Will Zeek still be able to elevate off his injured ankle? UCLA will need a very good game from Zeek tonight. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Let's let four year Senior Jerime Anderson sum up what tonight's UCLA at Stanford game means:
"This is a huge weekend for our team," Anderson said. "The biggest of the year. If we come out and start well, that will do a lot for the team's confidence."
This is the biggest game of the season for both teams. Is Stanford's 10-2 record a mirage of playing at home against most lesser teams or is Stanford really that good. For UCLA are they now a good team with a 5 game win streak or is that win streak a product of playing a bunch of cupcakes? Tonight will be telling.
The Bruins rank 10th in the conference in field-goal defense (42 percent) and 11th against the 3-pointer
(39 percent), although the team tries to make up for it with a league-leading 5.42 blocks per game and a third-best 7.50 steals per game.
The Bruins said they are just now starting to get a feel for each other on the court, and it has shown in recent weeks. Although the competition has been as stiff as Jello, UCLA has won its past four games by a margin of 302-209, and the defense appears to be coming together, particularly when coach Ben Howland allows the Bruins to play zone.
More on Stanford after the jump.
The "experts" think the game will be close.
Stanford is off to a decent start to the year as Johnny Dawkins team is 10-2 heading into conference play but with the Pac-12 getting little respect from the NCAA selection committee in recent years they are going to need to do something special to be dancing this March. Stanford has played just one team ranked in the top 25 taking a respectable six point loss to Syracuse at Madison Square Garden but after putting together five wins the Cardinal are coming off of a tough loss to a sub-par Butler team. Josh Owens is averaging 12.7 points and 5.4 rebounds, Chasson Randle is averaging 11.8 points, and Aaron Bright is averaging 11.3 points. As a team Stanford is averaging 74 points and they are shooting 47.5 percent while defensively they are allowing 57.3 points, they are 16th in the nation in defensive rebounding, and their opponents shoot just 40.2 percent from the floor. After the Butler loss I am less convinced Stanford is a real threat but they will have plenty of games to redeem themselves in the coming months. . . .
This game sets up to be close as conference play generally is and I look for the Bruins to keep it tight enough to at least get the cover here.
Mitch's Pick: UCLA +6.5
One of the reason for Stanford's strong start is they return much of the team from last year.
The leading scorer and rebounder is returning fifth year Senior Center Josh Owens. Owens has started every game the last two years and using his experience to his advantage. He is strictly an inside player who is not a great rebounder or shot blocker but does shot 62% from the field.
Chasson Randle had the unenviable postion of replacing Jeremy Green, Stanford's leader and leading scorer last year. The Freshman has done a good job and is shooting 42% from 3 while having, like many freshman, more TOs than assists. However, all that being said, Randle has stepped in well to the 2 guard role for this experienced team.
Randle's backcourt mate is Aaron Bright. Bright is shooting an incredible 49% from 3 52% overall. Bright is:
"Aaron is a terrific player, and we're very excited about his upside," said head coach Johnny Dawkins. "He's a young man who is very versatile. Even though he's a point guard, he's a capable shooter, he's really quick, he's capable of getting to the basket and making plays for himself or his teammates. He brings the ability to make us better."
His statistics and accolades from Dawkins are all the more impressive considering that Bright has had to adjust to a completely different role on the court-from the leading scorer of his high school team to a primary distributor in college-within a matter of months, a transition that he described as "a little bit" tough.
"In high school, my role was to score the ball," Bright explained. "Then when I came here, my role changed dramatically. I'm not the first option to score anymore. My main job is to set guys up, and I'm not really the focus of attention on offense."
The swing position varies a bit for Stanford. Some games it is 6'6" Anthony Brown, other games they go three guards with Senior Jarrett Mann. Brown does everything okay but nothing great while Mann has not been shooting well and does not shoot very many threes. Mann basically is the backup PG who gives Senior help to Stanford's young backcourt. While Brown is a true swing.
The starting power forward is 6'8" senior Andrew Zimmermann. Zimmermann is really just an experienced body . 6'9" sophomore Dwight Powell is the future and the one with the ability but Powell has struggled this year with more TOs than made field goals. Leading Stanford to also play Josh Huestits to help with rebounding and inside.
Basically UCLA should have an advantage inside against Stanford. Stanford has experience but not a lot of talent (except for Powell who has struggled). Stanford on the other hand may be able to exploit UCLA's zone with Randle, Bright and maybe even Brown on the outside. If UCLA goes man that could be trouble against Stanford's guards as a hurting Jones, Anderson, and Lamb may have problems with their quickness.
The latest on the injuries to UCLA backcourt:
Howland said starting point guard Lazeric Jones and backup guard Norman Powell both sprained left ankles in practice Monday, but both practiced Tuesday afternoon and are expected to be ready for Stanford.
"Both were coming down on someone else's foot," Howland said. "I'm not pleased two guys sprained ankles. I didn't sleep very well," Howland said.
How will UCLA perform in their first true road games? One thing is for sure, they better grow up in a hurry
These will be the first true road games of the season for UCLA (7-5), which played three neutral-site games at the Maui Invitational and has been the designated home game in seven games at the Sports Arena and two at the Honda Center in Anaheim.
. . .
Making things even more difficult for the Bruins will be the competition they face during their travels. On the docket are road games against Stanford (10-2) and California (10-3) followed by Honda Center games against Arizona (9-4) and Arizona State (4-8), a road game at USC (5-8) and then a road trip to Oregon State (10-2) and Oregon (9-3).
So, over the next seven games, UCLA will play the conference teams with the five best records heading into Pac-12 play with four of those games on the road and one at the Honda Center.
"How about that?" Howland said. "We're playing the top part of our league starting right off the get go."
This is a bit tough of a start for the Bruins, just like the season has been, but as CBH said:
"We'd like to get rid of the adversity," Howland said. "But adversity always makes you better if you handle it the right way."