Ben Ball Gameday Roundup: Back On National TV

Bruins are back on national TV as they take on Cal Bears in ESPN's Primetime telecast tonight. To call the venue hostile would be unfriendly. ESPN hosts have never been friendly to UCLA. Digger will be spewing his Bruin hatred, Lavin will be talking about unreasonable UCLA fans, and Hubert Davis will be bloviating about how over-rated the Bruins are (completely forgetting how many times Roy Williams and other ACC teams have choked in the NCAAs with all world talents according to the Eastern Sports Programming Network's ACC recruiting hype machine) this season. Add into the mix a Mike Montgomery coached basketball team which will be looking for a statement on national TV to clinch an at large bid for the Big Dance.

How big is this game for the Cal Bears? From the San Jose Mercury News:

Despite beating USC, the Bears (21-7, 10-5) aren't a lock for the NCAAs.

What if they lose to UCLA, get swept next week in Arizona, finish fifth in the conference and drop their first game in the Pac-10s? (A perfectly plausible scenario given the competition.)

And what if a plethora of upsets in conference tournaments around the country shrink the number of available at-large spots?

In that situation, the Bears would have a nervous Selection Sunday. Their strength of schedule and quality road/neutral court wins might be enough for a bid, but it would be close.

That should give you an idea. They need this game badly and you can bet Montgomery and the Bears (like every other team in the Pac-10) had this national TV appearance v. UCLA circles on their calendars before the start of the season.

Preparing for Montgomery with just one day is a huge challenge. From the Daily News:

What's it like preparing for a Mike Montgomery-coached team in one day?

"We have 27 different sets that they run since we played them last," Howland said.

More from the LA Times on what the Bruins can expect tonight:

After facing what UCLA Coach Ben Howland described as a "barrage" of jump shots against Stanford two days ago, his team figures to see more of the same against California tonight in Berkeley.

The Golden Bears feature two players -- Theo Robertson and Jerome Randle -- who rank among the best three-point shooters in the Pacific 10 Conference.

Howland noted that Randle, in particular, has 27-foot range. "He makes some bombs," the coach said.

That could put extra pressure on the 22nd-ranked Bruins in a key game that features two of the three teams tied for second place in the Pac-10 standings.

UCLA cranked up Friday afternoon's walk-through, going at 80% to 90% speed, in an attempt to acclimate to the Golden Bears' offense and the matchup zone they mix with a more common man-to-man defense.

Cal is of course one of the best 3 point shooting team in the country. The Bears lead the nation shooting 44.2 percent from behind the line and by now everyone knows these bombs come via Jerome Randle, Patrick Christopher and Theo Robertson.

Note though despite Cal being the best 3 point shooting team in the country their offense is not really dependent it. Per the scouting report on Kenpom.com, their 3 point attempts represents about 24.5 percent of their overall shot attempts. So it's a little bit offbase to think of them as just a three point shooting team.

I think they key for the Bruins again will be how our backcourt defensively matches up against the Cal combo of Randle/Christopher. As the Mercury article linked above noted recently there has been a shift in the dynamic among these two prolific scorers in last few games:

For nearly four months, Randle has been Cal's most productive and important offensive player, its floor leader and top scorer.

But he is 5-foot-8 and 160 pounds, and his production seems to have slipped in recent weeks: Either teams have figured out how to defend him, or he's wearing down, or both.

Was Thursday an indication that Christopher is becoming the Bears' go-to scorer, its late-game, somebody-please-make-a-play savior?

The 6-foot-5 junior has the size, ballhandling skills and moxie to create his own shots when the offense stagnates. And in the crucible of March, you want big, versatile wings, not diminutive point guards, to be your first option.

If the Bears are going to succeed in the Pac-10 and NCAA tournaments, then Christopher, not Randle, must carry them.

It will be interesting to see what kind of defensive effort we get from JH early on against Christopher. Per the LAT, it sounds like Howland might not waste any time in looking to ML for defensive intensity:

Lee caught Howland's attention during a loss to Washington State last week with a defensive performance that earned him extended playing time against Stanford.

In 14 minutes, he scored only two points but had five rebounds and played tough against Cardinal guard Anthony Goods.

Lee got his extra time from several players, including starter Jrue Holiday, who got into foul trouble.

Howland said that using Lee more "is helping us keep guys fresher. There are definitely enough minutes to go around to play as hard as we want to play."

As we have said before ML seems to be one of those classic Ben Ball warriors, who takes defense personally. Bruins will need their best defensive effort of the season, if they want to pull out a victory tonight in Berkeley. While our guys will need to be mindful of the troika of Robertson/Christopher/Randle, they can't afford to let guys like Kamp and Boykin have good games either. In our recent losses too many role players (i.e. see loss v. ASU in Tempe) have been able to have their most memorable moments of 09 season v. UCLA defense. Apparently JK is feeling healthy after sitting out with back spasms. We are going to need him tonight to make his presnce felt defensively and around the boards. We got nothing from ND against Stanford on Thursday night.

During our last national tv appearance our defensive performance was embarrassing in what turned out to be one of the more disappointing efforts in Howland era of UCLA basketball. Hopefully our guys can atone for that Arizona game tonight by focusing on defense and rebounding. There is no doubt Cal is going to come out fired up, emotionally charged. For us to hang in against those guys we will have to do with the kind of defense we played against Stanford after first 10 mins putting severe on ball pressure against Stanford guards, and tenacity and hustle around the rim. We will have to keep attacking on both ends and not settle for jump shots on the offensive end.

The tip is scheduled for 6 pm PST. We will see you here about an hour before it.

GO BRUINS.

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