Wooden Classic Preview: UCLA vs. BYU

If UCLA wants to have any realistic hope of an at large bid at the Big Dance, they must beat BYU. Currently UCLA RPI is 180. BYU's RPI is even better than there ranking #16 at 5. The OC Register has a slide show detailing the Pac-10 Conference's RPI woes here.

If CBH is going to meet the goal of getting back to Tourney, a win against BYU is an important step.

But there is another reason this game is important. It is the first Wooden classic without Coach:

They have dedicated the week to Wooden and have vowed to practice and play in a manner that would make Wooden proud.

"We know he's looking over us and looking over this program so we have to honor what he did and where he brought the program," UCLA forward Brendan Lane said. "We have to come out and play in his honor and play the way he would want us to play."

There are still seats available so all you Orange County and Southern California fans can do your part for Coach and UCLA by showing up for this ridiculous important for a December game.

On to the preview:

BYU is hot and playing well

BYU is looking to open with 11 straight wins for the first time since going 17-0 to begin the 1987-88 season. The Cougars have won their last three games by at least 20 points since a 77-65 road victory over Creighton on Dec. 1 in a game which was tied midway through the second half.

BYU will be looking to beat a second straight Pac-10 opponent following an 87-65 victory over Arizona last Saturday. Fredette scored a season-high 33 points after scoring 26 in the previous game against Vermont. The 6-foot-2 senior also had a career-high nine rebounds against the Wildcats.

Shooting guard.  Is this Malcolm Lee's biggest game?

Malcolm Lee has been consistently inconsistent.  He has big games against UC Davis and VCU but other times he has been cold as ice.  Today, his offense may not matter at all.  But his defenese has never been more important.Today it is all about what he can do against Ferdette:

Fredette, the reigning National Player of the Week, has been a one-man wrecking crew to start the season. The 6’2″ senior guard is averaging 23.7 points, 4.1 assists, 3.2 rebounds and is shooting 47.7%. He’s dropped at least 24 in seven of ten games, including a season-high 33 against Arizona last Saturday. That’s the good news. . . . They[UCLA] should be able to dominate the glass, but the key will be how their guards defend BYU’s talented back court. Malcolm Lee, who is UCLA’s top defender, will likely draw Fredette. Head coach Ben Howland will devise a game plan to contain Fredette. If it succeeds, UCLA will keep it close.

BYU is the better team, but they will be tested in this one. UCLA has a serious edge in size and depth, which will play to their advantage. Fredette is too good to shut down completely. However, I think Howland will slow him down enough. Look for the Bruins to spring an upset.

Point Guard
Surprisingly a good lineup for UCLA recently is Lazeric Jones and Jerime Anderson.  Anderson has played some of the best ball of his career when he has been teamed up with Jones.  I am not sure this lineup works against Fredette.  More likely Anderson or Jones will not play together and one of them will have to cover BYU's second best player in Jackson Emery.  Jackson does most of his damage from the 3 point line but he also is impressive at stealing the ball:

Senior guard Jackson Emery is second on the team in scoring at 11.4 points per game and adds 3.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists and a team-best 2.9 steals per game. He has posted four-plus steals five times this season.

Hopefully Jones and Anderson can come close to break even in this match up and not turn the ball over too much.

Forwards

UCLA has an advantage here.  For UCLA to win it will come from the front court.  Our backcourt just has to survive, our front court must dominate.  As one prognosticator put it (punctuation in the original):

This team has a lot of growing up to do and might just have been beaten down by the ending of that Kansas game which they lost due to a questionable foul call.  Either way Tyler Honeycutt and Reeves Nelson will give the frontline of BYU all they can handle.  If they are both on it will make for a great game.  If…


Part of the reason is the frontline of BYU is really banged up

Forwards Chris Collinsworth (ankle) and Noah Hartsock (concussion) missed the game versus Arizona and both are considered questionable for Saturday's contest.
. . .
Brigham Young is scoring an impressive 83.5 points per game so far this season while only allowing an average of 61.7. Dave Rose's ballclub also have the edge over UCLA in team defense as well as rebounding and bench scoring. . . .

However, will they be able to hang with the Cougars on Saturday? One thing UCLA has done this season is play to the level of their competition, so I wouldn't be surprised to see the Bruins keep it close and hang on to stay within the number.

Yes, BYU is playing at a very high level at the moment, but I'm siding with the underdog here on the neutral court. The Bruins need a strong performance against a top opponent to jump-start their season and I think it will come this weekend.

Center and Zone

Before we get too excited none of the previews talk about some other issues, first and foremost UCLA vs. a zone.  Montana beat UCLA with a good packed in zone.  Kansas (UCLA's "best" game) and UC Davis (most recent win) did not play zone.  BYU plays a lot of zone and is good at it.

And the other factor is Smith.  Smith has proven if he can stay on the floor he can destory anyone M2M.  But he has struggled against zones such as those run by Montana and Pacific. That may be the biggest issue.  Can Smith score and dominate inside against a zone?  Can he draw fouls against BYU's depleted front line?  While many experts are focusing on Fredette, Honeycutt and Nelson, it may be Smith that decides the game. 


Closing

In honor of Coach at the Wooden classic, when you comment the first time please make reference to a Wooden quote.  You can either use a Wooden quote to apply to a current player or just a quote you like.  For example, I will use the famous "Be quick, but don't hurry" for Tyler Honeycutt.  He is quick but he needs to dial it down just a notch so he does not make so many turnovers.  He is a good passer but he sometimes he rushes things.

Go Bruins!

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