Saturday, February 18, 2006

UCLA vs. USC - Game Preview

By Bruin Basketball Report

The No.14 ranked UCLA Bruins travel across town to face the USC Trojans for the 133rd, and last, meeting at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena.

USC is moving to their new arena, the Galen Center, in Fall 2006. The Sports Arena has been home for the USC Trojan basketball team since 1959.

Back in early February, the Trojans were riding high after a huge 77-70 upset victory over the Arizona Wildcats at home. They outplayed the Wildcats in every facet of the game, especially defensively, forcing Arizona into 22 turnovers.

After recording the win, USC had a record of 6-3 in the conference, good enough for second place and only one game behind UCLA. Suddenly, there was talk about the possibility of the Trojans playing in the postseason tournament.

But then things went from bad to worse quickly for USC (15-9, 6-7), who are now closer to an NIT rather than a NCAA postseason invitation.

First, the Trojans suffered a major let-down defeat to the last place Arizona St. Sun Devils, 68-65, then in the following Monday practice, they lost their best all-around player, sophomore Gabe Pruitt, to a left knee injury (out 3 weeks).

A struggling USC team now comes into the contest against UCLA with a three game losing streak after being swept by the Washington schools last week.

With Pruitt out, the scoring load has fallen on sophomore forward Nick Young and junior guard Lodrick Stewart. In the loss against Washington, both players increased their scoring contributions, but then against Washington St. on Saturday they combined on only 4 of 26 shooting.

In their first meeting together at Pauley Pavilion, UCLA routed USC, 66-45. The game was over early after the Bruins went on an 18-2 run in the opening minutes. UCLA held USC to only 27% field goal shooting.

"They took us out of our game early", USC head coach Tim Floyd said, "They were more physical and active." The Bruins outrebounded the Trojans 33-27 in the game.

Rebounding has been a problem area for the Trojans all season. In the last nine games, USC has been outrebounded by an average of 10 rebounds per game. In six of the nine games, opponents have reached double figures in offensive rebounds. They are last in rebounding in the Pac-10 with 29.1 rebounds per game.

One bright spot on the frontline for the Trojans is freshman forward RouSean Cromwell, who suffered a fractured right foot before the start of the Pac-10 season. He has been practicing with the team and may play on Sunday. Cromwell is a good rebounder and provides an inside presence; both of which the Trojans lack at this point.

USC’s offense relies on their perimeter game; they have taken the most three-point shots (264) in the conference and are hitting 37.5 percent on three-pointers, third best in the conference.

Sophomore forward Nick Young is the Trojans leading scorer and rebounder, averaging 17.3 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. He is also hitting on 39.6 on three-pointers. Without a strong presence on the Trojan frontline, he has had to play power forward all season. Young is a tough, heady player who can shoot well from outside and slash into the middle to create his own shot.

Bruin senior forward, Cedric Bozeman will most likely get the assignment against the 6’6 Young. Bozeman’s combination of size and speed is a good defensive match-up against Young. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute should also see time against Young as well.

Young has struggled against the Bruins. In his last two games against UCLA, he is shooting 4-20 for a total of only 8 points. "I've just got to go out there and have fun this week and look at it like I'm playing against Jordan [Farmar] or Arron Afflalo at the park."

Junior forward Lodrick Stewart is the third leading scorer for the Trojans, behind Young and Pruitt; he is averaging 12.3 points per game and shoots 41.1% from beyond the three-point arc.

UCLA’s Arron Afflalo will likely draw the primary assignment against Stewart, although other Bruin perimeter players will guard him as well. Michael Roll did an excellent job on Stewart in the team’s first meeting.

Both Young and Stewart will need to play their best games of the season in order for the Trojans to challenge on Sunday against the Bruins

Freshman guard, Russ Francis, has done a good job at the point guard position for the Trojans this year. Although he is only averaging 6.4 points and 3.8 assists per game, it’s his hustle on both ends of the court which have made people take notice of the 5’11 dynamo.

Francis was suffering from a deep thigh contusion in the team’s first meeting at Pauley. He is now at full strength and will give the Bruin’s Jordan Farmar a tougher time in this game.

UCLA (20-5, 10-3) has not played a game since their loss to Washington in Seattle on February 11th. It has been their longest break of the season.

Coach Ben Howland took advantage of the down time by working with his team on fundamentals and team basics. "We're working on skill development," he said. "We're working on executing better. We're working on our conditioning, and doing a number of things that I think will help us improve as we go into this final five-game stretch of the season."

The time off has been good for Jordan Farmar. He has suffered moderate sprains to both ankles this season. The injuries have limited his play in many games this season.

Against Washington, "I had problems pushing off”, Farmar said, “It affected my lift the entire game.” A healthy Farmar will go a long way in the success of the Bruin team heading into the tournament.

The Bruins are only averaging 66.2 points per game. Coach Ben Howland wants his team to run more when the opportunities present themselves to create more easy baskets in transition. “We pushed the ball up better at the beginning of the year” Howland said, “I want us to get back to there.”

The main reason the Bruins already have 20 victories this season, despite scoring in the mid-sixties, is their defense. Opponents are only scoring 59.4 point per game against UCLA - 1st in the conference; and thus subsequently the Bruins lead the Pac-10 in point’s differential with +6.8.

Even with star Gabe Pruitt playing in the last game, the Trojans were run out of Pauley Pavilion; without Pruitt, it doesn’t appear the situation is any better for the Trojans on Sunday. But coach Ben Howland is not taking any chances and stressing with his team the importance of every single game left in conference play.

"This is a huge game for us," Howland said. "It's going to be a very hard-fought battle, and our team clearly will understand that and know that by the time we get to Sunday."

UCLA enters the weekend tied for first place in the Pac-10 conference with the Cal Bears at 10-3. The Bears play the Arizona St. Sun Devils tonight in Berkeley.

Injury Update: Alfred Aboya suffered a mild strained groin injury in Thursday's practice. He was held out of practice on Friday and will be a game-time decision on Sunday against the Trojans.


Friday, February 17, 2006

Bruins Bid Farewell To L.A. Sports Arena

By Bruin Basketball Report

Over the years UCLA basketball teams have amassed 105 victories while playing at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena. UCLA also won two of their NCAA basketball championships at the venue.

But when the Bruins face the Trojans on Sunday for the 133rd time at the Sports Arena, they will be bidding farewell to the historic L.A. landmark.

After 47 years at the Sports Arena, the USC basketball team will be moving to a brand new state of the art arena, the Galen Center, in the Fall of 2006.

There was once a time when the Sports Arena was held in similar esteem; it was considered by many to be the most modern arena in the country at the time of its construction.

On April 29, 1955 California Governor Goodwin T. Knight signed legislation authorizing the sale of $8,200,000 in revenue bonds to finance the building of the Sports Arena in the burgeoning city of Los Angeles.

Three years later $7,800,000 in revenue bonds were sold, and plans for constuction began in earnest.

The L.E. Dixon Company of San Gabriel, the original contractor for the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, was awarded the building contract for the Sports Arena. Official ground-breaking ceremonies commenced on April 7, 1958.

A little over a year later, the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena was officially dedicated on July 4th, 1959.

Vice President Richard M. Nixon represented President Dwight D. Eisenhower at the festivities. Nixon dedicated the Sports Arena in "recognition of all who served their country in all wars."

The 1960 Democratic Convention was held at the Sports Arena due to its state of the art facilities at the time. It was at this convention that John F. Kennedy secured his party's nomination for president.

The Rev. Martin Luther King orated here; and the Dalai Lama addressed his followers from a stage at the Sports Arena.

The Rolling Stones rocked here; so did Pink Floyd, the Who, and of course, the Boss – Bruce Springsteen played at the Sports Arena 25 times over a 12 year span.

The first basketball game ever played at the Sports Arena was on December 1, 1959 when UCLA played USC before a crowd of 6,880. The Bruins won the game 47-45.

From 1959 to 1965 the Bruins played home games at the Sports Arena (they also played home games at the Men's Gym, Venice High School and Civic Auditorium during this period).

The Sports Arena was the site of the 1968 and 1972 NCAA men’s basketball Final Four.

In the 1968 Final Four, UCLA played the Houston Cougars in a semifinal game. Earlier in the season, the No. 2 Cougars had upset the No. 1 Bruins at the Astrodome, 71-69. Houston’s Elvin Hayes had outplayed UCLA’s Lew Alcindor who had played in the game despite suffering blurred vision from a scratched eye.

In this game at the Sports Arena, the Bruins got their revenge. UCLA's Lynn Shackelford shadowed Hayes the entire game limiting him to only 10 points. Meanwhile, Alcindor, Mike Lynn, and Lucius Allen each scored 19 points as the Bruins routed the Cougars, 101-69.

In the anti-climactic championship game, UCLA crushed North Carolina, 78-55, with Alcindor pouring in 34 points.

In the 1972 Final Four, UCLA faced Denny Crum's Louisville team in the semifinal game and defeated them, 96-77. Bruin sophomore center Bill Walton scored 33 points to lead the team.

In the championship finale, sophomore forward Keith Wilkes scored 23 and Walton added 24 to help the Bruins to an 81-76 victory over Florida State for UCLA's eighth NCAA championship banner.

However as time passes, even buildings age. In comparison to modern sport venues, the Sports Arena is vastly outdated and has not aged gracefully.

Important speakers no longer visit the Sports Arena, nor do rockers – not even the Boss, he goes to the Staples Center for his concerts now.

When asked for his opinion of the Sports Arena, former NBA player Charles Barkley responded, “This place? Nothing positive. Ok, I want to say something positive – it’s positively a dump!”

The circus still sets up at the Sports Arena when it comes to town, and Disney holds a few ice skating shows there each year. But with the Trojans leaving for their new arena in the fall, the Sports Arena’s future is uncertain.

But there is still a rivalry game to be played on Sunday.

The Bruins will face the Trojans one last time, in one last game, at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena.

UCLA will try to record win No. 106 for the history books.


(photo credit:

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Mata On The Mend

By Bruin Basketball Report

UCLA may have sophomore center Lorenzo Mata back as early as the start of the Pac-10 conference tournament which begins March 9 at Staples Center.

"He is healing right now, as we speak," Howland said. "I'm hoping he'll be back by the Pac-10 tournament."

At the time of his injury, a return to action this season seemed improbable.

While in pursuit of a loose ball in a game against Washington St. on January 13, Mata collided with teammate, Jordan Farmar; Mata immediately crumpled to the ground holding his knee as the crowd at Pauley Pavilion stood in quiet concern for their popular sophomore center.

The diagnosis was a nondisplaced tibial plateau fracture of the right knee. The prognosis for recovery was 6 to 8 weeks, but many believed Mata had played in his last game this season.

Considering how Lorenzo Mata plays basketball with his heart and soul, we should have known better than to underestimate his will for recovery to play again this year.

Before his knee injury, the sophomore was playing the best basketball of his collegiate career. Mata played in 12 games this season, and had started the last 6 games at center. He was averaging 4.8 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks in 18.2 minutes per game.

Mata provided the Bruins with toughness inside the paint with his hustle, rebounding and shot-blocking. His importance could also be seen in the team’s won-loss record.

In games this season in which Mata has been in the line-up, the team has a stellar record of 11-1, but in games he has missed the Bruin record is 6-3.

Mata has been attending games and practices, supported by the use of a heavy knee brace and crutches, watching quietly from the sidelines. And it has been difficult for the sophomore.

"I live for just being able to play basketball and I haven't been able to do it," Mata said. "I just want to get back out there."

Mata no longer requires the heavy knee brace, and has begun rehabilitation on his knee by jogging on a treadmill.

"Right now it's just a little sore because I haven't done anything with it" Mata said.

The return of Mata would help further bolster a frontline which has shown improved play in recent games, and just in time for the tough games the Bruins will face in the Pac-10 and NCAA postseason tournaments.


Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Howland Wants Pac-10 To Raise Expectations

By Bruin Basketball Report

If members of the NCAA tournament selection committee were to make their decision based upon RPI ratings released today, the Pac-10 conference would likely be represented by UCLA (11), Arizona (20), Washington (39), and California (54).

The prevailing belief with two weeks left in the regular season is the Pac-10 conference deserves, at most, four berths in the NCAA men's basketball tournament this year.

Some college basketball observers have noted the Pac-10 conference is having a down year, based primarily on the number of non-conference losses suffered by Pac-10 teams during the preseason.

However, UCLA basketball coach Ben Howland feels the Pac-10 should not only have more than four teams in the tournament this year - but every year.

"My attitude is, we should be raising our expectations," Howland said, in regards to the Pac-10 and the NCAA tournament.

"As a league, we look at it and say five teams," Howland said. "Five teams should be normal for the Pac-10. We have to raise the level of expectations for our league.”

“We should be expecting to get six a year.”, Howland continued, “I foresee our league in the next few years getting six and sometimes seven teams in the Big Dance. I believe that's real. Five should be our average. Four is a disappointment."

Yet, the best opportunity for the Pac-10 to make a case for a fifth team in this year’s tournament may have passed last week.

The Trojans were still in contention for the Pac-10 title prior to last week’s games against the Washington schools; but with star Gabe Pruitt out with a knee injury, the Trojans lost both games. USC’s sub par RPI of 105 does not help either.

Stanford had a chance to catch the eye of the NCAA selection committee when it traveled to Spokane to face No.5 Gonzaga last week. However, the Zag’s Adam Morrison hurt the Cardinal’s chances with an incredible late game shooting display. Stanford’s 76 RPI is respectable but their 12-9 overall record is not.

The last opportunity for the Pac-10 conference to send a fifth team to the NCAA tournament resides in the Pac-10 Tournament at Staples Center beginning on March 9. The winner of the Pac-10 conference tournament receives an automatic bid to the Big Dance.


More Signs Of Desperation: Arizona Wildcats

Like a fading movie star, desperately trying to stay at the top, Lute Olson and the Arizona Wildcats have done what everyone was expecting them to do since Jawann McClellan suffered a season-ending wrist injury.

Reinstate Chris Rodgers back on the team.

Rodgers had been dismissed by Olson on Jan. 18 reportedly after "long and serious deliberations" and was said to be "effective immediately."

However, Olson then announced the next day Rodgers could return if certain conditions were met. Coincidentally his announcement came at the same time Arizona doctors diagnosed McClellan's wrist injury.

In his statement to the press Tuesday regarding Rodgers' return, "He has fulfilled the various responsibilities that had been set up for him to get back," Olson said. "I visited with all the guys individually to discuss the situation and they are very much in favor of him being back on the floor."

One wonders if the discussion with players included details such as:

- The Cats are 15-9 overall , and are in danger of their first non-20 game season in 18 years

- Arizona is not ranked in either the Coaches or AP poll, nor did it receive any votes. (As a consolation, Northern Arizona did garner a single vote in the AP this week.)

- The Cats run of 21 straight NCAA tournament appearances is in jeopardy.

Back in mid-December people questioned whether the Arizona basketball program was too lenient with Hassan Adams in an off-campus brawl incident.

This time around there is no question. The actions taken today by Lute Olson were out of desperation.

With the reinstatement of Chris Rodgers, under these circumstances, one wonders if Arizona coach Lute Olson has lost his sense of priorities.

Or as Gloria Swanson, a famous silent movie star who faded away during the era of talking movies, once said, “I am big. It's the pictures that got small.”

Let’s hope Lute Olson has not lost all perspective, and has not put winning at all costs ahead of what’s good for the team and the college game.


Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Farmar Named Mid-Season Naismith Trophy Candidate

By Bruin Basketball Report

UCLA sophomore guard Jordan Farmar was named a mid-season candidate for the prestigious Naismith Trophy given to the nation's top collegiate basketball player.

The initial preseason list of fifty candidates for the Naismith Trophy was narrowed down to thirty in the most recent announcement.

The list was compiled by the Atlanta Tipoff Club's Board of Selectors, comprised of leading basketball journalists, coaches and administrators from around the country. The board bases its criteria on the player performances this season.

Past UCLA Bruin Naismith Trophy winners include: Lew Alcindor (1969), Bill Walton (1972,1973,1974), and Marques Johnson (1977).

Farmar is now a mid-season candidate for both the Naismith Trophy and John R. Wooden Award. He was also recently nominated for the Bob Cousy Award presented to the most outstanding collegiate point guard in the nation.

Farmar is averaging 13.8 points and 5.5 assists per game this season.


(photo credit:

Monday, February 13, 2006

UCLA Ranked No.14 and No.15 in Polls

By Bruin Basketball Report

UCLA is ranked No.14 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches poll and No.15 in the AP poll released today. They were previously ranked No.12 and No.13 in the Coaches and AP polls, respectively.

The Bruins split their games last week in the state of Washington. Last Thursday they beat the Washington State Cougars in Pullman, 50-30; and then on Saturday lost in Seattle to the Washington Huskies, 70-67.

UCLA (20-5, 10-3) is first place in the Pac-10 conference 0.5 games ahead of the California (15-6, 9-3).

California is knocking at the door of both Top 25 polls this week. The Bears are only two spots out of the Coaches poll, and one spot out of the AP poll.

The Washington Huskies remain the only other Top 25 ranked Pac-10 team after sweeping both USC and UCLA at home. The Huskies are ranked No.21 and No.20 in the Coaches and AP polls, respectively.

Stanford was the only other Pac-10 school to receive votes; the AP gave them 4 votes.

The top five ranked teams in both polls remained intact with Connecticut ranked No.1 and then followed by Duke, Memphis, Villanova, and Gonazaga.

In the Ken Pomeroy rankings, the Bruins are No.12 in RPI and No.17 in SOS (strength of schedule). As of last week, the Bruins were ranked No.11 in the official NCAA RPI.

UCLA's next game is at the Sports Arena against USC on February 19.


Bruin Recruiting: Prep News Roundup (2/13)

By Bruin Basketball Report

Prep News Roundup published every Monday during the season.


UCLA-bound forward James Keefe scored 24 points, grabbed 12 rebounds, and blocked 4 shots to lead Santa Margarita to a 71-52 victory over Servite at Servite High School. Christian Hernandez also had a big game for the Eagles recording 25 points and 14 rebounds. Bruin Basketball Report 2/8

UCLA signee Marko Spica, who is from Serbia and Montenegro, did not get a qualifying score on his last SAT attempt, but will continue taking the test in hopes of become NCAA eligible for the fall. L.A. Daily News 2/11


Junior forward Kyle Singler gunned in a game-high 22 points on 8-for-10 shooting from the field and 6-for-6 marksmanship from the free-throw line to lead South Medford (19-1, 10-0 SOC). Mail Tribune 2/8

The Kyle Singler recruiting show appears to be winding down. Singler, South Medford’s Division I basketball recruit, has put Duke and UCLA at the top of his wish list and said Monday that he’ll make a verbal commitment by the end of the school year and probably sooner. Singler took an unofficial visit to UCLA last weekend with Kevin Love and liked everything he saw. In two weeks, he’ll tour the Duke campus in Durham, N.C. and could make a decision on his future prior to the Class 4A state tournament March 9-11. Mail Tribune 2/7

Russell Westbrook of Lawndale Leuzinger is a senior guard who is riding a wave of positive evaluations as he continues to benefit from a growth spurt of two summers ago. What a difference a few inches can make in the performance of a basketball player. Feats he couldn't accomplish when he was 5 feet 10 are finally within reach at 6-3. Shots that were once blocked are going in the basket. Rebounds that were taken away are ending up in his hands. Centers who stood as immovable obstacles are mere distractions as he elevates over them." It's exciting," Westbrook said.Last fall, Kent State, Creighton and Wyoming wanted him to sign a letter of intent." I didn't feel I was ready to make a decision yet," he said. His patience has resulted in a growing number of schools, including some in the Pacific 10 Conference, expressing serious interest in offering him a scholarship. He has become one of the best unsigned senior prospects in Southern California." I just think I got better over the summer," he said. L.A. Times 2/8

Leuzinger 56, Peninsula 50: Russell Westbrook scored 32 points and Donnell Beverly added 11 for host Leuzinger (23-3, 9-1), which clinched the league championship. Daily Breeze 2/10

Russell Westbrook had 24 points, 13 rebounds and four assists to lead visiting Leuzinger (22-3, 8-1), which clinched at least a share for the league title. Daily Breeze 2/8

Taft 59, Granada Hills 50: Oscar Bellfield scored a team-high 14 points as visiting Taft of Woodland Hills, the Daily News' top-ranked team, defeated Granada Hills in a West Valley League game. Larry Drew added 12 for Taft (19-5, 9-0). L.A. Daily News 2/9

Cal-bound senior Patrick Christopher had 27 points, four blocks and three steals as the Dons (21-5, 10-0) put the capper on their third consecutive San Gabriel Valley League title.
Quintin Watkins added 14 points and five rebounds and Audwin Tolbert had 10 points, six rebounds and three steals. Sophomore point guard Brandon Jennings had eight assists and six steals to go with four points. L.B. Press-Telegram 2/10

But that's when King and Kamyron Brown took over. Brown scored 19 of his 22 points in the second half, including 10 in the third quarter on a series of slashing moves to the basket. King, a junior who has already committed to Duke, scored 16 of his team-high 24 points after halftime.
"We didn't do a good job of keeping (Brown) out of the paint," Madigan said. L.B. Press-Telegram 2/8

The Wave struggled in guarding Luke Babbitt by allowing the sophomore 13 points, six of those coming from the charity stripe. With 1:13 left in the quarter, Babbitt left the game with 27 points, the same number the entire Fallon team had at that time.Williams said Babbitt is one of the best players he has seen this season."I don't know how to stop him," Williams said. Lahontan Valley News 2/6

Mitty 53, Riordan 41: Mitty earned top-seed honors as Justin Sweat scored 13 and Drew Gordon added 10 for the host Monarchs (21-3, 12-2). Robert Jones had 17 for Riordan (16-10, 7-7). Mitty hosts St. Francis on Tuesday. S.F. Chronicle 2/12


(photo credit: O.C. Register)

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Bruins Refuse To Cry Foul

Three times he was asked. Three times Coach Ben Howland said he wasn't going to talk about the officiating in Saturday's loss at Washington, a game in which each team challenged everything the other tried.

But according to senior center Ryan Hollins, who fouled out in just 17 minutes, Howland did talk about it for nearly 15 minutes in a closed-door session after the game.

"He told us we can't play to the officials, we can't gripe or complain," said Hollins, extracted from a possible technical-foul situation when Howland sprinted onto the floor to separate him from the Huskies' Ryan Appleby.

"A couple of our guys thought they got pushed in the back with no call, but we have to play through that," Hollins said. "Sure the referees really took the game over, but you've got to learn from that. Look it up and all it will say is 'Washington (70), UCLA (67).' "

Asked about the 54 fouls and 63 free throws that made a fast-break basket a rarity, Howland twice said he had no comment.

On the third try, Howland expanded on his refusal to comment on a game that was called both tightly and loosely by the Pac-10 crew of Bill Kennedy, Tony Padilla and Michael Irving, and very inconsistently.

"I am required by law to handle it the way I am," Howland said after seeing blood-drawing slashes requiring bandages that were missed and phantom fouls that were called. Press-Enterprise/Dan Weber