Friday, November 17, 2006

UCLA Travels to Maui for 23rd Invitational Tourney

By Bruin Basketball Report

The No. 6 ranked UCLA Bruins (1-0) are on the island of Maui this weekend to begin practice for the 23rd Annual EA Sports Maui Invitational.  The eight-team college event will be played at the Lahaina Civic Center from November 20-22.

In addition to UCLA, the Maui Invitational boasts three other teams ranked in the top 25 basketball preseason polls: Memphis (No.13), Georgia Tech (No.21), and Kentucky (No.22).  The rest of the tournament field includes DePaul, Purdue, Oklahoma, and tournament host Chaminade University.

UCLA will open against Division II opponent Chaminade University on Monday.  If the Bruins win as expected, they would face the winner of the Kentucky and DePaul match-up on Tuesday.

Tournament chairman Dave Gavitt was asked about a possible second-round match-up between UCLA and Kentucky.

"ESPN would be most excited if it happens," Gavitt said. "No disrespect to Chaminade, but I think Kentucky will really have its hands full with DePaul, that's going to be a very, very competitive game."

UCLA has posted an all-time record of 3-3 in the Maui Invitational, including a third-place finish in its last appearance during the 2001-02 season when the team posted a 2-1 record.

"We are excited about being in the Maui Invitational," said Bruin head coach Ben Howland. "It is one of the premier tournaments in the country year in and year out. This year's field is a lot like last year's with a lot of great teams and outstanding coaches, which should make for an exciting tournament."

All twelve tournament games will be televised on ESPN.

[click here for official tournament bracket]

BBR Notes:  Arron Afflalo's MRI came back negative and will begin practice with the team tomorrow.  Josh Shipp, who left the court against BYU with a slight limp, is also fine and will practice and play this week.

As a result of his ten regular-season game suspension, freshman Nikola Dragovic will not make the trip to Maui with the team.  Although Dragovic is allowed to continue practicing with the team during his suspension, he is forbidden from traveling with the team on road trips.


Thursday, November 16, 2006

Malcolm Lee Verbally Commits to UCLA

By Bruin Basketball Report

Multiple recruiting news sources are reporting Malcom Lee of North (John W.) high school in Riverside California has given a verbal commitment to play at UCLA.

Lee is an elite guard who is rated the #33 and #52 top recruit in the 2008 class by Scout and Rivals, respectively. 

At 6'4 170 lb and solid ballhandling skills, Lee can play both the point and shooting guard positions.  He makes good decisions with the ball and has the ability to knock down shots from three-point distance.

Along with Jerime Anderson (Canyon HS, Anaheim), who committed to UCLA over the summer, Lee and Anderson will form a dynamic 2008 backcourt in Westwood.

And UCLA may not be done recruiting players for their 2008 backcourt since they are reportedly still pursuing Jrue Holiday of Campbell Hall, a guard considered one of the two best shooting guards in his class.

Although one has to wonder whether the Bruins will place a higher priority in recruiting a frontcourt player instead, such as Drew Gordon or Luke Babbitt, to play alongside Lee and Anderson in 2008. 

At this point, it may come down to the expected number of scholarships the Bruins will have at the time. With Chace Stanback and Kevin Love arriving next season and with Lee and Anderson committed in 2008, UCLA does not have any more available scholarships in 2008 unless a current player from the team, or perhaps Kevin Love, leaves early for the NBA.

Not a bad problem for UCLA Head Coach Ben Howland and his coaching staff to have as they continue to recruit and keep local elite talent in town.


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

UCLA Rallies to Defeat BYU in Opener

By Bruin Basketball Report

Box Score

Sophomore Luc Richard Mbah a Moute scored a career-high 24 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to lead the Bruins to an 82-69 victory over the BYU Cougars in their regular season opener.

The final 13-point margin of victory was not indicative of how close a contest it was Wednesday night at Pauley Pavilion. 

After UCLA broke to an early 10-2 lead to start the game, BYU came storming back on hot-shooting from the bench.  With BYU reserves Austin Ainge, Sam Burgess, and Mike Rose hitting 6 three-point baskets from long distance, the Cougars built a lead as wide as nine points before settling for a three point lead at intermission. 

With the Cougars shooting at a sizzling pace and the Bruin's offense struggling to keep up, UCLA was fortunate to only be behind by three at the half.

One reason the Bruins were able to stay close was due to their job in neutralizing BYU big man Trent Plaisted inside.  Lorenzo Mata formed a tag team with Alfred Aboya and Ryan Wright and played Plaisted physical inside.  The BYU red-shirt sophomore center scored only 4 points in the first half and finished with 7 points on 3 of 7 shooting.  He was in foul trouble for most of the game. 

UCLA doubled down on Plaisted whenever he received the ball inside and forced him into tough shot attempts or passes out to teammates. 

Mata, a surprise starter, was back in the lineup to anchor the paint after missing most of the preseason due to a knee injury.  He played 21 minutes recording 4 points, 4 rebounds, and altered a number of BYU shot attempts inside. 

At halftime, UCLA Head Coach Ben Howland exalted his team to stay tough and focused in the second-half.

"That's the thing about this team," Mbah a Moute said, "It never panics and it never gives up." 

After BYU's Keena Young scored on a lay-up to start the second half, the Bruins began to rally and take control of the game.  They went on a 10-0 run to regain the lead at 46-41.  Arron Afflalo found Mbah a Moute inside for a two-handed dunk to put the Bruins ahead. 

Mbah a Moute finished 7 of 10 from the field and 10 of 13 from the line. He was a frequent recipient of passes from fellow sophomore Darren Collison who finished with a career-high 16 points on 6 of 12 shooting and a career-high 10 assists.  More importantly, Collison played under control and was patient running the offense - he committed only one turnover in an up-tempo game. 

In addition, the Cougars shooting cooled down in the second half as a result of the law of averages but also due to more aggressive UCLA defense.  The Bruins only allowed three shots in the final seven minutes of the game and harassed the Cougars into 22 turnovers with most of them occurring during the Bruins second-half rally.

"Their pressure late in the game didn't allow us to get the ball where we wanted on the floor." BYU Head Coach Dave Rose said. "We weren't able to run our plays like we did earlier in the game."

"BYU is a great team, I guarantee they will be in the NCAA field of 65 at the end of the year, Howland said. "It was almost like a tournament game today, I had to play my veteran players more than I liked today."

Both Afflalo and Mbah a Moute played 34 minutes, Josh Shipp 32 minutes, and Darren Collison logged a game-high 38 minutes.  Freshmen James Keefe and Russell Westbrook played only 6 and 3 minutes, respectively, in the game.

"Towards the end of the game I told James (Keefe) and Russell (Westbrook), they'll have their chance to play more minutes in future games," Howland said. "Russell then turned to me and said it didn't matter and that he only cared about winning.  It showed me that these guys get it."

Josh Shipp had a solid if unspectacular first regular season game after returning from a hip injury he suffered last season.  Shipp scored 13 points and grabbed 4 rebounds, 3 on the offensive end.  He looked comfortable out on the floor and didn't appear to have any lingering effects from the injury.

Arron Afflalo scored 9 points on just 3 of 9 shooting.  It appeared at times he was not looking enough for his own shot.

"We've talked to Arron about being more aggressive and taking more shots," Howland said. "For us to be successful , we need him to take the first or second most shot attempts in a game."

The victory over BYU last night was a tough win and ultimately was a hallmark Ben Howland-type UCLA win.   Whether the Bruins become a more uptempo offensive team or decide to score more off half-court sets, at the end, it's defense that wins games.

(photo credit: Jack Rosenfeld)


Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Mata and Keefe Set To Play Against BYU

By Bruin Basketball Report

Lorenzo Mata and James Keefe are set to return to the lineup tonight when UCLA faces BYU, Head Coach Ben Howland announced yesterday.

“Lorenzo had his second full practice yesterday since returning from his injury and went through 45 minutes of full-contact,” Howland said. “He still gets winded due to his conditioning but his knee seems fine. How much he plays will depend on a number of factors.”

Mata’s return to the lineup would help solidify the Bruin interior defense. Last season, Mata averaged 1.1 blocks in just 14 minutes a game.

“I have no pain in the knee but it still gets a little sore after playing but its nothing some ice can’t take care of,” Mata said. “It feels strong and I’m going to work to strengthen it for the rest of the season to keep it from future injury.

Howland did not indicate how many minutes Mata will play against BYU, although the junior center feels he's ready to play as many as 20-25 mintues tonight if needed.

Keefe is also expected to play against BYU. Last week before the Humboldt State game, he and Arron Afflalo collided in practice resulting in Keefe suffering a strained neck and not playing in the exhibition game.

“James Keefe is fine and has been practicing with the team.” Howland said. “He's ready to play."

UCLA can use help in the post from both players when they face a quality big man in BYU’s Trent Plaisted, a 6’11 245 lb center. Plaisted was MWC Freshman of the Year last season averaging 13.6 points and 6.9 rebounds a game.

“Plaisted can play and start for many teams across the country,” Howland said. “He poses a number of problems for us with his size inside.”

With Lorenzo Mata returning from injury and joining sophomores Alfred Aboya and Ryan Wright in the middle, the Bruins will have a number of options to use against Plaisted.

“We have to take advantage of our strengths inside which will be quickness and athleticism.” Howland said. “Lorenzo gives us the most size and presence inside.  He's 6'9 but probably closer to 6’10 in shoes.”

Tip-off for tonight’s BYU game at Pauley Pavilion is 7:30PM.

BBR Notes: Sophomore forward Josh Shipp gleamed with pride when talking about his brother Jerren Shipp, a freshman at Arizona State, who scored 23 points against Northren Arizona on Monday.

“I am extremely happy for Jerren.” Josh Shipp said. “When family does well - it’s always a good thing. We talked a lot this summer and played together until he left for school. I’m really proud of him.”


Monday, November 13, 2006

UCLA vs. BYU - Game Preview

By Bruin Basketball Report

UCLA's regular season gets underway when the BYU Cougars visit Pauley Pavilion tomorrow evening.

The Cougars hail out of the Mountain West Conference (MWC) where they finished their first season under Head Coach Dave Rose at 20-8, good enough for second place in the conference and an NIT bid.

Coach Rose was named MWC Coach of the Year for turning around a team which had won only nine games the previous season.

BYU returns an extremely deep and experienced team.  Of the ten players the Cougars are expected to have in their rotation, six are seniors, two are juniors, and two are red-shirt sophomores. 

Although not as athletic as the Bruins, the Cougars do have good athletes at each position and prefer to play an up-tempo game.  They have a well-balanced offense which can go inside and out, and possess good size and length to bother teams on the defensive end.

The Cougar's main weapon in their arsenal is red-shirt sophomore center Trent Plaisted.  He averaged 13.6 point on 52% shooting and 6.9 rebounds last season.  Plaisted was voted MWC Freshman of the Year and was named to the All-American Freshman Second Team last season. 

At 6'11 245 lbs, Plaisted is a big and athletic center.  He is very active and possesses a great nose for the ball and will get his share of loose balls and offensive rebounds.  The Bruins will need to keep him off the boards and prevent Plaisted from getting second-chance points. 

The Bruin's will likely double-down on Plaisted as they did last season against most low-post scoring threats and make him prove he can pass effectively under pressure.  Plaisted averaged less than an assist last season.

Alfred Aboya will get the starting assignment against Plaisted.  Although Aboya may not have the size of Plaistad, he is physical and quick enough to keep Plaisted far enough from the basket so the Bruin double-team has enough time to form, in addition, sophomore reserve Ryan Wright will also get his chance against Plaisted.  Junior Lorenzo Mata is expected to play some minutes against BYU, however, the announcement on his status will not be known until later today.

At the power forward spot for BYU is Keena Young a 6'6 205 lb senior who averaged 10.3 points and 5.8 rebound last season while shooting 52.3% from the field. Young seems to always find himself around the ball and is a strong, unselfish player.  He is a solid defender and provides good help defense for teammates.   Luc Richard Mbah a Moute will get the initial assignment against Young.  With the Bruins short on the front line, it will be imperative for Mbah a Moute to have a strong overall game tomorrow.

Lee Cummard is a 6'6 175 lb sophomore forward who averaged 4.9 points and 2.3 rebounds last season.  A good all-around offensive player, Cummard makes good decisions on the court and can hit from the three-point arc where he made almost 40% last season in limited minutes.  Josh Shipp will get the assignment against Cummard, and will try to keep him occupied on both ends of the court.

At the two-guard, the Cougars have Jimmy Balderson a 6'6 200 lb senior.  He averaged 10.2 points and 3.3 rebounds last season but really came on strong toward the latter part of the season increasing his average to 15 points per game on over 50% shooting.  Balderson is a threat from the perimeter and beyond.  Arron Afflalo will get the assignment to check Balderson at the start.

Rashaun Broadus, from Mililani HI, started all but two games for BYU at the point last season.  He  is a 6'0 195 lb senior who averaged 9.0 points, 3.7 assists, and 1.3 steals in 2005-06.  Broadus is very quick and takes good care of the ball.  As quick as Broadus may be, Darren Collison is quicker but Broadus is bigger and has more experience - it should be an interesting match-up.

The BYU Cougar bench is as deep and experienced as any team UCLA will face this season. 

At 6'9 210 lb senior Fernando Malaman gives the Cougars size and another excellent outside shooter off the bench.

Senior Austin Ainge, yes Bruin fans of old - the son of (gulp) Danny Ainge, is a leader on the team.  The fact he leads while playing off the bench says a lot about him.  Without the ability and size of his father, Ainge can hurt teams when he gets a hot hand from the outside.

Mike Rose is a 6'3 senior and the coach's nephew.  He is a solid outside shooter who can help the Cougars stretch the defense to open up their inside game.

Vuk Ivanovic is a 6'10 250 lb junior from Serbia Montenegro.  He is a strong post player with excellent passing skills.  He is prone to fouls as he is still adjusting to the pace of the American game, but will provide adequate back-up minutes for Plaistad.

Former Newbury Park high school star,  Jordan Cameron, may also see some minutes in the game.  At 6'5 and very athletic, the Cougars may need him to help match-up with the Bruins on the floor.

The Bruins will look to continue pushing up the ball at every opportunity against the Cougars.  With Plaisted in the middle, BYU has an advantage offensively in the post, however, UCLA counters with superior players at every other position especially on the perimeter and should do well if they execute their offense properly and cut down on turnovers.

On the defensive end, we'll see the Bruins applying pressure defense throughout the half-court, in particular aggressively pressuring on the perimeter in order to make it tough for players to make easy entry passes into the post to Plaisted.

When reviewing UCLA's non-conference opponents at the start of the season, many overlooked the BYU Cougars game on the schedule.  However, there is an excellent chance this veteran and well-coached BYU team will make the NCAA tournament this year.  Considering the experience, size, and depth of the Cougars, this will be a tough first regular-season game match-up for the Bruins.

(photo credit: AP)


Sunday, November 12, 2006

Bruin Recruiting: Prep News Roundup (11/13)

By Bruin Basketball Report

Prep News Roundup is published every Monday.


For the third year in a row, a consensus of voters has pointed toward the Pacific Northwest when asked to identify the best college basketball prospect among high school seniors in the west. In voting among 67 college coaches and talent scouts, Kevin Love of Lake Oswego High in Oregon finished atop the balloting for the 28th Press-Telegram Best in the West team. Press Telegram 11/6

Kevin Love, a 6-10, 250-pound center from Lake Oswego HS (Lake Oswego, OR) and Chace Stanback, a 6-7, 210-pound guard/forward from Fairfax HS (Los Angeles) both signed a National Letter of Intent to attend UCLA, Bruin head coach Ben Howland announced Wednesday. Bruin Basketball Report 11/8

You will have the opportunity to get an early look at UCLA prize basketball signee Kevin Love on Feb. 3 when Love and his Lake Oswego, Ore., teammates play Mater Dei in the Nike Extravaganza at Mater Dei's new gym. The Nike Extravaganza will be a two-day event there Feb.2-3. OC Register 11/10

Gibbons, publisher of All Star Sports and a longtime college basketball recruiting analyst, published his rankings last week at UCLA signee Kevin Love edged Indiana recruit Eric Gordon for Gibbons' overall No. 1. Journal and Courier 11/13


This year, the unknown surrounding Artesia is about the eligibility of one player, incoming sophomore transfer Renardo Sidney. He happens to be regarded by most scouts as the top sophomore in the nation, a 6-10, 245-pound versatile talent orignally from Mississippi who made a national reputation for himslef on this summer's AAU circuit.  Gator Bait 11/9

The only other team from California in the preseason rankings is Mitty of San Jose at No. 47. The Monarchs feature 6-9 junior Drew Gordon, the state's top sophomore last year, in the middle and have a number of other key returnees plus a potential impact transfer coming in from Arizona. Gator Bait 11/9

The Washington Huskies capped their men's basketball recruiting class of 2007 by getting a letter of intent Thursday from forward Darnell Gant of Crenshaw High in Los Angeles. Gant, 6-foot-8, 210 pounds, was rated as the No. 12 prospect in the Long Beach Press-Telegram Best in the West poll earlier this week and chose UW over Oregon, Nevada, California and Kentucky. Seattle Times 11/10

Isaiah Thomas said he is leaving Curtis in University Place for South Kent to clear up some academic issues that will enable him to join the Huskies next season.  Thomas, a 5-foot-9 guard, was rumored to be having academic difficulties that might leave him ineligible this season....He committed to UW last April after also considering UCLA, Kentucky and Georgetown. Seattle Times 11/10

(photo credit: SI)