UCLA plays a game tonight that seems like an afterthought in the Reeves Nelson saga. As of now Reeves is suspended indefinitely. Lest people forget this is the second time this year a player has been suspended indefinitely. The first player to be so suspended, Jerime Anderson, returns today for his first game of the season.
Jerimie's suspension was reduced to two games, in part because Jerime did everything he was supposed to do after the epic mistake of taking an unattended laptop. Jerime has overcome screwups before in his career in the past to have a solid season last year. The first question on many minds is how much is UCLA going to need him tonight and this season. As this CBS sports blog wrote:
This team won't endure the same start as the 2009-10 team did when it began the season with a loss to Cal State Fullerton and found itself 2-6 after setbacks to Portland, Butler, Long Beach State, Kansas and Mississippi State.
But I'm also not convinced this group measures up to the one that went 23-11 a year ago.
Not unless Jones steps up.
How does Anderson fit into that equation? Don't forget that Jerime Anderson played his best minutes last year with Jones on the court. Also, Coach Ben Howland admitted that part of the problem in the LMU loss was when Jones was "pressing" he did not have an alternative to replace Jones. Jones has gone into pressing funks 5 or 6 times in his UCLA career and the good news is Anderson at least gives UCLA an alternative tonight.
But should this team need Jerime Anderson as a savior tonight?
UCLA is without Reeves tonight. UCLA is supposed to be a team of bigs, so in one sense the loss of Reeves may not be as bad, at least short term, as was the loss of Anderson. However the reality is the Bruins need to stop making excuses for the loss to LMU. The latest excuse:
"We were just looking ahead to Maui," Travis Wear said.
"We thought talent alone was going to win us games alone until we played the big guys and we had to come together and actually play decent. Obviously that's not the case."
. . ."I think watching the film was really a wake-up call that we have to get together and help each other out," said David Wear, who tied for the team-high with 13 points.
A harsher way to put it:
Seeking motivation: Ben Howland still has an underachieving bunch as UCLA dropped its opener to Loyola Marymount. The Bruins are playing home games at the old LA Sports Arena while Pauley Pavilion is refurbished. Loyola turned around and lost to Middle Tennessee Sunday.
Well tonight that talent is going to be tested in what should have been the only mid-major game to worry about. The Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders beat LMU by playing tough defense and destroying LMU inside on the boards. MTSU is a solid team. The kind that can beat high majors who are not ready or paying attention.
Kermit Davis head coach of the Blue Raiders said the following on the LMU team:
"We really had to guard and rebound, and we out-rebounded them by 14 and held them to 33 percent shooting. That's how you can win, kind of ugly, against a quality team on the road."
In other words MTSU may look more like UCLA than UCLA against LMU?!?! MTSU has height to compare with the Bruins and a versatile big in 6'10" LaRon Dandy. As teammate JT Sulton stated:
LaRon's a great player. If they don't double him, he's going to score. He can score, outside, inside or take it to the basket. He brings a lot to our team because (opponents) double him and that leaves me open, and if the defense collapses to me, it leaves our shooters open.
Although Dandy is the five, I think our four will match up with him. It will be interesting to see how the Wears and Brendan Lane (who will be playing tonight) play against a relatively versatile big like themselves.
The Power Forward is JT Sulton who is more of an inside player. Smith will need to win this matchup in a big way unlike on Friday night.
The matchups for the other positions gets a little bit harder to figure out.
The PG is Bruce Massey. He is also a tall 6'3" a good defender but not a threat to score. He has not shot much this year and not yet from three.
The fourth starter is James Gallam. James is the short 5'11" two guard. He is not really that quick and is really just a three point specialist with the majority of his shots this year coming from beyond the arc this year and for his career.
The swing guard/forward is former Georgia JC Player of the Year Marcos Knight. Marcos Knight is a unusual player that average 10 rebounds in JC and is tied for the team lead this year despite being only 6'2". He seems more like a forward in that he does not like to shoot threes (at least so far this year). He is a top scorer for the team.
How CBH will matchup with these three is interesting. This will be David Wear's first game guarding a true guard. Maybe even a top scorer for a team like Massey.
Will UCLA play a lot of three guards tonight without Reeves and Stover? How will UCLA be mentally given their choke in the first game and the team's problems? Will Anderson bring a calming influence to the team and maybe some leadership off the bench?
Anderson may have a chance to play a larger than anticipated role tonight. And maybe that is an apt symbol for this team. Will Anderson be the leader of his Junior season or the underachiever of his sophomore season? Unfortunately that may be more important than anyone could have anticipated after this summer.