Friday, December 29, 2006

UCLA vs. Washington - Game Preview

By Bruin Basketball Report

Top-ranked UCLA hosts the No. 13 ranked Washington Huskies in a New Year's Eve game at Pauley Pavilion.

On Thursday night UCLA (12-0) earned a hard-fought victory over an incredibly tough WSU Cougars team, 55-52.  Darren Collison scored all of his team-high 13 points during a Bruin second-half rally for the win. 

Across town at the Galen Center, Washington went into double-overtime against USC before losing 86-79.  The Huskies were foul-plagued committing 30 personal fouls while sending the Trojans to the free-throw line 39 times.  Four Washington players fouled out by games end.

The Huskies are 10-2 with both of their losses coming on their only two road games this season.

Washington lost Brandon Roy, one of the nation's top players, to graduation and return a very young squad for the 2006-07 season.  The Huskies start two sophomores and three freshmen. 

With such a young team the Huskies are expected to be inconsistent during the early course of the season - as evidenced by their loss to USC, but by season's end if they continue to mature the Huskies have a chance to go deep into the tournament.

Huskies' Head Coach Lorenzo Romar coaches his teams to run the court and score in transition whenever possible.  Washington is the top scoring team in the conference and 4th overall in the nation with a 88.9 point average.  Alternatively, they also give up a lot of points with opponents averaging 76.8 points a contest due to the uptempo pace of the game.

UCLA needs to play solid transition defense to slow down Washington's running game.  Although the Bruins like to run and will need some easy baskets in transition, they will not win the game if they get into a track meet with the Huskies.

While the Huskies enjoy playing transition basketball, this season they are also dangerous on the halfcourt in the low-post as they sport one of the nation's best frontcourt tandem in Jon Brockman and Spencer Hawes.

UCLA Coach Ben Howland will usually have his team double-down on quality low-post players, but Washington has two big men who can both score, in addition, Hawes has shown to be an adept passer.  Subsequently, the UCLA defense will need to be quick and very aggressive on their double teams and defensive rotations; otherwise, Hawes and Brockman will have a field day picking which shooters to pass out to.

#40 Jon Brockman (So, 6'7, 245), who plays as wide as he is tall, is averaging a double-double this season - 12.1 points and 10.2 rebounds while shooting 53% from the floor.  The sophomore possesses a strong inside game and is near impossible to knock off the block.  Brockman also complements the Huskies' transition game as he runs the floor very well.

In what will be a spotlight match-up as long as these two players remain collegiates together, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Brockman will square off.  Mbah a Moute has enjoyed his two finest defensive performances over the last two games and will need to be in top form against Brockman. 

Mbah a Moute and the rest of the Bruins will need to be active on the boards as Washington is a very good rebounding team, out-boarding  opponents by a 12.9 margin per game.

#10 Spencer Hawes was the No.2 top center high school prospect in the nation last year.  With high expectations abound with those type of credentials, Hawes has not disappointed so far.  The 6'11 225 lb center is leading the team in scoring at 16.2 points a game while shooting an astounding 62.1% from the field.  He has already scored more than 20 points five times this season.

The freshman center  has an outstanding offensive-repertoire.  Hawes can score with his back to the basket using his ambidextrous skills to score around or over defenders.  He can also step out and hit consistently from midrange.  Coach Romar has so much confidence in his shooting touch that he chose Hawes take a three-point shot with one second remaining to send the USC game into a second overtime.

Hawes patrols the paint well leading the team in blocked shot with 2.4 a game.  As a young player he needs to bulk up his body and can still improve on his rebounding and low-post defense at this point.

Lorenzo Mata will have his hands full against Hawes and will need to body up and be physical with the freshman to keep him away from the basket in order to allow time for the UCLA double-team to form.

At the small forward spot is ultra-athletic freshman #24 Quincy Pondexter (6'7, 220).  He is second on the team in scoring with a 14.2 average while shooting 51% from the field including 44% from three-point distance.

Although Pondexter has shot well from the perimeter, his big-time talent is slashing into the paint and scoring around the basket.  He's also aggressive on the boards, especially on the offensive end, averaging 5.3 rebounds a game.

Arron Afflalo, who will likely get the assignment, needs to pressure the freshman and keep the ball out of his hands.  When Pondexter does get the ball, Afflalo needs to keep him out of the paint and force him to shoot from the perimeter.  In addition, Afflalo has averaged only 1.6 rebounds a game and against Pondexter he will need to do a much better job on the boards

Freshman #2 Adrian Oliver (6'3, 180) has been starting at the two-guard for the Huskies.  He is averaging 6.1 points and 2.5 assists a game, but his contributions to the team don't show up in the stat book.

Oliver is a tough all-around player who makes all his teammates around him better with his hustle and savvy play on the court.   He has the combo-skills to play both guards spots at this level.

At point guard is sophomore #5 Justin Dentmon (5'10, 180) who has continued his solid play from his All-Freshmen Pac-10 season and is the key to the Huskies' running game  He is averaging 11.7 points and 4.8 assists a game. 

Dentmon still needs to improve his perimeter shot averaging 44% from the field 30% from beyond the arc, but his effectiveness comes from the ability to run the offense in transition and dribble-penetrate in the half-court. 

Darren Collison needs to put a lot of pressure on Dentmon defensively while preventing him from getting into the paint. Against Washington St., Collison and Afflalo had problems stopping Derrick Low's dribble-penetration but they still won the game since the Cougars lacked other scorers -- the Huskies have plenty of offensive weapons.

The Huskies have some depth on the bench.  The first player off the bench is veteran guard #20 Ryan Appleby (6'2, 170).  The floppy hair junior is a streaky shooter who can light it up from beyond the arc.  This season he is shooting 42% on three-pointers.

#22 Hans Gasser (Sr, 6'9, 230) backs up Brockman at forward.  He is the only scholarship-senior on the team. Gasser can play both inside and on the perimeter and is averaging 4.8 points on 45% shooting.

#44 Phil Nelson (Fr, 6'8, 220) has an excellent outside shooting stroke,  Although he has been inconsistent this season with his shot (41% from the field and 28% 3PT), with more seasoning Nelson will be a player to contend with down the line. 

#11 Brandon Burmeister (6'4, 190), a walk-on senior guard, has averaged 4.6 points in 11.5 minutes a game and gives the team some veteran presence on the floor.

The Bruins are a battle-tested team who know how to win close games.  Despite having a young squad and losing a tough game on Thursday, the Washington Huskies provide the Bruins with perhaps their toughest challenge of the season on Sunday.

(photo credit: UW Athletic Dept)


Thursday, December 28, 2006

Bruins Survive Scare from Cougars

By Bruin Basketball Report

Box Score

With a bull's-eye emblazoned across every UCLA uniform, the Washington Cougars came into Pauley Pavilion and gave the Pac-10 champions their best shot, but were turned away at the end as the top-ranked Bruins (12-0) remained undefeated with a hard-earned 55-52 victory before a roaring crowd of 11,102.

Washington St. (11-2) played inspired defense jumping out to an early 19-9 lead using their own brand of stifling man-to-man pressure defense which frustrated the Bruins into some quick and ill-advised shots.  The Bruins started the game a horrendous 4 of 16 from the field.

The Cougars played solid team defense with Kyle Weaver and Robbie Cowgill giving Bruin shooters fits all night.  Weaver used his athleticism and length to harass UCLA's leading scorer Arron Afflalo into 4-11 shooting and three turnovers while Cowgill provided outstanding help defense blocking four shots in the game.

Washington St. also did a good job shutting down the UCLA transition game by sending three and sometimes four players back after every shot attempt.

Offensively, Washington St.'s motion offense made UCLA work hard throughout most of the shot clock - helping to set a slower tempo favored by the Cougars. 

Derrick Low provided most of the early offense for Washington St. by beating his defender, either Afflalo or Darren Collison, off dribble penetration for a dish to a teammate or scoring lay-up.

With the Bruins unable to generate much offense and the Cougars playing possession ball, Washington St. went into halftime with a 28-24 lead.  The Bruins finished the first-half shooting a sub-par 27.6% from the field.

At halftime UCLA Coach Ben Howland stressed to his players the need to get tougher on defense especially on the perimeter to stop Low's dribble-penetration.  He also wanted his offense to be more patient and look for higher-percentage shots.

The Bruins responded and came out with much more intensity in the second-half and slowly began to gain the upper-hand in the game.

The turning point occurred at the thirteen-minute mark.  With the Bruins down by five, 39-34, Derrick Low drove the baseline for a layup only to have it swatted away by UCLA's Luc Richard Mbah a Moute.  Mbah a Moute controlled the ball and got it to a streaking Afflalo who nailed a three-point shot off the break - a five-point turnaround which brought the crowd into the game and sparked life into the Bruins.

"The crowd was rooting us back into this game," Howland said. "If this game was in Pullman, we'd lose."

Mbah a Moute gave a tenacious defensive effort in the second-half by disrupting the Cougars' offensive flow with his quickness and size.  He finished with a solid game recording 10 rebounds, 3 blocks, and 3 steals. 

Sophomore Michael Roll hit a big three-pointer to put the Bruins up by six with 3:33 remaining in the game.  Prior to the basket, Roll had been having a frustrating night shooting just 0-3 from the field and getting beat a few times on back-door cuts on the defensive end.

The Cougars cut the lead to one point with under a minute left in the game but then Derrick Low, with Darren Collison closing out aggressively on him, missed a tough three-point shot with 12 seconds remaining to end their chances.

Collison, who had played rather passively at the start of the game finishing with no points and three personal fouls in the first-half, came out after intermission with vengeance. 

Despite starting the second-half on the bench to protect him from getting a fourth foul early, the sophomore point-guard took charge of the offense scoring all 13 of his points in the second-half including two key three-pointers.  Collison also finished with 4 assists, a career-high 7 rebounds, and played solid defense on Low down the stretch.

"That first half was Darren's poorest of the year," Howland said. "But he's a great competitor. That's Darren's best attribute, his competitiveness."

Playing with a sprained ankle he hurt on Tuesday at practice, sophomore Josh Shipp played 32 minutes and scored 11 points.

"Josh played hurt and gave us some gutsy minutes today." Howland said. "Without him we would have lost the game." 

Despite being out-shot in the field by the Cougars 43.2% versus 32.7%, UCLA won on the strength of their rebounding (40 to 28) which created eleven more possessions for the Bruins in the game.  In addition, the Bruins shot well from three-point distance (8-19) 42.1%  while the Cougars shot only 3-12 for 25%

"Our offense was really inept.  To be able to win a game shooting 33 percent doesn't happen very often," Howland said. "There was no player movement and that's my responsibility and we will get better. If we don't, we will get beat."

The Cougars hurt themselves at the free-throw line.  Washington St. was a miserable 11-19 (57.9%) from the line.  Derrick Low, an 82% free-throw shooter, finished 1-4 from the stripe including two big misses down the stretch.

The Bruins will take a victory no matter how it comes to them.  They will face a much more up-tempo team in their next contest when they face Washington on Sunday afternoon. 

The Huskies were upset Thursday night in a double-overtime loss to USC, 86-79.

(photo credit: Jack Rosenfeld)


Wednesday, December 27, 2006

UCLA vs. Washington St - Game Preview

By Bruin Basketball Report

The Pac-10 season finally arrives as UCLA faces off against the Washington St. Cougars this evening at Pauley Pavilion.

UCLA is entering Pac-10 conference play with a lot of momentum.  The Bruins (11-0) are off to their best start since the 1993-94 season when they went 14-0, and last Saturday played one of their best all-around games of the season trouncing Michigan, 92-55.

The Cougars are also starting conference play with a full head of steam.  In their last contest, they held a very good San Diego St. team to twenty points below their season's average winning 64-54.  New Head Coach Tony Bennett, son of former coach Dick Bennett, has the Cougars rolling with an 11-1 record including a victory over Gonzaga in Pullman. 

Like his Dad, Bennett is still coaching a Princeton-type offense based upon a lot of motion and cuts, however, the younger Bennett has opened up the offense a bit and the Cougars are averaging ten more points a game this season.

In the past, the Cougar teams would take up most of the shot clock before even glancing up at the rim, much less take a shot.  This year Bennett has given his players the green-light to shoot the ball earlier in the clock if they have a high-percentage shot available to them.  In addition, the Cougars are pushing the ball up after missed shots, and even after made baskets, in order to find easy scores in transition.

But the Cougars are still about ball-control, high-percentage shooting, and solid defense, they realize they can't beat most teams, who are likely more athletic, in a wide-open game and instead try to outlast them at the end.

Not surprisingly, they are one of the top teams in the nation in committing the least turnovers averaging only 12.1 per game.  The Cougars have always been proficient at three-point shooting and this year's team is no different averaging 38.7% from beyond the arc.

Washington St. still plays a pressure man-to-man half-court defense.  They are leading the Pac-10 conference in scoring defense allowing just 58 points a game on 40.6% shooting.

The Cougars are a veteran club with players who understand the intricacies of the complex offense they run.  They start one of the conference's top backcourts in Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver.

Point-guard Derrick Low (Jr, 6'1, 186) was injured most of last season and wasn't able to regain his All Pac-10 Freshman form when he rejoined the team in February, however, he has come back this season with vengeance  leading the Cougars in scoring averaging 15.5 points a game on 50.7% shooting including 44.3% from three-point distance.

One of the biggest benefactors of a more open Cougar offense, Low has scored over 20 points in three games including 28 against UAB.  Although Low's assist totals are down this season (1.6) , the Cougars still run their half-court offensive sets through him at the point.

Weaver (Jr, 6'5, 185) is a solid all-around performer.  He is averaging 10.4 points, 4.6 rebounds and leads the team in assists with 3.8.  Weaver prefers to get his shots off cuts using his athleticism and length to get into the paint.  He is the Cougars' best defender and will try to slow down UCLA's leading scorer Arron Afflalo.

Forward Harmeling (6'7, 216) is a red-shirt sophomore who is giving the Cougars solid offensive output.  He is averaging 8.5 points on 52.4% shooting including 37% from three-point distance.  He scored 20 points on 4 of 9 three-point shooting to key the victory over Gonzaga.

At the other front court spot the Cougars start Robbie Cowgill (Jr, 6'10, 207).  He is averaging 7.0 points and 5.3 rebounds a game.  Cowgill is not a good low-post scorer but he has a solid understanding of the offense and sets good screens and passes well within within it.  Despite his rail-sized upper body, Cowgill is a solid low-post defender and good shot-blocker.

Its uncertain who the Cougars will start at the fifth spot.  With a good amount of depth on the roster, they've used numerous combinations based upon match-ups.   

At times Bennett has gone to a smaller lineup starting point-guard Mac Hopson alongside Weaver and Low in the backcourt, but he has also gone with a bigger lineup starting either Ivory Clark , Nikola Koprivica or Aron Baynes.

Most likely against UCLA, Bennett will go with a bigger lineup in order to create a more favorable match-up in the backcourt by forcing Arron Afflalo, UCLA's best defender, to guard the bigger Weaver instead of their best scorer Low.

Ivory Clark (Sr, 6'5, 212) is a rugged under-sized interior player whom Coach Bennett prefers to come off the bench.  He is the team's third-leading scorer averaging 9.4 points and second-leading rebounder with 5.0.

Nikola Koprivica (Fr, 6'6, 211) is a freshman from Serbia.  He has been playing major minutes recently scoring 11 points in the victory over San Diego St.  Koprivica is shooting over 36% from beyond the arc.

Center Aron Baynes (So, 6'10, 247) has struggled coming back from major ankle surgery over the summer and has played limited minutes.  He has played in only 7 of 12 games averaging 3.9 points and 2.4 rebounds in 12 minutes a contest.  Baynes gave the Bruins problems last season in Pullman scoring 10 points and grabbing 8 rebounds

Point-guard Mac Hopson (So, 6'2, 175), a transfer from Idaho College, has been solid from beyond the arc shooting a magnificent 60%.  Hopson is averaging 6.6 points and 3.4 assists in 22.4 minutes a game

Despite both teams sporting higher scoring averages this season, the game should be a hard-fought battle between two defensive stalwarts.  The Bruins are allowing only 59.8 points on 41.1% field goal shooting themselves.

UCLA Coach Ben Howland has his team prepared for this next phase of the season.  He has made sure his players understand that the purpose of early non-conference games was to prepare them for the Pac-10 conference season. 

With the conference so very strong this season, every conference game will be crucial.

"Whoever wins the Pac-10 this season," Howland said, "will get the number one seed in the NCAA tournament at the end of the year."


Tuesday, December 26, 2006

UCLA Bruins Basketball: Progress Report

By Bruin Basketball Report

Despite losing three starters from last year's team and possessing no seniors, the Bruins have displayed a level of cohesiveness normally found only on veteran clubs.  Perhaps the fact that the sophomore and junior laden team is NCAA tournament battle-tested having played in six tournament games, including the championship final, has something to do with it.

This UCLA team has a swagger about itself. 

Players give the impression they can win any game, at anytime, anywhere. 

Its not cockiness. Instead, its an assuredness they have in each other, a belief in the system they play within, and a trust in its coaching staff.

It's unrealistic to expect UCLA will go undefeated this season, especially considering the strength of the Pac-10 conference, but it is a special team, which if it can remain injury-free and continue to improve, it may go deep in the tournament. 

How far will it go in the tournament?  As last year's UCLA team demonstrated, once you're in the tournament - anything can happen.

How are the Bruins doing so far this year as the Pac-10 conference season begins this week?  Despite an 11-0 record and an average margin of victory of 17.5 points over opponents, UCLA is doing many things right but even the No.1 team in the nation still has areas to improve upon.   

BBR takes an in-depth look at the progress of the 2006-07 UCLA team.

Starters: B+

The attitude of teammates and the tone on the court is set by Ben Howland's first UCLA recruit, junior Arron Afflalo.  He is a selfless warrior who expects more of himself than anyone else.  Afflalo puts the burden of a missed shot or a team loss equally on his own shoulders.

One of the best perimeter defenders in the nation, Afflalo takes every defensive assignment as a personal challenge.  He is asked to guard the opponent's best offensive backcourt player which at times can take a toll on his offensive game. 

He is the team's leading scorer at 16.0 points while shooting 47.1% from the field and 38.6% on three-pointers.  His three-point percentage would be higher if not for a horrendous 3-16 shooting stretch in Maui.  Afflalo's rebounding totals (1.6) are noticeably low this season but Coach Ben Howland has placed extra heavy emphasis on transition defense which requires Afflalo to head back immediately after any Bruin shot attempt thus lessening his rebounding opportunities.

Afflalo explored entering the NBA draft after last season before deciding to return for his third season at UCLA, and the Bruins are glad he made the right choice.

Red-shirt sophomore Josh Shipp is close to playing at the level he displayed prior to his hip-injury two summers ago. 

Shipp has improved his defensive effort since the start of the season perhaps delivering his finest performance against Michigan by applying good pressure on the outside and stepping into passing lanes.  He needs to maintain this defensive effort throughout the season to help take some of the pressure off Afflalo who last year had defensive stalwart Cedric Bozeman helping him with the opponent's top guns.

Shipp has the craftiness and body control to find his way to the basket and get up a shot.  He is tied on the team for most free-throw attempts.  Paired with Afflalo, they make-up one of the finest set of offensive wings in the nation.  Shipp gives the Bruins the additional offensive threat they lacked last season.  He is averaging 14.9 points on 47.9% shooting and 38.3% from beyond the arc.

UCLA is running in transition more often this season and as a result they are averaging 9.7 more points a game. With Afflalo and Shipp gliding down on the wings, the Bruins have the perfect point-guard to push the ball up the court in sophomore Darren Collison.

Many were concerned with the early departure of Jordan Farmar to the NBA last season and uncertain whether Collison could handle the full-time point-guard duties, but the kid from Etiwanda HS has proved he can not only just step in but can add a little more.

Collison is averaging 13.0 points and 6.2 assists a game this season.  He is shooting an astounding 59.3% from the field and 44.8% from three-point distance. Despite turning the ball over more in recent games, he has played under control while directing the halfcourt offense.  But its his extra-gear which has transformed the offense from strictly a halfcourt team into a multi-faceted offense that can beat you in different ways including in transition.

Defensively, Collison has been superb.  He is on the front line of the Bruin defense, picking up opposing guards in the backcourt and harassing them until they give up the ball.  Considering the Bruins are not big inside the paint, the perimeter defensive pressure Collison, along with Afflalo and Shipp, applies is key in preventing teams from exploiting the Bruin's defensive weakness in the low post with easy entry passes.

Overall, Collison still needs to improve on his turnovers with Coach Howland pointing out that he needs to dribble lower especially in traffic to avoid them.

Sophomore Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is averaging 10.5 points on 58% shooting and a team-leading 7.4 rebounds a game.  He had one of his finest games of the season against Michigan on Saturday.   

Although he scored only 13 points and grabbed 2 rebounds, he disrupted Michigan's game with his low-post defense and quickness and size on the court .  Mbah a Moute's most important value to the team is the intangibles he brings to a game. Opponents have to be concerned with keeping him off the boards and his uncanny ability to always be around the ball.   

Mbah a Moute has developed a quick first-step which most power forwards have problems defending.  At this point. his outside shot is still inconsistent but If he ever develops a mid-range jumper - he will be near-impossible to guard.  Yet, its Mbah a Moute's defense, hustle and rebounding the Bruins need for them to be successful this season.

6'9 center Lorenzo Mata has provided solid play in the middle for the Bruins.  Plagued by early season knee-surgery, he is averaging just 24 minutes a game but is second on the team in rebounding with 6.5 and leads the team in blocks with 1.2. 

He is developing more confidence in a half-hook shot in games and is averaging 6.5 points on 62.3% shooting, although the Bruins count on Mata to deliver more bone-crunching picks, defense, and rebounding than field goal attempts. 

Mata has struggled mightily, and has become a liability, at the free-throw line shooting just 27.8%.  He obviously must improve in this area if he is to effective on the court late in the game.

While he is strong help defender, Mata has struggled at times with single-coverage post defense even against smaller players, allowing opponents to get too deep on the blocks against him.  Although Howland usually compensates for any offensive mismatches inside with aggressive double-teams, a team with good passing big men, such as Florida demonstrated and perhaps Spencer Hawes and Jon Brockman of Washington, may be able to expose this defensive weakness.

Bench: B

Sophomore Alfred Aboya has been the first Bruin off the bench this season.  Despite being under-sized for a center, Aboya makes it up with his aggressiveness and energy.  Aboya is averaging 4.0 points on 51.5% shooting. in 13.7 minutes a game.  He improved his low-post offense over the summer, using his quickness to get to the rim and also is gaining confidence in a 12-15 foot jumper. 

Aboya has struggled with foul trouble in some games which has left sophomore Ryan Wright as the next option at center.  Wright's early season play has not earned him extra minutes in the rotation.  He still has time to step up this season, but with others getting appreciably better with every practice and game, Wright may be hard pressed to see more action aside than as a third option at center.

The five spot is a vulnerable area on the UCLA team.  If Mata suffers another injury this season or gets into early foul trouble, the team does not appear to have enough depth to compensate.

Michael Roll has become more of a complete player this season. Known primarily as a three-point threat, Roll re-tooled over the summer and added a mid-range game.  He is averaging 5.3 points on 43.4% shooting and 37.5% from beyond the arc in 16.5 minutes of play a game.

Roll has the size and skill to play both the two and three spot and has been the primary substitute for Shipp and Afflalo.  Coupled with solid defense and passing, he has become a valuable player off the bench in his second season.

While still adjusting to college-level ball, freshman Russell Westbrook has given UCLA solid minutes at back-up point-guard.  Although he still has much to learn about the UCLA point-guard position, Westbrook has provided good on-the-ball defensive pressure and is shooting well from the field 48.5% overall and 55.6% from three-point distance. 

He is averaging only 9.1 minutes per contest, mainly because he's still learning the position but also because Darren Collison is playing so well.  Yet, the Bruins will need a more experienced and game-tested Russell Westbrook by NCAA tourney time.

After starting the season rather timidly, freshman James Keefe has come on strong over his last two games averaging 4.5 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks in 9.5 minutes of play  He will need more games with similar effort if he is to gain a regular spot in Coach Howland's rotation.  With little depth along the front line, a big contribution from Keefe would bode well for the Bruins chances this season.

Nikola Dragovic returned to the team after sitting out the first ten games of the season due to a suspension. Although he is a highly skilled passer and shooter with good size, he may find it difficult to gain a spot in the team's regular rotation.  With Pac-10 conference play starting, there may be less experimentation with line-ups and player rotations shortened.  Still, the Serbian is a big time talent who may still contribute to the team this season.

Coaching: A+

What happens when a team losses three starters to the NBA in a year?  The team goes undefeated through eleven games if you're coached by Ben Howland.

In his fourth year at the helm, Coach Howland has his own recruits playing in his system.   

He not only recruits highly-skilled ball players but also recruits Ben Howland-type  players: high character, team-oriented, and highly-competitive winners. 

He has developed a foundation at UCLA which will make 25-plus victory seasons and a high NCAA tournament seeding an annual event in Westwood. 

Howland's fundamental system of hard-nosed solid team defense and high-percentage offense, matching the talent of his team, is a winning combination.  Last season with Jordan Farmar at the helm and a less offensive-potent line-up, the Bruins played a highly-structured offense. This season, with high-scoring wings and a speedster at point, the Bruins have become more of a running team -- yet, the common denominator for both teams is solid defense. 

Last season, a stingy UCLA defense allowed just 58.7 points a game on 41.5 shooting.  This season, despite running more often and allowing opponents more possessions per game, the defense is still allowing just 59.8 points a game on 41.1% field goal shooting.

As UCLA Coach Ben Howland has shown: Defense wins championships.   

(photo credit: Jack Rosenfeld)


Monday, December 25, 2006

It's Unanimous, UCLA is No.1

By Bruin Basketball Report

At least in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches poll, everyone agrees, UCLA is No.1.  The Bruins received all 31 first-place from coaches voting in this week's poll.  While in the AP, the Bruins received all but one first-place vote to remain atop the poll for the fourth straight week.

Undefeated UCLA (11-0) impressed voters by swamping Michigan, 92-55, on Saturday.  Earlier in the week, the Bruins defeated Sam Houston, 75-61.

UCLA remained ranked No.2 in the RPI ratings, trailing only Arizona.  Moreover, the Bruins rank No.6 in strength of schedule (SOS).

The Bruins bring their top ranking into Pac-10 conference play on Thursday when they open against Washington St. (11-1) and then face Washington (10-1) on Sunday at Pauley Pavilion.

Pac-10 teams continued their climb up in the latest polls:  Arizona (9-1) reached a No.7 ranking with a big win over No.18 Memphis last week;  Washington moved to No.13/14 with home victories over No.15 LSU and Weber St.; and Oregon (11-0) remained undefeated with a win over Mercer to go to No.20.  Washington St. remained on just the periphery of both polls.

Ohio St. dropped out of the top five after losing to Florida this weekend, 86-60, leaving North Carolina, Florida, Wisconsin, and Duke to round out the final four spots after UCLA in both polls.


Pac-10 Conference 2006-07 Season Preview

By Bruin Basketball Report

Enjoying one of its finest seasons in years, the Pac-10 begins this week as one of the top conferences in the nation with a real possibility of having five or six teams in the NCAA tournament this season.

All Pac-10 teams currently have winning records inlcuding two undefeated (UCLA and Oregon) and three teams with a single defeat (Arizona, Washington, and Washington St.)

Overall, the Pac-10 conference ranks second in RPI versus all other conferences, and have the nation's top two ranked RPI teams in the conference with Arizona (No.1) and UCLA (No.2).

"The Pac-10 conference is the most competitive since I've been here and (Arizona) Coach Lute Olson says its the toughest since he's coached his team," UCLA Head Coach Howland said.  "You can count on the Pac-10 conference having five, or possibly six, teams in the NCAA tournament this year."

Pac-10 Predictions

2. Arizona
3. Washington
4. Oregon
5. USC
6. Washington St.
7. Stanford
8. California
9. Oregon St
10.Arizona St

Team Previews

1. UCLA (11-0)

Probable Starters
G-Darren Collison (So, 6'1, 165), G-Arron Afflalo (Jr, 6'5, 215), F-Josh Shipp (So, 6'5, 220) F-Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (So, 6'8, 230), C-Lorenzo Mata (Jr, 6'9, 240)

Key Resevers
Alfred Aboya (So, 6'8, 235), Russell Westbrook (Fr, 6'3,187), Michael Roll (So, 6'5, 200), James Keefe (Fr, 6'8, 220), Ryan Wright (So, 6'8, 240)

Despite losing three starters from last season's Pac-10 championship squad, the top-ranked Bruins are playing better basletball at this point than last season.  Although the team has no seniors and just two juniors, the Bruins display a cohesiveness of more veteran teams. Perhaps it can be explained by the fact, despite the preponderance of lower-classmen, its a battle-tested roster which played six post-season NCAA tournament games and came within a single game of the championship last season.

With speedy Darren Collison at the point and Arron Afflalo and Josh Shipp running hard on the wings, the UCLA offense is running more in transition.  After averaging just 67.7 points a game in 2005-06, UCLA is averaging 77.4 points this season.  While Afflalo has maintained his solid contribution from the backcourt, Collison has exceeded all expectation thus far after taking over the reins from Jordan Farmar and Josh Shipp has provided extra-firepower from the small forward spot. 

At the same time, the Bruins are doing a stand-out job defensively allowing 59.8 points on 41.1% field-goal shooting, figures which compare similarly to 2005-06 ( 58.7 points/41.5 FG%).  Darren Collison has done an outstanding job using his speed to harass opposing point-guards.

With the loss of 7'0 Ryan Hollins to graduation,  the Bruins have lacked a strong low-post defensive presence. While Lorenzo Mata and his back-up, Alfred Aboya, have done an admirable job anchoring the defense, they lack the size to be dominant down low.  But Coach Ben Howland stresses team defense, and the Bruins have been able to compensate for their lack of size underneath by applying pressure on the perimeter to deny post-entry passes and assigning aggressive double-teams on quality post players.  Still, certain Pac-10 teams will present match-up problems for the Bruins down low.

Although we expect the Bruins to win the conference, don't expect them to go through Pac-10 play undefeated.  There are too many quality teams and traditionally hostile environments for such a young squad to go through the season untarnished.  Three, maybe four, losses will still win the conference this season.

2. Arizona Wildcats (7-3)

Probable Starters
G-Mustafa Shakur (Junior, 6'3, 190), G-Jawann McClellan (Jr, 6'4,225), F-Chase Budinger (Fr, 6'7, 190), F-Marcus Williams (So, 6'7, 205), F-Ivan Radenovic (Jr, 6'10, 244),

Key Reserves
Jordan Hill (Fr, 6'8, 210), Nic Wise (Fr, 5'10, 180), Daniel Dillon (Jr, 6'3, 195), Kirk Walters (Jr, 6'10, 241) - injured


Addition by subtraction?  Despite having arguably the most talented roster in the conference last season, the Wildcats were plagued by off-court issues with Chris Rodgers and Hassan Adams, both of whom are no longer with the club.  This season there appears to be more harmony in Tucson and the Wildcats are enjoying their spot in the top-10 ranking.

Ivan Radenovic is having a solid season shooting over 58% from the field


Sunday, December 24, 2006

Bruin Recruiting: Prep News Roundup (12/25)

By Bruin Basketball Report

Prep News Roundup is published every Monday.


Singler also enhanced his skills while playing in national summer tournaments for the Portland Legends AAU team. Unlike the previous summer, when Kevin Love was the team's centerpiece, Singler became the focal point and team leader. "The team didn't win as much, but for me personally, it was a great experience," says Singler. "I was called on to be the leader, the go-to guy and also to bring the ball up the court quite a bit." Mail Tribune 12/19

Chace Stanback, a 6-8 forward who has signed with UCLA and is a member of the 2005 Classic's All-Tournament team, personally outscored the Trojans with a game-high 26 points that included three slam dunks. Although Stanback suffered a blow to the face with about 4 minutes left in the fourth quarter, Lions coach Harvey Kitani said he will play in the next game. Honolulu Star-Bulletin 12/19

And he's a junior. Malcolm Lee, a 6-foot, 5-inch point guard who has verbally committed to the nation's No. 1 UCLA Bruins, single-handedly ended St. Joseph's chance of a win in the first half. And he made it look oh-so-easy as his J.W. North Huskies boys basketball team went on to beat the St. Joseph Knights 74-26....“He's makes it look easy, doesn't he?” North coach Mike Bartee said with a wry smile. Santa Maria Times 12/20

Fairfax's Chace Stanback scored a game-high 20 points and teammate Rod Singleton chipped in 11 that included two buzzer-beating shots to end the first and third quarters. Stanback will play for UCLA next year and Singleton for Cal State Northridge. Honolulu Star-Bulletin 12/21

Chace Stanback scored 23 points and hit all seven of his free throws to lead the Lions past the Hoyas and into today's fifth-place game against White Station. Honolulu Star-Bulletin 12/22

The long shadow of Kevin Love stretches across the landscape of Oregon boys basketball. And nowhere does it loom larger than in Oregon City, where the Pioneers have been seemingly powerless to stop the 6-foot-10 Lake Oswego senior, who is headed to UCLA. Oregonian 12/22

Lake Oswego's Kevin Love, South Medford's Kyle Singler and the nation's top-ranked high school basketball team are among the reasons next week's Les Schwab Invitational could be one of the most interesting in the event's 11-year history. Oregonian 12/23

Chace Stanback poured in 23 points and Ja'Shon Hampton added 14 as the Lions outlasted the Spartans for fifth place. The Lions, last year's tournament champions, led 35-34 at the end of three quarters.  Stanback, who has signed with UCLA, scored inside, outside and from the line. The 6-8 senior sank two treys and shot 9-for-10 from the free-throw line. Honolulu Star-Bulletin 12/23


Justin and Jrue Holiday, Campbell Hall: Justin, a senior, had 25 points, 10 rebounds and seven blocked shots and his brother, a junior, added 23 points in an 84-57 championship quarterfinal victory over L.A. CES in the Gold Division of the San Luis Obispo Mission Prep tournament. LA Times 12/19

Instead, sophomore forward Renardo Sidney walked away with the hardware after he had 24 points and 12 rebounds on Saturday night in a 63-40 win over Galena of Reno in the final. "Renardo hasn't played with us until this year but he's fit in well," Pioneers coach Lauren Grover said. "And I think it's good for the team because it creates balance and what I like most is, that in every game, somebody new seems to step up." Press-Telegram 12/19

The Warriors (8-1) stunned The Chronicle's top-ranked team, Mitty, 64-60 in a nonleague game Saturday at Newark Memorial...Colin Chiverton and Drew Gordon had 13 points apiece for Mitty (5-1). Gordon, the nation's top junior center recruit according to many recruiting services, fought foul trouble throughout. SF Gate 12/19

Verdell Jones had 25 points, eight assists and six rebounds in leading Central to a 82-54 win over Normal West. The slender 6-4 playmaker has gained strength and height over the past two seasons. His smooth game already included an impressive ability to see the floor, advanced ballhandling and creative passing. The added strength improved his shooting.  Most likely, his future will be determined by how his body develops. Journal Register 12/20

Travis and David Wear's father and Mater Dei assistant coach David Wear listed UCLA, Arizona, Washington, Gonzaga, North Carolina and Duke as the schools showing strong interest in his sons. Coach Wear also laid out some criteria that will guide his sons' decision making. "They will absolutely play together," he said. "And they will go to a program where they can excel and advance their games. They also want to play their own positions and be out on the court together. We don't want it to be a two for one thing where they are subbing in and out for each other. They both have the versatility to play either the three, four or five." Jackets Online 12/21

All ten of his points came off of dunks, each one bringing the crowd out of their seats and begged the question, "Did you just see that?" Drew Gordon added 14 rebounds, six offensive, and three blocks in the victory.... Gordon said he, his parents and coach have yet to set up a timeline on when he wants to trim his expansive list of elite high-majors down to three to five schools on his wish list. So far, Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina, Cal, Washington, Arizona, UCLA, Texas and USC are making a push. Cardinal Sports 12/21

Also, 6-foot-10 sophomore power forward Renardo Sidney has really made a difference in the paint. Last week, he was the MVP of the Maldonado Tournament. Artesia plays in the Orange Holiday Classic next week at Chapman University where it could play Mater Dei in the finals.  Press-Telegram 12/21

Make no mistake, Drew Gordon was outstanding as well. The California native scored 17 points, grabbed seven rebounds and blocked six shots. The athletic Gordon tried to play bigger than his 6-foot-9 frame.  Whether he ends up in the ACC, SEC, Pac-10 or any power conference, Gordon will face players of Walker's length at the next level. Gordon will need to find ways to be effective in those big games on the big stage. Gordon played very hard on both ends of the floor. Gator Bait 12/22

Mater Dei 85, Liberty Tech 80: The Wear brothers combined for 10. Jamaal Trice, who was rested and did not play Thursday, came off the bench and scored 19. News-Press 12/23

(photo credit: Honolulu Star-Bulletin and News-Press)


UCLA Leaves Michigan in Ruins, 92-55

By Bruin Basketball Report

Box Score

In their most dominant performance of the season, the UCLA Bruins demonstrated to the nation why they are ranked No.1 by demolishing the Michigan Wolverines, 92-55, before a raucous Pauley Pavilion and a national television audience Saturday.   

The Bruins shot a sizzling 66.7% in the second-half and 58.9% for the game in route to their highest scoring total since the 2004-05 season when they scored 95 points against both Arizona St. and Washington.

But this team is known for its defense, and it was the UCLA defense which never allowed the Wolverines to get on track. Michigan did not score a single field-goal until five minutes into the game and only had nine total in the first half. 

While the Bruin defense was in lock-down mode, the Wolverines suffered from relative ineptitude in their backcourt. Without a true point-guard on Michigan's team, the Bruins applied heavy pressure on their ballhandlers making it difficult for post entry passes and instead forcing them to pass around the perimeter where they were easy prey for the Bruins who were overplaying the passing lanes. 

"Our defense was really good," UCLA guard Arron Afflalo said. "Each possession is very personal to us. There was a lot of energy in the building today."

When Michigan was finally able to get it inside, the Bruins effectively doubled-down on the post causing errant passes or tipped balls for steals.  Michigan's two low-post players Courtney Sims and Brent Petway combined for a total of eight turnovers including two wild passes into the fifth row of the crowd.

UCLA forced Michigan into a of total 23 turnovers of which 13 were steals by Bruins.  Sophomore forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute stole the show, literally, with 7 steals. He also added 13 points including a pull-up jumper and three-pointer from the wing.

"We were doubling the post and I just went for the ball," Mbah a Moute said. "My teammates did a great job of pressuring the ball outside."

After slow starts in earlier games this season, the Bruins came out aggressive and ready to play, racing out to a 8-0 lead which included two Arron Afflalo three-point field goals. When Michael Roll hit his second three-pointer of the first-half to increase the lead to 14, a rout was in the works.

After staking themselves to a 36-23 halftime lead, the Bruins burst out on a 10-2 run in the second-half to end any doubt of the game's outcome.  Up by 36 points with well over 6 minutes remaining, UCLA Coach Howland substituted the entire starting line-up with his reserves -  a scene which brought back fond memories of Wooden-era early game blow-outs at Pauley decades ago. 

UCLA players shared the ball well all game resulting in 19 assists, Darren Collison led the team with eight.  He also had 15 points on an impressive 6 of 7 shooting day.

In addition to Mbah a Moute and Collison, two other Bruins scored in double-figures.  Josh Shipp led all scorers with 18 points on 7 of 10 shooting and Afflalo added 17 as the Bruins improved their record to 11-0, their best start since the 1993-94 season.

"I think we were really good today. I think we could have beaten most teams in the country," Howland said. "I love the unselfishness of our team. Our quickness was really evident. These guys are just tremendous and its a lot of fun to be coaching them."

Freshman James Keefe had his second consecutive solid game. Looking more comfortable and confident each time he takes the court,  Keefe had 4 points, 5 rebounds and 2 blocks in 10 minutes. 

Serbian freshman Nikola Dragovic played in his first game after serving a ten game suspension.  He showed some nifty passing from the wing and was 1 of 3 from three-point distance in just six minutes of play.

The Bruins continued their recovery course toward free-throw respectability.  They shot 15 of 19 for 78.9% in the game.

UCLA will try to take this momentum into Pac-10 conference play which starts on Thursday at home against Washington St. and Sunday versus Washington.

BBR Notes: The Bruins got a boost before the tip-off when Kelly McLean, a member of the UCLA dance team, gave a rousing rendition of the national anthem which electrified the Pauley crowd.

(photo credit: Jack Rosenfeld)