Let's start with a quick follow up on the bruhahahah over Malcolm Lee's twitter who fired off what clearly appeared to be a shot against Ben Howland's scheme at UCLA, right after his team's close victory over a bad Stanford basketball team. While the tweet was deleted within couple of hours, there has been no explanation and no followup tweet from Malcolm. So as of right now that tweet pretty much speaks for itself in terms of how the supposedly the best player in UCLA's backcourt feels about his head coach's game schemes. What an inspiring backdrop to head into a "big" game.
Now the Bruins go on to take on perhaps the best team in the conference in terms of combination of overall talent and experience this afternoon in a nationally televised game this afternoon. Bruins have won their last two Saturday outings buy those wins came against Washington State and Oregon State. They have gotten embarrassed in every national TV appearance this season and I doubt they are going to face a Cal Bears team who like their last outing will come in with the mindset that they can show up and win.
Add to that Bears are coming in angry not only because they way they blew their home game against us but also how they essentially gave away a big lead against Southern Cal. Cal's senior pg Jerome Randle challenged his team following the loss against the Trogans (emphasis added throughout):
USC scored 25 unanswered points in its three-point victory over Cal on Thursday, prompting Randle to call out his teammates.
"We need to dig down deep and see if we really want this because the way we're playing right now, it doesn't look like we do," he said.
Well that is a Drew Gordonesque challenge to the team with the big difference being Jerome Randle is actually a senior and proven leader of this Bears team (Gordon was none of that except for being a raw athlete from perhaps the biggest bust of a freshmen class in last 25 years of UCLA basketball). Anyway, the point is the Bears will be coming out for vengeance today at Pauley looking to play their best game of the season.
So if the Bruins come out this afternoon with the same frame of mind they showed on Thursday when they showed effort (from some members of the team) without any kind of defensive focus, they should get blown off the court.More on that and other notes heading into another dreaded Saturday game on national TV after the jump.
It looks like yours truly was not the only not impressed with Bruins' less than impressive victory over an unimpressive Cardinal bunch. Rob Carpentier from Bruin Report Online (BRO):
UCLA is coming off a harder-than-it-needed-to-be victory over a Stanford squad that had been crushed in its last two outings, while Cal is coming off of a tough loss at USC. For the Bruins, the Thursday night game against the Cardinal was almost a disaster. The Bruin zone defense, one that Coach Ben Howland said was getting better and better, was sliced up by a Stanford team that was clearly prepared to face it. Still, with the athletic advantage that UCLA had, the zone defense should have caused Stanford some problems. Stanford shot 44% from the floor, including 50% from beyond the arc and the Cardinal's two best players, Landry Fields and Jeremy Green, combined to score 53 of Stanford's 73 points. Fields had one of the most impressive games ever for a visitor to Pauley Pavilion, scoring 35 and pulling down 10 boards. He was virtually unstoppable. His game, however, highlighted what was wrong with UCLA on Thursday and why the Bruins are so hard to predict from game to game, specifically the level of effort and focus the Bruins will bring to a game. Against Stanford former Bruin great and television analyst Don MacLean stated several times that he thought the Bruins were playing with less energy than they had the past two weeks. While that may not have been the case, something was certainly missing for the Bruins and quite simply the Bruins can't win many games without completely firing in terms of focus and intensity.
Rob noted how Stanford (and opposing coaches) was able to slice up Bruin zone defense this season by setting up "plays to run at Dragovic's side of the zone. [Note Rob's article was not behind subscription firewall as I excerpted in this post] We saw Cal doing that repeatedly last time they played in Berkeley and you can bet a good coach like Mike Montgomery will have that line of attack schemed to perfection. Moreover, the Bruins probably can't expect much success from switching to man-to-man this afternoon, given Cal is way more athletic and talented than the 2 man Stanford team Bruins looked mediocre against on Thursday night.
Another factor in Cal's favor this afternoon will be availability of their scrappy guard - sophomore Jorge Gutierrez (6'3" 195 lbs.) - who sat out in our last outing against them from an injury. Gutierrez with his gritty play always seems to be provide a spark for the Bears (or at least when I am watching them) and with him in the lineup, they often move Randle over the 2 spot to set him for good shots. I am assuming Michael Vick Jr. will be guarding Randle most of the game this afternoon, but I don't feel all that confident about the Bruin guards matching up against their back-court.
We have mentioned few times how Cal went 3 for 18 against us from the 3 point line in our last game. Don't expect that to happen again today even though they have had a tough time against the zone this season. More from Rob on BRO:
If Randle were the only outside shooter on the Cal roster then you would have to feel good about the Bruin's chances. However, Cal also has senior Theo Robertson (6'6" 230 lbs.), who is statistically Cal's biggest outside threat (45% on three-point shots for the season) and can stretch a zone defense considerably. Robertson's presence alone will prevent the Bruins from giving as much help as usual from the weakside of the zone for fear that Cal will throw skip passes to open shooters on the wing where the Bears will almost certainly take full advantage of open shots.
Senior Christopher is Cal's best pure athlete and second-leading scorer but it's now safe to say that his career has been a disappointment. That's not to say that he's not a very solid player, one who Howland would take in a heartbeat, but big things were predicted of Christopher and he simply hasn't consistently delivered. The first time UCLA and Cal met this year is a perfect example. Christopher dominated the first half and completely disappeared in the second. Against the zone, Christopher can be very dangerous because he is the prototypical player to run the baseline. If, as I assume, that Cal uses their bigs to play at the free throw line to set screens, etc., then Christopher is free to run the baseline. His athleticism will allow him to get into the seams between the bottom three defenders and he has a god enough shot to stretch the two bottom wing defenders out to the three-point line. He's also a good finisher when being dished to on a drive.
One thing the Bears don't have is offensively effective post players. Senior Jamal Boykin (6'8" 240 lbs.) is an imposing body but doesn't have the softest hands. If he is positioned at the top of the free throw line on offense then expect the Bruins to sag off him and invite him to shoot. Montgomery may choose to have him run the baseline, as he has against Syracuse and Arizona State earlier in the season. The Orange and ASU are the two zone teams that Cal has faced this year, getting blown out by Syracuse at Madison Square Garden and winning at ASU. Boykin averaged 19.5 PPG in those two games, but both the Syracuse 2-3 zone and the ASU 1-3-1 zone are different than what the Bruins run. Boykin is tailor-made to attack the weakside of a 1-3-1 and Syracuse has an amoeba-like 2-3 that looked to take away Christopher, who shot a miserable 6-20 in that game. Also, about 10 of Boykin's 14 points against Syracuse came well after the game was no longer in doubt.
Perhaps the hope the Bruins have rest within the development of our two freshmen: Honeycutt and Nelson. One would think that Honeycutt has lot more confidence in his game since his last appearance against Cal (amazing how giving freshmen minutes enables him to gain confidence), while Nelson has gotten even more aggressive and becoming a better finisher downlow. From Jon Gold in the Daily News:
Tyler Honeycutt has made the world of difference, as he continues to get healthier and more comfortable after missing the first six games of the season with a stress reaction in his shin. Honeycutt had 12 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists in the Bruins win over Stanford, his best performance this year.
"That's why it was so disappointing when he was hurt and had to miss the whole summer," Howland said. "It was really a blow - it was obvious his opportunity to play major minutes was going to be there. I'm really pleased that he's been able to improve through the course of the season."
The way Honeycutt is developing he will probably skip out of Westwood after next season as soon as he gets a whiff of the first round of the NBA (players from Howland's program tend to do that). I will be surprised if he around for his third season in Westwood, if he continues to improve at the pace he is currently on right now. So I am not going to make the mistake of getting to attached to him, unless I get the sense that he loves being a Bruin. Certainly don't get that vibe from lot of the members of this current team except for perhaps couple of other guys who consistently show some pride in their uniforms.
22 games into the season we still have no clue which "Bruin" team will show up.
- Will it be the one that disgraced the four letters against Cal State Fullerton, Portland, Long Beach State, Mississippi State, Arizona, Stanford and Southern Cal?
- Will it be the one that showed focus and intensity for entire 40 minutes against Washington State?
- Will it be the one that showed intensity but not a lot of defensive focus against Stanford at Pauley?
We have no clue.
I'd really like to be excited about this game. It is after all (holding back the laughter) a matchup between two first place teams in the Pac-10. It is on national TV. Pauley should be bumping to take on a talented Cal team which is led by a great and very classy coach. Yet, I keep thinking to myself why should I really care about rooting this particular set of players, few of who don't seem to care about the concept of "team" game or what being Bruin means to them.
Anyway, tipoff is at 1 pm PST. The game thread will go up about half an hour before. Sure it is going to be lots of fun.