aggies at the Honda Center in Anaheim.

UCLA is making their 10th appearance at the Wooden Classic and fourth in a row while it will be the Aggies' first.

Last year the Bruins defeated Nick Fazekas and the Nevada Wolfpack 67-56.  UCLA's Jordan Farmar scored 24 and Arron Afflalo chipped in 18 for the win.

The Bruins (7-0) are coming off a series of victories over three Big West conference opponents in which the average margin of victory was 26 points .  At times the Bruins played down to the level of their over-matched opponents until late in the game when they would put together a run to finally pull away.

A contest against a tough ranked opponent, like the Aggies, comes at the right time for the Bruins who need to be tested before they start Pac-10 conference play at the end of December.

Texas A&M's will be completing a tough string of three games on Saturday.  Last week the Aggies (7-1) defeated Pacific 74-62 to remain undefeated but then fall to LSU on Tuesday, 64-52, in a rematch of a NCAA tournament second-round game last season.

Still despite the loss to LSU, Texas A&M is off to its best start in school history.

The Aggies are a blue-collar and rugged squad.  Their solid brand of team defense leads the NCAA in both scoring defense and FG% defense allowing just under 49 points a game and holding opponents to 30.7% shooting. 

In many ways Head Coach Billy Gillespie's Texas A&M Aggies are very similar to UCLA defensively.  They play tough defense for the entire 40 minutes and wear down less disciplined opponents down by games end

On offense the Aggies are averaging 68 points per game on an impressive 53.9% shooting.  They are not a big three-point shooting team, although they do have players who can hit from the perimeter when called upon.  The Aggies have a balanced inside and out game and effectively move the ball around to find an open shot, they lead the NCAA in assists with 22.9 a game.

Texas A&M is led by two preseason All Big 12 first-team candidates in point-guard Acie Law and forward-center and Joseph Jones.

Acie Law (Sr, 6'3, 195) started the year as one of the best returning point-guards in the nation.  Last season he averaged 16.1 points a game and hit a number of clutch winners down the stretch for the team, however, Law has been inconsistent offensively and has struggled the last two games scoring just nine points over the stretch.

But when Law is at his best, he can hit from the perimeter and dribble penetrate to create shots for teammates.  He is also a solid defender and the vocal leader on the team.  If Law regains his offensive touch and confidence, the Aggies can be tough to handle.

UCLA's Arron Afflalo will get the start against Law and try to extend Law's offensive slump, although Darren Collison will likely have his opportunity against Law as well especially when Afflalo is out of the game.

Joseph Jones (Jr, 6'9, 250) provides a strong presence down low for Texas A&M.  He has recently been bothered by tendinitis in the knees but is still the team leader in scoring at 14.8 points and shoots at a 63% clip.  He will provide Luc Richard Mbah a Moute a stiff challenge on the blocks.

On the other hand, defensively, Jones may have difficulty with the quicker Mbah a Moute especially if the Cameroon native decides to take him off the dribble from the wing or high-post. Jones has had problems with foul trouble - he has already fouled out of three games this season.

In addition, considering his bulk and size, Jones is not a great rebounder averaging only 5.0 caroms a game and will be challenged to keep the always active Mbah a Moute off the boards.

At center the Aggies start Lithuanian Antanas Kavaliauskas (Sr, 6'10, 250).  He is averaging 12.8 points a game and shooting 63.8% from the field.  Kavaliauskas has a good shooting touch and a solid short to mid-range game. Although neither Kavaliauskas or Jones are great shot-blockers, their size gives teams problems in the paint. 

UCLA's Lorenzo Mata has been recently playing the best stretch of basketball in his young collegiate career.  Excluding the Long Beach St. game in which he played sick, he has averaged a double-double, 10 points and 11 rebounds a game, in his last four games.

At the off-guard the Aggies start Dominique Kirk (Jr, 6'3, 180) who is a solid defender and good three-point shooter (37%). He has a blue-collar work ethic and makes his teammates better on both ends of the court with his hustle.

At the small forward the Aggies will likely start Josh Carter (So, 6'7, 195) against UCLA's Josh Shipp.  Carter is averaging 11.0 a game and shooting 42% from beyond the arc. 

At the start of the season, the Aggies had planned to start Marlon Pompey (Sr, 6'8, 225) at the SF spot but he has been hurt although he did come off the bench to play 14 minutes against LSU. 

Carter is the better offensive player of the two while Pompey is more defense-oriented who energizes the team with his hustle and defense.  Pompey is also the team's best shot-blocker but his foot injury has slowed him this year.

The Aggies also bring two freshmen off the bench in Bryan Davis (6'9, 245) and Donald Sloan (6'2, 210).  Davis is averaging 3.3 points and 3.5 rebounds in 11 minutes a game; while Sloan backs up both guard spots and is averaging 5.0 points and 2.3 assists in 18.5 minutes a game.

Freshman center 6'10 Chinemelu Elonu also gets time on the court especially if Joseph Jones gets into foul trouble.  Chinemelu has raw talent but is already a good shot-blocker.

While the Bruins are running more in transition and scoring more points (80.0) this season, UCLA Head Coach Ben Howland wants his team to improve their defense with a goal of allowing opponents less than 40% FG shooting. Currently the Bruins allow 42% field goal shooting per game.

Texas A&M provides UCLA with its first real challenge since the games at the Maui Invitational.  Look for the Bruins to step up to the challenge.

BBR Notes:  UCLA and Texas A&M is the first game of the Wooden Classic.  Later in the afternoon George Washington faces USC in the second game.

(photo credit: Aggies Athletics)



At Dec 8, 2006, 12:21:00 AM, Anonymous DaveW said...

Excellent game preview BBR. The Aggies sound a hard nosed team. It's going to be a fun challenge for both the team and their fans especially after playing the Big West teams.
Prediction: UCLA 72 - Aggies 64

At Dec 8, 2006, 5:46:00 AM, Anonymous tizom said...

ags-60 ucla-54

At Dec 8, 2006, 6:34:00 AM, Anonymous BBFan said...

Bruins pull away in the second-half
UCLA 70 Texas AM 58

At Dec 8, 2006, 7:52:00 AM, Anonymous BruinFan said...

We don't lose in the Wooden Classic!!
BBR, out of cuiousity what is the Bruins all-time record in the wOODEN CLASSIC???

At Dec 8, 2006, 8:24:00 AM, Anonymous Bruin Basketball Report said...

Good question. UCLA is 6-3 in the Wooden Classic
2005-06(W)-No.16 UCLA 67, No.17 Nevada 56
2004-05(L)-Boston College 74, UCLA 64
2003-04(L)–No. 9 Kentucky 52, UCLA 50
2001-02(W)–No. 20 UCLA 79, No. 16 Alabama 57
2000-01(L)–Georgia Tech 72, UCLA 67
1998-99(W)–No. 18 UCLA 69,No. 11 Okla. St. 66
1997-98(W)–No. 15 UCLA 69,No. 8 New Mex. 58
1995-96(W)–UCLA 73, No. 20 Maryland 63
1994-95(W)–No. 2 UCLA 82, No. 7 Kentucky 81


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