By Bruin Basketball Report
A dream match-up between the two most storied programs in college basketball takes place Tuesday evening when the No.5 UCLA Bruins (2-0) face off with the No.20 Kentucky Wildcats (3-0) in a second round game at he EA Sports Maui Invitational.
The last time these two schools met was at the 2003 Wooden Classic, Coach Ben Howland's first season at UCLA, when the Wildcats edged the Bruins 52-50.
Despite advancing to the second round of the NCAA tournament last season, Kentucky's Head Coach Tubby Smith has been under fire from fans and alumni demanding better results. Expectations for their basketball team in Lexington are just as high as those for Bruin basketball teams in Westwood.
No teams have won more NCAA men's basketball titles than UCLA with eleven and Kentucky with seven, and it is a match-up Maui tournament officials had in mind when the schedule was made.
Kentucky has a number of superb athletes who prefer an uptempo game and will run at every opportunity. The Bruins will need to get back in defensive transition better than they did against either BYU or Chaminade if they expect to slow down the Wildcat's offense.
With Rajon Rondo playing in the NBA this season, the Wildcats now have junior Ramel Bradley (6'2, 170 lb) at the point this year. He had suffered from off-court problems in the past but appears to have left all those issues behind him. Bradley has a reputation as a first shoot point-guard and Coach Tubby Smith has pleaded with him to distribute the ball more and to improve his defense in order to help the team. His play at the point has been erratic but he remains a dangerous offensive player. Against DePaul, he scored 16 points and had 4 assists in the win.
It will be an interesting match-up between Bradley and Collison, both are ultra-quick point guards who are establishing themselves as starters this season.
Joe Crawford (6'5, 211) starts at shooting guard for Kentucky. Strong and athletic, Crawford has struggled at times with consistency on offense and his effort on the defensive end. He scored 13 points and dished out 6 assists against DePaul on Monday.
Both Crawford and UCLA's Arron Afflalo are physical shooting guards and will be guarding each other most of the game. Afflalo's stellar defense and leadership on the team gives him a decided advantage in this match-up.
Starting at the other wing position will be Bobby Perry (Sr, 6'8, 215) who does a lot of the little thing to help a team win. He can hurt opponents if left unguarded from the outside. He scored 11 points against DePaul and also blocked two shots.
UCLA's Josh Shipp will need to keep an eye on Perry especially in defensive transition where Perry is known to pull up for three-point shots.
The Wildcats have two very athletic freshmen who can fill in at both wing positions; Jodie Meeks (6'5, 206) and Derek Jasper (6'6, 213). They each can get up and down the court and have provided the Wildcats with a spark off the bench on both ends of the court. If the offense becomes stagnant or the defensive effort is absent with the starters, Coach Tubby Smith has not been hesitant to insert both freshmen in the backcourt at the same time.
At power forward, Perry Stevenson (Fr, 6'9, 178) is an excellent shot-blocker. Although his slight build allows skilled opponents to knock him off the block, he possesses good timing and will improve as he gains more bulk. Sheray Thomas (Sr, 6'8, 236 lb) was suspended for the first two games of the season but returned against DePaul. As a junior last season, he averaged 4.3 points and 3.5 rebounds and gives the Wildcats more size up front
Both Stevenson and Thomas are not tremendous scorers, in addition, they will have their hands full checking UCLA's Luc Richard Mbah a Moute off the boards.
During the offseason, Coach Tubby Smith marveled over the improvement of 7'2 250 lb center Jared Carter; unfortunately, Carter injured himself and will be out for at least 4-6 more weeks. In the meantime, the Wildcats move big Randolph Morris (6'11, 259) back to center.
Morris is a good low post threat although he doesn't fully leverage his size and strength underneath. At times he lacks the explosiveness and aggressiveness to be considered an elite big man at this level. After three games this season, he is averaging almost 17 points and 9.7 rebounds a game. The Wildcats also bring in Luskasz Obrzut, a 7'0 270 lb from Poland, to spell Morris for a few minutes.
With Carter out with an injury, the Wildcats are somewhat thin on the front line and the Bruins may be able to exploit the fact that both Morris and Obrzut are foul-prone.
Although Mata's minutes have been limited due to his recovery from knee surgery, he has been the Bruin's anchor on defense. He played 19 minutes against Chaminade and it will be interesting how his knee responds to consecutive games in the tournament.
Mata has the size and defensive skills to neutralize Morris - but his minutes on the court will be short, in which case sophomores Alfred Aboya and Ryan Wright will be counted on to provide quality minutes in the middle. More than likely, the Bruins will double down on the post when Morris receives the ball.
Although the Wildcats will show a zone in certain situations, they are primarily a man-to-man defensive team and apply heavy defensive pressure in the half-court which helps to spur their running game.
The Wildcat's own transition defense has been somewhat suspect in the first few games this season, a weakness a more uptempo Bruin offense may be able to exploit on Tuesday.
It is imperative the Bruins take good care of the ball and control the boards, but most importantly, improve their transition defense if they expect to come out with a win.
(photo credit: AP)
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