As Kirk said below Bruins tipoff a huge thanksgiving weekend of Ben Ball and football tonight at the Anaheim Convention Center. Coach Howland and his Ben Ball warriors take on a 3-0 Portland Pilots team tonight which has already recorded a big win (for them) against Oregon Ducks. The Pilots are going to be a tough challenge for our guys which is still in the process of developing chemistry and getting it all together after losing 4 starters from last year's team (5 if you count Dragovic). The LAT has the following capsule on tonight's game:
The Bruins will try to continue their upward trend after a 19-point victory over Pepperdine on Monday. Michael Roll has been a standout at guard but has been forced to play too many minutes with UCLA so thin in the backcourt. Portland should be a challenge, led by guards Nik Raivio and T.J. Campbell, both shooting better than 54% from three-point range. The Pilots, who have nearly their entire roster back from last season, figure to play some 1-1-3 matchup zone. They have size inside with 6-10 forward Robin Smeulders of Germany.
Given the problem Coach Howland's team has had against matchup zone over the years, tonight's game is going to be telling in terms of the improvement this team has made in recent weeks. More on the Pilots, who Howland views as legit challengers for Gonzaga in the WCC:
Portland beat Oregon last week and will bring a 3-0 record into the Anaheim Convention Center. Howland sees the Pilots as a legitimate contender in the West Coast Conference, one that could threaten Gonzaga's run of West Coast Conference championships.
"They return four guys that averaged in double figures from a year ago," Howland said. "They're an outstanding shooting team if you look at their numbers. They're returning everybody from last year's team that was 19-13."
They are a veteran team that sounds like well drilled in fundamentals. They rebound well and can bomb away from the three point line:
"They're an outstanding shooting team," Howland said. "They're shooting 52 percent on the season from 3-point land, as well as 52 percent overall. That's very good. They have a lot of experience."
Senior guard Nik Raivio, whose brother Derek played for Gonzaga, averages a team-best 19 points plus 9.0 rebounds per game, and Portland is outrebounding its opponents 34.7-29.3. Senior point guard T.J. Campbell averages 17.3 points and 6.6 assists per game, and forward Luke Sikma, whose father, Jack, played in the NBA, is averaging 8.3 points and a team-high 9.3 rebounds per game.
"They'll be a good challenge for us," Howland said. "They're a good offensive rebounding team and a good defensive rebounding team. That's something we'll have to focus on to have a chance to win. You're talking about a veteran team."
That should give us all something to think about given the problems we have had in the rebounding department in our last game. As for our guys, we are still working on getting healthy. It sounds like JA will be ready to go tonight and ML has the team in an underdog mindset heading into a tournament which is loaded with top-25 tourney caliber teams:
The young Bruins would prefer a few more weeks of practice, and a few more games, before taking on this level of competition.
They need to improve at pressuring the ball and rebounding against an opponent with good size in the paint. Just as crucial, point guard Jerime Anderson must work his way through cramps that have limited him in the first three games.
"Yesterday his legs weren't as sore as our trainer, Laef Morris, thought they would be," Howland said.
If the next few days present a challenge, they also offer opportunity for players feeling a bit underappreciated since dropping off the radar after a season-opening loss to Cal State Fullerton.
No matter how the Bruins fare against Portland, they will get a top 25 opponent in Butler or Minnesota on Friday night.
"We're going into this tournament as underdogs," UCLA guard Malcolm Lee said. "I just feel that we've got to come with it and we can surprise a lot of people. It's like David versus Goliath."
LOL. Kind of funny to hear a UCLA player talking up "David versus Goliath" during non conference season going up against a team like Portland. Yet, if our guys can make a statement tonight by putting together a solid, hard earned victory, I think it will bode really well for confidence.
The game is going to be on ESPN2. Unfortunately for all of us we will have to put up with the commentary of sleazebag, con artist, fraud aka Steve Lavin as the "commentator." So, we all will have to take Fox71's advice and turn our volumes down. The tip off is scheduled for 7:30 pm PST. See you in the game thread about half an hour before it.