By KS Wong
Bruin Basketball Report
No.1 UCLA will play the No.8 ranked Texas Longhorms in the inaugural Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series at Pauley Pavillion on Sunday.
The Hardwood Series matches teams from each respective conference against each other. Many experts consider the Pac-10 the top college basketball conference in the nation and the Big 12 a close second.
The Bruins (7-0) are coming off a 83-60 thumping of George Washington on Wednesday. Sophomore Russell Westbrook led the way with 19 points as UCLA shot 50.9% from the field and committed just 11 turnovers.
The game marked the return of preseason All-American Darren Collison who had 14 points and 5 assists. He experienced no pain or swelling after the GW game and should be ready to start against Texas. Collison will continue to wear a protective knee brace.
With the early departure of phenom Kevin Durant over the summer, some thought it might be a transition year for Texas; however, the Longhorns have started the season with six straight victories, including an impressive win over then No.7 ranked Tennessee, 97-78. In addition, they've won all of their games this season by at least a margin of 15 points.
"I watched them from my living room destroy Tennessee," UCLA Coach Ben Howland said of Texas' win over Tennessee last week. "It wasn't even close. And Tennessee is very, very good."
All five Texas starters average double-figures in scoring and the team is averaging 88 points a game on an 55.6% shooting and 50% on three-pointers. The Longhorns play a run and gun style of offense and will try to beat the Bruins from outside, and they have the shooters to do it led by their triumvirate of small, athletic guards: D.J. Augustin, A.J Abrams, and Justin Mason.
D.J. Augustin (6'0, 180, So)
is the team's playmaker, a quick penetrating guard who can also beat you from outside. The sophomore guard is averaging 17.5 points and 7.0 assists in 34.2 minutes a game and is shooting a lights-out 51.6% from beyond the arc.
UCLA's Darren Collison, who roomed with Augustin during the summer in a basketball camp, will get the defensive assignment. Although Collison may be hampered by the lack of conditioning as a result of the three-week layoff from his knee injury, this will be a marquee match-up between two of the quickest players in the nation.
Collison will need to take away Augustin's penchant of getting into the lane and dishing to open teammates while closing out quickly on Augustin at the three-point line. Howland considers Collison to be the team's best on-the-ball defender and his ability to apply tough pressure on Augustin whenever he handles the rock will be a key to the game.
A.J. Abrams (5'11, 155, Jr) is a deadly outside shooter who leads the Longhorns in scoring with 20.7 points a game while shooting 54.8% from the field and 49.1% on three-pointers. Two-thirds of his field-goal attempts are from beyond the arc where he has made at least one three-point shot in 44 consecutive games.
Sophomore Russell Westbrook will likely start at the shooting guard while also backing up Collison at the point. Some wondered who on this year's club could replace Arron Afflalo's defensive presence, Westbrook has improved his defense tremendously since last season and looks like he can be the defensive stopper the Bruin's need.
Against Abrams, Westbrook needs to use his strength and physical play to take Abrams out of his game, forcing him into spots he may not be comfortable shooting from.
Justin Mason (6'2, 198, So) is the more physical of the three guards. Mason is averaging 12.0 points and 3.7 rebounds. A dangerous player off the bounce, Mason knows how to get to the basket and finish. He was 8 of 11 from the free throw line against the Volunteers and finished with 21 points and 5 rebounds.
Josh Shipp will likely move over and start at the small forward spot and defend Mason. Shipp needs to stay in front of Mason, who is not a great three-point shooter (28.6%), and keep him outside of the paint.
In past games, Howland has posted Shipp up in the low post to take advantage of his size against smaller guards. In addition, the Bruins will need Shipp to be on with his outside shooting since they expect to see a lot of zone defense by the Longhorns.
Although Texas mixes up their defenses between man and zone, they will likely play a lot of zone against the Bruins who have a decided size and physical advantage inside. Similar to the George Washington game, expect the Longhorns to pack it tight inside to prevent UCLA's Kevin Love from getting many touches.
Love showed some frustration in not getting the ball inside against GW, however it was more a result of the packed in GW zone versus his teammates not getting him the ball.
While some might say the perimeter players need to do a better job in getting Love the ball inside, sometimes you have to take what the defense is giving you. Which means if Texas is going to pack it tight inside then the Bruins need to move Love to the high post to take advantage of his passing and shooting skills.
The two starting Longhorn forwards are long and athletic but not very physical players.
Connor Atchley (6'10, 226, Jr) is averaging 11.8 points and just 4.8 rebounds a game. Atchley's physical mismatch against Love is the primary reason the Bruin's will see a lot of zone.
If Atchley gets into foul trouble or is unable to handle Love inside, Texas does have some beef on the bench to march out against Love to expend their fouls including fellow Oregonian 6'10 240lb freshman Clint Chapman who played against Love numerous times in high school and AAU circuit.
Damion James (6'7, 230, So) is the other forward. Although he leads the team in rebounding with 8.2 a game, he is more of a finesse player. James is averaging 10.5 points on 51% shooting.
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute will likely slide to the four spot to begin the game although he'll play the three as well during the contest. Mbah a Moute is one of the Bruin's best defenders, however his rebounding numbers have been down since he's moved to the wing. It'll be interesting to see if his totals increase in this game based upon the match-ups.
With the Bruins physical brand of defense and quickness on the perimeter, it is doubtful the Longhorns will match their 88 point per game average. The return of Darren Collison from injury could not have come at a better time for the Bruins with the quick and smaller Longhorns coming into town.
With the Bruin's physical size inside and the return of Collison to the point, the Bruins seemingly have an advantage at every spot on the floor. In addition, the home court advantage at Pauley may be too much for the Longhorns to overcome.
While Texas potentially has the weapons to pull an upset, especially with the three-point shooting it possesses, the Bruins should be able to pull away in the second-half with the victory.
BBR Notes: There will be 39 scouts (37 from the NBA, one from the NBDL and one international scout) at the UCLA-Texas game on Sunday, representing 29 of 30 NBA teams.
Sunday's contest marks the third meeting between Texas and UCLA. The Bruins hold a 2-0 lead in the all-time series, both of which have been played at Pauley Pavilion. In the first meeting between the two schools, then-No. 2 UCLA posted a 99-54 win on Dec. 13, 1969. In the last matchup, then-No. 1 UCLA recorded a 115-65 victory in the opening round of the Bruin Classic on Dec. 29, 1971.
(photo credit: Texas Athletics)
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