Thursday, December 21, 2006

UCLA vs. Michigan - Game Preview

By Bruin Basketball Report

The UCLA Bruins renew their annual match-up for the fifth straight year with the Michigan Wolverines in an early Saturday game at Pauley Pavilion.

Last year the Bruins traveled to Ann Arbor during UCLA Finals Week and defeated the Wolverines, 68-61, behind Jordan Farmar's 21 and Arron Afflalo's 20 points.

The Wolverines finished 22-11 overall  and 8-8 (6th place) in the Big 10 conference last season.  After earning an NIT post-season invitation, Michigan marched all the way to the championship game before losing to Minnesota in the title game.

"Our next step is to make the NCAA Tournament.  That's certainly a driving force for us our program." said Michigan Head Coach Tommy Amaker. 

This season the Wolverines enter the game with an apparent impressive record of 11-1, however, Michigan has faced an extremely soft schedule to this point - their strength of schedule ranks a lowly 304th out of 333 teams in Division I.  Michigan's single loss was to North Carolina St., the only quality team they've faced this season, in Greensboro by the score of 74-67.

Michigan deploys both a man-to-man and zone defense. The defense is allowing just  54.3 points a game on 36% field-goal shooting (10th best in the NCAA), but those numbers were against the likes of Harvard and Wofford - of course, the Bruins will bring a completely different level of competition.

The Wolverines lost two key starting players from last year's team to graduation in PG Daniel Horton and PF Graham Brown, but they return a veteran group which includes four seniors and one junior in the starting lineup.

Senior center Courtney Sims (6'10, 245) is the team's leading scorer at 15.6 points and is averaging 7.6 rebounds and 1.4 blocks a game while shooting an astounding 66% from the field  A solid low-post player, Sims was averaging similar statistics last season when the two teams met in Ann Arbor last year, but he was only able to muster two field-goal attempts and was forced into four turnovers under the duress of an aggressive Bruin double-team.  Sims should expect the same type of treatment in this game.

"He's the best big kid I think we've played against offensively, maybe with the exception of Kentucky's Randolph Morris," UCLA Coach Ben Howland said. 'We did a good job on him last year by doubling him. He's very good at passing out of the post. They just missed a number of open shots. We've got our hands full with Sims. He's a real problem."

Replacing Graham Brown at the power-forward position is less beefy but more skilled offensively Brent Petway (Sr, 6'8, 210).  Petway is the teams leading rebounder (7.7) and shot-blocker (2.0).  He is shooting 61% averaging 8.1 points a game. Petway is a good weak-side help defender who can hit from mid-range.  He will have his hands full with a healthy Luc Richard Mbah a Moute.

Mbah a Moute is getting back into form after suffering a groin injury in the CS Fullerton game two weeks ago.  Against Sam Houston St.  Mbah a Moute had 9 points and 10 rebounds.  He also hit two shots from the perimeter including a three-pointer, yet its Mbah a Moute's rebounding and intangible efforts on the court  which is of greatest value to this team.

Ron Coleman (Jr, 6'6, 210) starts at one wing for Michigan.  He is a good defender and primarily an outside shooter averaging 8.7 points on 49% field goal shooting including 39% from beyond the arc.   

Coleman will be checked by Josh Shipp who has played improved defense in the past few games.  He has also been the Bruins' best all-around offensive performer this season.  He is averaging 14.6 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.4 assists while shooting 46% from the field including 40% on three-pointers.

Starting at the other wing for Michigan is senior Lester Abrams (6'6, 200) who is a steady all-around player.  A solid perimeter defender, Abrams is a slashing-type offensive player who can also hit from the outside.  He is averaging 8.4 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 2.4 assists a game.   

Abrams will be paired up against UCLA's Arron Afflalo.  Afflalo is leading the UCLA in scoring with a 15.9 average.  He suffered a sprained finger on his non-shooting hand against Sam Houston St. but is expected start against Michigan.

The backcourt took a precipitous drop this season with the graduation of team leader and point-guard Daniel Horton.  Without Horton, Michigan does not have a true point-guard.

Dion Harris (Sr, 6'3, 205) moves back to point-guard, a position he played two seasons ago before he was bumped to shooting-guard by Horton.  Harris takes the most shot attempts on the team, he is averaging 13.7 points on just 40% field goal shooting and 36% from beyond the arc.  While Harris has averaged 5.3 assists per game, he hasn't been particularly effective in setting the offense, and perhaps will need more games in the season to adjust to his new play-making role.

Michigan will bring three primary reserves off the bench in Jerret Smith, Ekpe Udoh, and Jevohn Shepard.

Jerret Smith (So, 6'3, 195) backs up Harris at the point, and will at times pair up with him in the backcourt at the same time.  He is averaging 3.8 points and 2.7 assists in 19.3 minutes per game. Smith is also shooting 35% from beyond the arc.

Freshman Ekpe Udoh (6'10, 240) has been a surprise contributer along the front line. A two-time defensive player of the year in high school, Udoh is averaging 4.6 points and 4.5 rebounds in 18.4 minutes a game. He is also averaging 1.8 blocks a game thanks to a 7'3 wingspan.

Jevohn Shepard (So, 6'5, 210) gives Michigan additional depth in the backcourt.  He is averaging 2.9 points and 1.9 assists a game.

Michigan is a veteran club with seniors looking to make a mark in their final season and the top-ranked Bruins (10-0) provide the Wolverines with their first real test.

However, UCLA should be motivated to play a team they are familiar with from the Big 10.  Ultimately, the Bruins' stifling defense and  superiority at the wing positions and especially in the backcourt should prove enough to propel them to a convincing victory on Saturday.

BBR Notes:  Freshman Nikola Dragovic returns to the line-up after a ten game suspension.  He is not expected to play many minutes, if at all, tomorrow against Michigan.  Dragovic is an excellent passer and three-point shooter who can help the team against zones.  The extent of playing time he'll get this year will depend on how he improves his defense.

"He's getting closer to an opportunity for some playing time. He's played even with a little bit more tenacity," Howland said. "I'm sure he'll have an opportunity to play. It starts by earning that in practice."

(photo credit: MGoBlue)


Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Former Bruin Ryan Hollins Recalled by Bobcats

By Bruin Basketball Report

Former Bruin Ryan Hollins was recalled from the NBDL by the Charlotte Bobcats and may see action later this week.

A second-round pick in the 2006 draft, Hollins had been assigned by the Bobcats to their NBDL affiliate Forth Worth Flyers on November 22.   

Bobcats Coach Bernie Bickerstaff was impressed with Hollins' athleticism and presence in the middle and wanted him to continue his development playing everyday in the D-league rather than just sit on the Bobcat bench.

Hollins played extremely well during his short five-game stint with the Flyers.  He was averaging a double-double, 12.2 points and 10.4 rebounds, as well as 2.0 blocks a game.  His play helped lead the Flyers to an NBDL best record of 7-1.

The former John Muir Pasadena HS star missed the past week with a mild ankle sprain but is currently practicing with the Bobcats.

Although it might appear Hollins was recalled as a result of an ankle injury suffered by Bobcats' forward Sean May last weekend, the Bobcats had already planned for Hollins to come back in December.

The idea, Bickerstaff said, was to avoid Hollins feeling detached from the parent club. Under current rules, they can still send Hollins to the D-league two more times and still retain his rights.

(photo credit: NBA)


Facts and Myths about UCLA's Schedule

By Bruin Basketball Report

Of course, UCLA's season officially started with a win over BYU, but Sam Houston State was the final lightweight on the schedule. -  Daily News

In defending an appearance by Sam Houston State at Pauley Pavilion, UCLA officials were quick to point out earlier this season that the Bearkats had an RPI rating of 55 out of 336 Division I teams. O.C. Register

Patsy Turns Into Minor Annoyance: This was supposed to be the last of the so-called cupcakes on the UCLA men's basketball schedule. Instead, for a half it gave a glimpse of the type of tests the Bruins will be seeing a lot of from now on.


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Bruins Put Away Bearkats, Remain Unbeaten

By Bruin Basketball Report

Box Score

With Sam Houston St. storming out to a 9-2 advantage in the game's first four minutes, UCLA turned to an unlikely weapon in their offensive arsenal: free-throw shooting. 

The Bruins shot 12-13 from the line in the first-half to take a 35-29 lead into half-time and then pulled alway in the second-half for a 75-61 victory.

After struggling all season from the charity stripe by shooting a miserable 59%, UCLA finished the game shooting 17-21(81%).

In contrast, the Bearkats, not free-throw shooting mavens themselves (68% for the season), converted on only 7-18 from the line.

The game was competitive from the start.  The Bearkats (6-5) came out ready to play the No.1 team in the land and stormed out to an early lead by executing their Princeton Offense to perfection, while the Bruin defense lacked intensity and players were slow in defensive switching assignments.

But after a couple of time-outs, the Bruin defense stiffened and they took their first lead with 8:22 remaining in the first-half at 15-14 on a lay-up by Josh Shipp.

Reserve center Alfred Aboya scored only four points in the game but he had two resounding blocks on outside jumpers by Bearkat's center Aaron Wade which seemed to spark the Bruin defense. Now, instead of allowing the Bearkats to take them off the dribble or to freely cut into the paint, the Bruins started doing a better job of denying penetration, pressuring the passer, and bumping Bearkat cutters out of the lane. 

"You're going to have games like this. We've got to come out with better intensity," UCLA point-guard Darren Collison said. "We're playing good teams coming up, so we have to pick up the intensity."

By the middle of the second-half, the Sam Houston players started to look weary and began launching numerous three-point shots rather than challenge the Bruins' physical defense.  Unfortunately for the Bearkats they shot a woeful 2-13 (15.3%) from beyond the arc in the game.

"This game was good for us to test our mental toughness on defense for long stretches of time." UCLA Coach Ben Howland said. "Other people are going to use that tactic against us."

With the Bearkats physically worn but still only behind 44-40 with 13 minutes remaining in the game, the Bruins went on a 18-5 run over the next eight minutes to put the game away.  UCLA shot a sizzling 64%  from the field in the second-half and finished 54% for the game.

Shipp had another phenomenal all-around game recording a game-high 18 points on 5-8 shooting including an impressive 8-8 from the line and 5 rebounds, while Darren Collison had 9 assists to go along with 11 points as top-ranked UCLA improved its record to a perfect 10-0.

Arron Afflalo had a rather quiet night offensively scoring 12 points on 4-9 shooting and made all four of his free-throws.  Luc Richard Mbah a Moute had a team-high 8 rebounds and added 9 points.

Freshman James Keefe showed more initiative on the offensive end than in past games - looking for his shot, he scored 5 points on 2-4 shooting including a three-point basket to go along with 2 rebounds in 10 minutes of play.

UCLA now begins a trek through the toughest portion of their schedule beginning with a Saturday home game against Michigan (start time at 11:00AM PT) and then Pac-10 conference play commences. 

"It's all starting now. We have to be mentally and physically prepared," Howland said. "I thought we could be close to where we are right now, but you have to take it one game at a time. Our league is the best since I've been here." 

BBR Notes:  Junior Arron Afflalo suffered a sprained finger during the game but he will be able to play against Michigan on Saturday.

(photo credit: Jack Rosenfeld)


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.


Bruins Remain No.1 in Polls, No.2 in RPI

By Bruin Basketball Report

With a 21-point romp over Oakland on Saturday UCLA retained its No.1 ranking in both the AP and ESPN/USA Today Coaches poll.  The Bruins are also ranked No.2 in the RPI ratings per Ken Pomeroy's ratings.

"Its great for the program, the players and the Pac-10," UCLA Coach Ben Howland said.  But the great thing about college basketball is that it will all be decided in the NCAA tournament and what really matters is April 3rd (championship game)."

On whether he felt his team was deserving of its No.1 ranking, Howland said "There are probably 15 teams who are very close to one another.  There is so much parity in college basketball that the difference between teams is minute."

UCLA junior guard Arron Afflalo gave his perspective on warding off teams looking to knock off No.1.

"We realize it gives opponents an incentive to play hard against us," Afflalo said.  We have to find a way to fight off an opponent's adrenaline at the start of the game, and once we get through the first part of the game ourselves we tend to settle down.

Other Pac-10 teams in the polls: Arizona solidified its position at No.9 with a win over Houston (87-62); Washington is No.17 after defeating Portland St. (105-73); and Oregon is No.21/23 with victories over Eastern Washington (100-74) and Idaho St. (84-55)   

Washington St. received votes in both polls again this week.  The Bruins face the Cougars in their Pac-10 conference opener on 12/28.

Pittsburgh previously ranked No.2 in both polls fall to No.7 after losing to Wisconsin on Saturday.


Sunday, December 17, 2006

Bruin Recruiting: Prep News Roundup (12/18)

By Bruin Basketball Report

Prep News Roundup is published every Monday.


It would be hard to ignore the game turned in by Love, who had 36 points and 19 rebounds. He also played approximately the last four minutes of the game with four fouls. Without his teammates, though, Kevin Love would have been hard-pressed to win this game by himself. Lake Oswego Review 12/13

Kevin Love is like a rock star headlining a cross-country tour, except it's what he can do with a basketball and not a guitar that has fans shrieking in envy. Love, a 6-foot-9 1/2 center from Lake Oswego, Ore., is coming to Los Angeles on Friday night, playing Compton Centennial at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion, his future home court. L.A. Times 12/13

With 31 seconds left, Fairfax experienced a scary moment. UCLA-bound Chace Stanback went for a dunk but picked up a foul and crashed to the court. He appeared to be in severe pain, but it was only cramps in both legs. L.A. Times 12/14

What they saw was a 6-foot-9 1/2 senior from Lake Oswego, Ore., who could play the starring role in any highlight film demonstrating the fundamentals of basketball. From making 10 consecutive free throws to blocking nine shots, from grabbing 13 rebounds to scoring 25 points, Kevin Love was a formidable force in Lake Oswego's 58-37 victory over Compton Centennial before 1,500 in the second game of the Verbum Dei Paul Pierce Real Run Winter Classic. L.A. Times 12/16

Likewise, the coaching staff at UCLA tried to convince Oregon big man Kevin Love to commit early to the Bruins, put himself on an academic fast track and enter school in time to play this season. (Can you imagine the nation's No. 1 team with Love in the lineup right now?) Love wasn't ready to commit early enough to clear that bar, but it's only a matter of time before someone else does. SI 12/17


Rick Pitino already has one 2008 commitment from a California big man – 7-0 San Diego junior Jeff Withey. Is the Louisville coach looking to add another west coast giant to the Cardinals roster? 6-10 Edgar Garibay, a junior from Compton (CA) High School, made an unofficial visit to Louisville last weekend. Garibay, a three-star prospect, watched the Cardinals play in the NABC Classic. Sports Washington 12/10

The Pioneers are loaded with talent....Piney Woods and transfer Renardo Sidney. Artesia is the third nationally ranked team that Galena (2-3) has faced this season. The Grizzlies, who are coming off a 77-73 victory over View Park (Calif.), are led by highly recruited 6-foot-8 center Luke Babbitt (25 ppg last season) Nevada Appeal  12/13

The game then turned into a struggle for Mitty, but The Chronicle's top-ranked team was able to pull out a victory on the road, beating Bishop O'Dowd 61-52. It's the type of win teams like to point to when they prepare for the postseason. "We have to get used to calls not going our way and keeping our composure," Drew Gordon said. San Francisco Chronicle 12/13

Pioneers senior guard James Hardin (an Arizona State signee), junior guard Malik Story (USC), senior guard Martin Whitmore and the No. 1-rated sophomore in the nation, 6-foot-9 Renardo Sidney each had 19 points in the win. Senior guard Anthony Gasporra also chipped in 10 for Artesia....A Luke Babbitt drive cut the lead to nine at 43-34 before Artesia stretched its lead back to 13 on a finger-roll by Harden. Nevada Appeal 12/14

In the end, the point differential was slightly worse as Artesia walked away with a 21-point 71-50 win, but Douglas was able to make it interesting until well into the third quarter in the first round of the George Maldonado Classic at Galena High School....For Artesia, Renardo Sidney, the No. 1-rated sophomore in the country, and James Harding each had 18 points to lead the Pioneers. Record-Courier 12/14

Derrick Taylor, the most successful boys' basketball coach in Woodland Hills Taft history, said Thursday he will finish out this season but then step down as coach because he no longer wants to deal with parents complaining about their sons' playing time....This season's team, led by junior point guard Larry Drew Jr., is off to a 5-1 start. L.A. Times 12/15

Drew Gordon, a 6-foot-8 junior power forward, finished with a double-double. He had a game-high 18 points, 14 rebounds and five blocked shots for Mitty. He put the game away with a two-handed jam, which put the Monarchs up 60-55 with just 54 seconds to go.  Inside Bay Area 12/16

With the victory, Galena improved to 4-4 on the season and will play Artesia (Lakewood, Calif.) in the championship game today at 5 p.m....Luke Babbitt led all scorers with 40 points ("I felt like if the shots were there, I'd take 'em," he said).  Nevada Appeal 12/16

Verdell Jones has a problem. He can't gain weight. "I do everything to try," the Champaign Central High School guard said Saturday. "I eat five, six meals a day. My dad says it will take time." While Jones would like to add muscle to his slender 6-foot-4 frame, the smooth junior showed his game is plenty strong in the inaugural Shootout at the Hall. 12/16

He is barely Mater Dei's tallest player, though, since 6-10 twins Travis and David Wear are in the starting lineup this season for the first time. They will be McDonald's All-American candidates in two years, but for now the team's best player remains Duke signee Taylor King. Naples News 12/17

Artesia 63, Galena 40. Galena center Luke Babbitt's lay-up narrowed the gap to three (22-19) and his 3-pointer brought the Grizzlies back within two (24-22) with 5:00 remaining in the third quarter. Babbitt had a team-high 25 points, but no other Grizzly finished in double figures. Renardo Sidney had a team-high 24 points Nevada Appeal 12/17

Drew Gordon, regarded as one of the top juniors in the country, finished with 13 points, but also battled early foul trouble and had just one basket in the fourth quarter as the Warriors turned up their defensive pressure. Inside Bay Area 12/17

(photo credit: Jack Rosenfeld)