UCLA vs. Texas Preview: Which Freshman Will Make A Difference?

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 15: Norman Powell #4 of the UCLA Bruins may play a big role Saturday against the quick three guard line up of Texas. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

UCLA vs. Texas is a bit of a time to reminisce as shown by that graphic on the game. Well Comcast was silly as this is not a battle of top 10 teams, but let's reminiscence a different way. If UCLA wins on Saturday, their record will be 3-4, the exact same start as last year. Of course that team did not start the year ranked and did not lose any game but more than 12 points , while three of UCLA four losses this year have been by 16 or more. I do remember being very upset last year when VCU's no name big guy went off on us. Turned out that VCU's Jamie Skeen was actually pretty good as he led VCU to a shocking final four. Now it turns out LMU beat another top 25 team in St. Louis University coached by Rick "Bacon" Majerus.

Hold on, don't worry Bruins Nation has not gone soft. The first five games this year were an epic fail. There is no comparison for those games except maybe to 2009 or Lavin's last year. But maybe, UCLA has begun to turn it around like last year. Last year those first five games had some ups and down but in game six a new star emerged. While most focused on Tyler Honeycutt, a key to UCLA playing so well was the inside game of freshman Josh Smith. Smith scored a then career high 17 points grabbed 13 rebounds (more than his previous four games combined) and dominated against #4 Kansas' very good post players in a then season high 28 minutes. It was that night we started to believe we had a star. As the season went on Josh became the key.

But just like last year when Josh emerged against Kansas, maybe someone can emerge Saturday. Keep in mind Josh did not emerge against some mid-major or D-II team, he did against Kansas. Well, Saturday may be the night that sees Norman Powell emerge. Last year, Smith gave the Bruins a true center and helped UCLA go to the second round of the tourney and second place in the PAC 10.

This year, if UCLA is going to be good a backcourt scoring threat has to emerge. It is a must if we are going to have success. Zeek has been trying to be that person and it is obvious he is not. Jerime Anderson is UCLA's leading scorer at 11.4 per game in part because he realizes he can't be that person. Jermie has shot 8 or 9 times in every game. He knows his role. Some people think Tyler Lamb could be that person. Tyler shot does look a lot better than last year. He has been shooting over 50% from 2 but is still struggling from three shooting 25% this year. Tyler was not known as a scorer in high school and the knock was his outside shot.

If UCLA is going to success this year, it may need Norman Powell to step up and be the backcourt scorer and leader. All agree he has the athletic ability to do so. And the Texas game is a good place to step up.

Texas is led by J'Covan Brown who is averaging 20 points a game this year. As former UCLA assistant Marc Gottfried said on Brown.

He scored 17 points and dished out seven assists to help propel Texas to an 18-point lead in the second half. That's when it went downhill. Brown picked up his fourth foul, complained to the referee and subsequently received a technical foul - his fifth foul of the game.

. . .Maturity aside, Brown is one of the top playmakers in the country.

"He sliced us up like a side of fries," Gottfried said. "We'll look back and agree he's one of the better guards."

Brown is averaging over 20 points a game and almost 6 assists a game. I am not sure anyone on UCLA can guard him but it seems Powell has the best chance. Obviously Brown is the key to the Texas team. When Oregon State beat Texas in Overtime Jared Cunningham forced Brown into six turnovers. If you shut down Brown, you shut down Texas which returns zero starters from last year's squad.

[Texas Coach] Rick Barnes has certainly had his share of great teams and last year's squad qualifies, after posting 28 total wins and a 13-3 conference record, good for second place. The concern is that the loss of all five starters from that squad will drop the Longhorns into the middle of the Big 12 pack. The frontcourt has been decimated with the losses of Jordan Hamilton, Tristan Thompson and Gary Johnson. Freshman forward Jonathan Holmes (6-8, 230) has the body to be a dominant force down low in the very near future. The backcourt is also an area in transition. There isn't much to look at in terms of veteran play. Junior J'Covan Brown (10.4 ppg) will shoulder the burden along the perimeter. The hope is the McDonald's All-American Myck Kabongo will take over at the point and fellow freshman Sterling Gibbs with provide depth at both spots with his versatility. Barnes has long been known for replenishing the troops in Austin. Just how well the newcomers respond early on will determine Texas' plight both in and out of conference play.


Holmes is the key inside player, a 6'7" Freshman who has become Texas' number one inside option:

Texas freshman forward Jonathan Holmes is providing the Longhorns with some balance. Against Sam Houston State, the 6-foot-7 San Antonio native had a team-high 14 points and nine rebounds. He also blocked three shots.

Holmes has now scored in double digits in four straight games and has a combined 30 points in his last two. He is leading the team with 6.0 rebounds and is converting 92.6% of his shots. J'Covan Brown was held to a season-low 11 points, but it is good to see that Texas has other scoring options.

Of course Holmes is not the only Freshman playing a key role early for Texas. Starting Point Guard Myck Kabango stepped up the other night when Brown was off against North Texas:

Myck Kabongo's quickness is no secret. Every Texas opponent knows it's coming, because the Longhorns' blur of a point guard is the first thing that jumps off the scouting tape, and the blur almost never stops.

To give themselves a chance, most defenders take a simple precaution - they back up. And what Kabongo has learned early in his college career about all the extra space is that it's not always as great as it appears.

"It's kind of like a booby trap," Kabongo said.

. . .

Kabongo scored 16 points, handed out seven assists and missed just one field goal attempt, and more importantly to UT coach Rick Barnes, kept making all the right decisions.

"He's got to pick his spots," Barnes said. "I told him, ‘You've got to realize the flow of the game.'"

A Point Guard who needs to play smart and pick his spots, hmm, good advice to a certain UCLA Senior as well.

But beyond the individual players the key may be how UCLA does inside. If Smith was in decent shape this would be a big game for him. As it is, one wonders if Travis Wear can have another half like his first half against Pepperdine when he had 10 rebounds. One thing is for sure, UCLA should have their chances inside on the glass against a quick, strong defense but weak rebounding Texas team:

The Longhorns' struggles on the glass continued against an out-matched North Texas team Tuesday night.

It's been a big part of Texas' story so far this season, and it will very likely continue all the way through the year as it fails to get the production it needs from its frontcourt players.

The Longhorns were out-rebounded 46-30 by the Mean Green, and allowed 22 offensive rebounds. North Texas shot just 30 percent from the field, allowing a lot of opportunities for boards, but Texas continued to fail at finishing off the possessions.

"You can't be a good defensive team if you don't get back, and if you don't finish with a rebound," Texas head coach Rick Barnes said. "If you get those rebounds, then you won't have to spend nearly as much time on the defensive end."

The other guard starter in Texas' three guard lineup is Julien Lewis. Another Freshman, this time a 6'3" wing, who was #57 in Rivals and #76 for ESPN. The other big is the only other experienced starter, a redshirt senior from Cameron, Alexis Wangmene who plays for the Cameron national team. Wangmene is the hard working but unspectacular role player on the team whose job it is to rebound and play D. He never goes outside (unlike Holmes who occasionally shoots outside).

The key bench players are 6'4" wing Sheldon McClellan who is the leader off the bench and the third leading scorer "ranked as the No. 47 prospect nationally in the ESPNU 100 and the No. 60 prospect by Rivals.com following his senior season." The post sub is 6'10" Clint Chapman, a senior who has played less as his career went on until this year. He is another inside only player.

The moral is Texas is a young team that is prone to make mistakes. A big home crowd would help in this one but the Sports Arena has been a dud so far this year. Hopefully more Bruins fans will come but regardless UCLA should have an advantage inside, especially on the boards.

The Longhorns annually fill their pre-Christmas schedule with overmatched in-state opponents, and the Bearkats appeared likely to just be another one of those. Texas is 112-15 under coach Rick Barnes against teams from Texas, with only one of those losses coming against non-Big 12 schools. That lone defeat came in 1998 against Houston in Barnes' first game at Texas.

. . .

"It frustrated us a lot," McClellan said of Texas' scoring troubles. "Coach got on us about our low percentage shooting, so we tried to make extra passes and take the right shot. Some people took some bad shots."

The poor shooting by Texas and an early run by Sam Houston State put the Longhorns in a hole they would spend most of the first half trying to recover from. Texas missed 12 of its first 13 shots and Sam Houston State led 16-4.

"Discipline, or lack of, offensively," was how Barnes described Texas' struggles.

Texas has an advantage in the backcourt because it is playing its talented Freshmen who, while playing like Freshmen, are getting better. UCLA may need its talented Freshman, Norman Powell, if it is going to win on Saturday or more importantly turn around its season, as Josh Smith helped UCLA do last year.

Go Bruins.

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