Friday, January 26, 2007

UCLA vs. Stanford - Game Preview

By Bruin Basketball Report

After demolishing a good No.25 ranked USC Trojans team Thursday night in Palo Alto, 65-50, the Stanford Cardinal host the No.2 ranked UCLA Bruins on Sunday.

Stanford's Lopez twins, Brook and Robin, manhandled the Trojans for a combined 24 points, 15 rebounds, and 15 blocks - Brook had a record-breaking 12 blocks himself.  Lawrence Hill, a 6'8 "small " forward, added 18 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 blocks.

The Cardinal (13-5, 5-3) are tied for fourth place in the Pac-10 but have improved with every game including winning 5 of their last 6. 

Much of the improvement can be attributed to the return of Brook Lopez who missed fall practice and the first five games of the season due to back surgery and is only recently beginning to play near full-strength.

Stanford Head Coach Trent Johnson employs primarily a double-low post offense to leverage his 7'0 giants in the paint, although Brook Lopez will at times pop out to the high-post where he has an effective midrange jumper.  On the perimeter, they have two good outside shooters in Lawrence Hill and Anthony Goods who benefit from the attention the Lopez twins receive underneath.

Stanford is averaging 69.1 points a game (7th in the Pac-10) on 45.2% shooting  Aside from Hill and Goods, they are not a great three-point shooting team averaging just 33.3% (9th in the Pac-10) from beyond the arc.

On the defensive end, not surprisingly, Stanford's man-to-man defense revolves around the shot-blocking of Brook and Robin Lopez.  Although Stanford does not have good defensive players on the perimeter, they have been able to compensate by being more aggressive and taking more chances on defense, knowing there is help behind them.  Stanford leads the Pac-10 in blocked shots averaging over six a game.

UCLA's quickness advantage on the perimeter will be troublesome for  Stanford's defense to handle, especially for Brook Lopez who will have problems handling Luc Richard Mbah a Moute when he follows him outside.  Although Mbah a Moute has not shot well from the perimeter, his ability to get into the paint and make good passes off the drive will make this a tough match-up.

The Cardinal are a good rebounding team with +4.9 margin over opponents, moreover, they average 13.6 offensive rebounds a game. If UCLA expects to leave Palo Alto with a victory, they will need big games on the boards from their front line.  Against Cal, the trio of Mbah a Moute, Alfred Aboya, and Lorenzo Mata collected an impressive 27 rebounds.

Lawrence Hill (So, 6'8, 205) has been the most consistent performer for the Cardinal this season.  He leads the team in scoring with 15.5 points a game on 53.5% shooting. 

A converted power-forward, Hill has excellent range, shooting 39.2% from beyond the arc; however, he does not handle the ball or dribble-penetrate very well. 

He is an average defender on the perimeter and has some difficulty in keeping up with quicker wings especially off screens, but he is an outstanding shot-blocker averaging 0.9 a game and a good rebounder with a 6.3 rebound average this season.

At 6'8, Hill will be a tough match-up defensively for the Bruins due to his size and length and ability to score inside and out.  Arron Afflalo and Josh Shipp will likely switch between Hill during the game depending on the other match-ups on the floor.

Anthony Goods (So, 6'4, 170) was recruited as a shooting guard but has been forced to move over to the point this season.  He is averaging 13.2 points and 2.3 assists a game on 37.4% shooting including 35.9% from three-point distance. 

He is a streaky shooter with questionable shot selection at times. Still learning the point-guard position, he often thinks shoot before pass.   Goods has respectable ball handling skills but can be vulnerable to  aggressive defensive ball pressure.

Darren Collison will get the match-up against Goods.  It will be key for Collison to use his quickness advantage against Goods to create turnovers or to hinder him from getting the ball inside to the Stanford big men.  Reserve point-guard Mitch Johnson plays practically starter's minutes (24.5 a game) which moves Goods to the two-guard.  Thus, Afflalo will see time against Goods as well. 

Robin Lopez (Fr, 7'0, 245) starts at center where he is averaging 10.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, and  2.4 blocks while shooting 53.7% shooting from the field.

Although not as offensively gifted as brother Brook, Robin exhibits the classic skills of a post man.  Aggressive and athletic, he controls the paint extremely well and is a good low-post defender.  While still developing his back-to-the- basket offense and consistency to his game, he is always around the ball and is a force in the middle.

The tag team of Lorenzo Mata and Alfred Aboya has been an effective combination the past few games.  Against Cal, Aboya and Mata tallied 10 points and 16 rebounds together. 

Brook Lopez (Fr, 7'0, 240) starts at power forward and backs up Robin at center.  His back surgery  set him back early in the season but he seems to be rounding into shape.  Over his last four games,  Brook Lopez is averaging 11.0 points and 8.9 rebonds on 49.5% shooting. 

He has a very good midrange jumper, and like his brother, he is athletic and always seems to be around the ball.

Luc Richard Mbah a Moute will have his hands full with the bigger opponent, but Mbah a Moute will dish out just as many problems with his speed.  Brook Lopez is especially vulnerable when the offense spreads the floor or isolates him on the perimeter against a smaller and quicker player.

One vulnerability both Lopez brothers share is that they are both foul-prone.  As aggressive shot-blockers they are especially vulnerable to fouling.  Whenever the Bruins venture into the paint, they need to pump-fake to get the shot-blockers to commit or off-balance to avoid the blocked-shot and/or to draw the foul.

Fred Washington (Sr, 6'5 210) is the fifth starter on the team.  He dribble penetrates well and can get to the basket or dish to an awaiting teammate.  He leads the team in assists with 3.8 and is averaging  7.5 points and 5.2 rebounds. 

Shooting over 54% from the field, most of his shots come from the inside as he does not have much range on his jumper.

Off the bench, Mitch Johnson (So, 6'1 185) was a starter last season but his inability to shoot  from the perimeter (36.7% from the field and 27.% three-pointers) landed him on the bench this season.  He averages 4.5 points, 3.5 assists, and 1.0 steals a game.  He handles the ball well but is not quick enough to play point-guard on most Pac-10 teams, however, he is the best-handler Stanford has at this time.

Taj Finger (Jr, 6'8 185) is one of those "glue guys" on the team.  Although he is averaging just 4.4 points, 3.1 rebounds, its his effort and hustle on the court that sets him a part from other players.

Landry Fields (Fr, 6'5 185) is averaging 4.4 points on just 32.9% shooting and 24.4% on three-pointers.  A great shooter in high school, he is still adjusting to college ball.   

Peter Prowitt (Jr, 6'10, 250) gives the Cardinal another big body off the bench.  Although he has been limited by injuries this season, when Prowitt is healthy he can be extremely effective in the low post. 

Although Stanford has extreme size along the front line, they are young and can become frustrated under pressure.  The Bruins will undoubtedly aggressively double-down on the post if the ball goes into either Lopez twins.  Both brothers are good passers, and not surprisingly know each other's tendencies well , and thus, the Bruin weak side defenders will need to rotate quickly to cover inside.

On the perimeter, where the Bruins hold a decided advantage, they need to put aggressive pressure on the Stanford guards to prevent them from making easy entry passes into the post, or to hopefully create turnovers for easy transition baskets.

This will be another tough game on the road for the Bruins, as most Pac-10 games will be this season.  UCLA is vulnerable in the middle, but their team defense has compensated all season.  It will take another team effort at Maples Pavilion on Saturday.

(photo credit: Stanford Athletics)



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