I have to say I am a little amused by the confident predictions in reaction to my post on Cal notes. I just don't think this game is going to be easy and I will not be surprised at all if the Bears pull it out. Of course, I am not knocking down our Ben Ball warriors at all. But the reality is people need to appreciate how difficult it is to pull off sweeps during these Bay Area road trips. If I have it right, I believe since Harrick became coach, we swept the Bay Area trip only four times: 91-92, 94-95, 99-00 and 05-06. Again, I am coming up with that off the top of my head. So I could be a little off. But the point is this game is going to be a war. And given a talented Cal team that is healthy and hungry, this will be yet another brutal test on the road.
Bilas on the WWL has this pegged as his game of the week. His notes on ESPN track pretty closely with what I had up yesterday:
Key stats: Rebound margin and turnover margin. UCLA is the better rebounding team, and the glass will be a major factor. Cal and UCLA have similar margins overall, but UCLA has played the tougher slate. Cal will have to be stronger with the ball than it has been all season.
X & O to watch for: UCLA does as good a job as any team in the nation at doubling the post, and only Cal and Florida did a good job in handling UCLA's post doubles last season. UCLA brings its double team from the opposite big. The Bruins press up on the ball side and deny the pass out, and then they zone up on the weak side and force the pass opposite and long. With guys like Alfred Aboya, Love and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, UCLA is long and athletic and forces a lot of big men into bad passes. Cal, however, has some good passing and smart big men, and the manner in which Cal handles UCLA's post doubles will be a major factor.
Randle is averaging 13.7 points and 4.0 assist, however, he also turns the ball over 3.9 times a game. Earlier in the season versus Missouri, he turned the ball over 10 times in 36 minutes. Coach Braun feels part of the problem is that Randle tries to make a big play each time he has the ball.
UCLA's Darren Collison had problems staying in front of Stanford's Mitch Johnson on Thursday and will need to step up his defensive effort against the speedy Randle. If Randle starts hitting from outside, he shoots 50% from three-point distance, it will open up the inside for Cal's Hardin and Anderson.
Nikola Knezevic (6'2,185,So) has been starting at a guard spot, but we'll likely see both Jamal Boykin and Eric Vierneisel logging more minutes on the floor.
Boykin (6'8,235,So) transferred from Duke last season and is still learning the Cal system. It wouldn't be surprising to see him eventually move into the starting line-up later in the season. He's averaging 7.0 points and 4.3 rebounds in 14.0 minutes per game but he is capable of bigger numbers. Against Long Beach State two weeks ago, Boykin had 18 points and 10 rebounds.
Vierneisel (6'7,210,Sr) is averaging 4.9 points and 2.6 rebounds a game. He hit 3 big three-point shots to finish with 15 points in the win against USC on Thursday.
Obviously, a key X factor in this game will once again come in the form of Russell Westbrook. Pucin has a report in the LA Times today about how Russell has embraced his new role of being the microwave off the bench:
"That's the UCLA way," junior forward Alfred Aboya said. "I think the coaches here do a good job of recruiting good players. But not only good players but good people with good character."
Partly, it was a gut decision, Howland said. Partly, it is an experiment. Mostly, it is a necessity.
"The bottom line is, we had four perimeter players getting major minutes," Howland said. Now it's three and, Howland said, "they can't all start or no one is coming off the bench for them. Russell's one of our top five players and it makes it hard."
Westbrook said he was "fine" with the decision. "Doesn't matter," he said, "as long as I play and we win."
As for AA2, something very interesting from Pucin:
"Right now, I can't tell," Aboya said. "It's obviously a hard decision. You have to talk to people that are important to you -- your family, your coaches -- and decide what's best for you and for them. As for now, what I have in mind is California tomorrow and the Pac-10 season."
More on AA2 from Painter in the DN:
Aboya's mettle has never been more important for fifth-ranked UCLA (13-1, 1-0) than now. He moved into the starting lineup for Thursday's Pac-10 Conference opener and will remain there for the foreseeable future because of the injury to Michael Roll. The Bruins are essentially working with a seven-man rotation.
Staying out of foul trouble, which has long been a problem for Aboya, will be crucial.
Howland can live with his foul trouble because he doesn't want to take away the aggressiveness that defines Aboya. He's averaging 3.9 points and 2.4 rebounds in 17.3 minutes per game. Yet there's no statistic for his defensive intensity and disruption of an opponent's offense.
When asked about his nickname, Aboya said: "Oh, that's public?"
The "Terminator" is out, not that fans couldn't have dreamed up something similar. Aboya has seen the movies but says he can't do an impersonation of Arnold Schwarzenegger. At least the accent. But he can inspire his teammates.
"I bring excitement and energy," Aboya said. "I try to motivate people. Everyone feeds off my defensive intensity."
AA2 and his team-mates will have a huge test today. As I mentioned above I am not confident as many of you. However, I do believe we are going to be okay if we come out with the same focus and intensity we showed during the second half on Thursday night.
Open thread will be up later this afternoon.