Will Howland's Bruins Prevail Against The Trojans' Sacrificial Lambs?

Well I don't really know the answer. That tells us a little bit of about the bewildering state of UCLA basketball in Ben Howland's 7th season in Westwood. Ben Howland's Bruins (7-9) are coming off another inconsistent, mind-boggling week during which they suffered a predictable, humiliating, and uninspiring loss against Stanford (which got blown up by the Huskies in this crazy Pac-10 season) after coming up with a feel good upset against the Cal Bears. We have no idea which Bruin team is going to show up tomorrow evening (4:37 pst) when they take on Southern Cal's scandal ridden basketball team, that has already been kicked to the curb like bunch of sacrificial lambs (yeah, it's not a pretty picture within the TrOJan "family")

The Trojans are coming into Pauley with a pretty decent record considering how the program was burnt into the ground over the off-season thanks to the sleazy tactics somehow unnoticed by an entire athletic department, even though it seemed pretty clear cut to rest of the sane world. The Trojans thanks to the inspired effort of some hard working basketball players such as journeyman transfer PG Mike Gerrity, Senior SG Dwight Lewis, Junior PF (UNC transfer) Alex Stepheson, and forward Marcus Johnson enjoyed an impressive 8 game winning streak earlier this season. However, right after Garrett threw them under the bus with "self-imposed" sanctions, they got swept out of the Bay Area stumbling into Pauley with a record of 10-6. They have even lost Lil Romeo!

Still, those guys will have no shortage of motivation tomorrow taking on a very vulnerable and mentally weak UCLA basketball team. They are not going anywhere this season and they will want nothing more than stick it to the Bruins, who at times this season (especially on weekends) have done the El Foldo routine whenever facing a team playing with fire and intensity. Trojans, as much I despise them for what they are,  have been impressive this season.  In many ways, they remind me of the heart and effort exhibited by the classic Ben Ball warriors. Still if the Bruins have any sense of pride, they should come out and get a win tomorrow because these guys do have some glaring weaknesses.

Let's go with the starting lineup first. Here is how the rotation looks for those guys per Sportsline.com:

Usual Starters -- F Nikola Vucevic, F Alex Stepheson,  Marcus Johnson, G Dwight Lewis, G Mike Gerrity. Key Subs -- G Marcus Simmons, F Leonard Washington.

I am guessing Coach Howland will be using Malcom Lee, our designated defensive stopper to guard Dwight Lewis. It is going to be a tough matchup because I think Lewis is lot stronger than Lee. We will see though.  Up front, I don't see Ragovic having a prayer against any of the starting Trojan forwards if we were to play man to man. I think in terms of defense we will have a shot if we throw in the combination of Keefe, Nelson and Lane (having Morgan go down with an injury was rough because we could have really used him in this game).

The matchups between Honeycutt and Johnson (I imagine that's how it will shape up at the outset) and Roll and Gerrity are going to be interesting. In terms of numbers here are some factors to consider from Pac-10's statistics this season:

  • U$C* is ranked last in the conference in scoring offense (59.1 p/g) [UCLA is 8th at 68.2 p/g]
  • U$C* is ranked last in the conference in FG percentage (.437) [UCLA is 4th at .461]
  • U$C* is ranked last in the conference in 3pt FG percentage (.297)
  • U$C* is ranked 2nd in the conference in scoring defense (55.2 p/g) [UCLA is 5th at 69.2 p/g]
  • U$C* is ranked 1st in the conference in FG percentage defense (.371) [UCLA is 9th at .445, which is unacceptable for a Howland coached team]

Not a surprise to see those guys with impressive numbers on the defensive end. That's the impression I had from the games I was able to check them out (briefly) this season (v. Arizona schools).

It will be the same old story for us on the offensive end. We will have to play smart, be patient and cut down on the TOs. As britishbruin noted it looks like Coach Howland had the team work on that issue this long week. We are also going to need our guys to be patient, make that extra pass to set each other up with the easy shots. As always, it is going to require all out hustle around the rim to make sure we go after every loose ball and rebounds.  We keep saying that every week. Don't we?

On the defensive side of things, it is going to be very interesting to see again what Howland does tomorrow night. The numbers above scream out the need for throwing a zone.  They are an atrocious  shooting team. I would probably think we will see a mix of man-to-man and zone defense.

 Actually it wouldn't be a surprise if Howland decides to try out a little box and one junk defense, keying  on Dwight Lewis who seems to be the lynchpin for their offense. The CBS update noted Lewis scored 16 points in first 30 minutes of the Cal game, then managed just four more after the Bears brought senior Nikola Knezevic off the bench to "face-guard him" the rest of the way.  Lewis leads the team in scoring with 13.2 points per game.

In terms of talent, I would actually give the Trojans the edge when it comes to the starting rotation (hard not to since we have the Bricklayer from Belgrade occupying a key spot in the rotation).  In terms of depth though, despite the injury to Morgan we still have more athletic talent on our side. Given the injury to Morgan, tomorrow evening could be a golden opportunity for Mike Moser to step up and make some noise. He could potentially play a really effective role in our zone defense, and initiate offense with defensive stops.

I honestly don't know how the game will shape up tomorrow. It's a game Bruins should win given the fact that Ben Howland has had an entire week to prepare his team. It's a game in which there will be no excuse for lack of motivation. However, given the track record this season, it's the Trojans who have shown the mindset of playing like "warriors" not the ones putting on those four letters. I really hope a week long preparation and emotion (especially what transpired this week), will carry us to a win.  

We should win it, but just not feeling confident with the current set of Bruins, which is an inexcusable indictment regarding the state of UCLA basketball.


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