Well this is going to be an interesting Saturday. It's New Year's Eve and thanks to total incompetence from Chianti Dan, we are going to be in a bizarre position to follow both our football and basketball team around the same time this afternoon. So let's start this post with some logistical information on how we will handle the game threads today.
Our football game against Illinois is scheduled for kickoff at 12:30 pm PST. Our basketball game against California is scheduled for tipoff at 1:00 pm PST. If Dan Guerrero was a competent athletic director, he'd do everything in his power to space out these two games so that it would give the UCLA alums living in the Bay Area and the fans who have gone up to No Cal, an opportunity to attend both contests. No such luck. So what we are going to do is have two game threads going on at the same time this afternoon.
Our football thread is going to go up at 12 pm PST and our hoops one will go up at 1 pm PST. Make sure you have two tabs open in your browser. We think this is the best way to organize the tracking of these two games. It is not ideal we know. But the blame for this screwed up situation is entirely on the incompetence of Guerrero and his staff from Morgan Center.
This is arguably one of the more important basketball games of Ben Howland's career at UCLA. Arguably importance of every game will only ratchet up from here on out as the Bruins are not only going to be in a desperate situation to make the tournament, but will also will be fighting for Howland' coaching tenure in Westwood.
This is going to be the toughest test yet as the Bruins will take on the favorites to win the Pac-12 conference. The Bears (11-3, 1-0) are coming off a 53-49 win against Southern Cal. I didn't get to watch the game but from the reports it sounds like the Bears were cruising to an easy win. They were up by as much as 16 points until the closing mins when 5-7 Trogan guard Maurice Jones hit three 3-pointers to close the game within 1 point. Allen Crabbe then made 3 foul shots in the closing seconds to ice the game. You can read about it here.
The game presents a lot of matchup nightmares for the Bruins as the Bears coming in with 3 solid guards, while our backcourt thanks to Howland's mismanagement is not very stable More after the jump.
While we are dealing with a back court crisis in Westwood the Bears are looking solid with sophomore G Allen Crabbe, who ranks fourth in the Pac-12 with 15.6 ppg and fellow sophomore G Justin Cobbs (12.4 ppg). Of course there is also senior G Jorge Gutierrez, who is second on the squad with 13.7 ppg. This guy is one of the toughest player in the conference as he is just four steals away from cracking Cal's top 10 all-time career list and has also done a consistent job on the boards with 5.2 rpg. He is a classic "Ben Ball warrior."
The Bears are undefeated at Haas this year (10-0). Even though they had a close one against the Trojans they have comfortable time at home, averaging 21.8 more points per game and 8.8 more rebounds per game than visiting opponents, outshooting them by a margin of .506 to .359. Cal leads the conference in free-throw percentage and three-point field goal percentage and is holding opponents to a league-best 38.8 percent shooting, from the floor [See Cal's official site]. Yikes (for us). Check out more notes on the Bears from their team page on CBSSportsline.com.
Even though the Bears will have obvious advantage against us in the back-court their front-court is somewhat in a flux due to injury to F Richard Solomon who is dealing with stress fracture. Solomon is the Bears leading rebounder (6.9 rebounds per game) and he sat out for his third straight contest against the Trojans. From the Mercury News linked above:
Cal entered the game as the Pac-12's second-best rebounding team but was beaten 38-28 overall on the boards. With sophomore forward Richard Solomon out for a third straight game because of a stress reaction in his left foot, Montgomery tried cobbling together different combinations to neutralize the Trojans inside.
"We do need more rebounds," said Montgomery, who declined to say whether Solomon might play Saturday against UCLA.
Bruins should go into this game fully expecting Solomon to play. Besides Solomon, Cal's frontline features senior F Harper Kamp (9.2 ppg and 5.6 rpg). Montogomery has been using freshman F David Kravish who has been pretty solid contributing 5.4 ppg and 6.2 rpg.
As discussed in detail yesterday our bigs were fairly atrocious against the Trees due to a combination of factors including the selfish play from our point guard, and questionable game management by Howland. At least on paper the Bruin front line of Joshua Smith, David Wear, Anthony Stover, Travis Wear and Brendan Lane should have an advantage against the Bears. If our guards can get Smith in the game early and Howland uses Stover's defensive tenacity to spark the team, Bruins will have a shot to pull off a win.
Despite the issues from Thursday night, the Bruins were very much in position to win the game. They are capable of pulling off an upset this afternoon, if they came out with a defense first mindset, put emphasis on rebounding, look to get Joshua Smith going early in the game, take smart shots within the flow of our offense and make our free throws.
Bruins have the personnel to win this afternoon if they go with the combination of Jerime Anderson at 1 (only one on the floor with a true pg mindset), Norman Powell at 2, Tyler Lamb at 3, Stover at 4 and Smith at 5. This combination can be pretty effective with base zone defensive sets with occasional switches to M2M. Unfortunately for us we know Howland will stick to his same rotation and stick with his stubborn strategery.
Either way this is Howland's program. He knows this is a must win game for him if the Bruins want to have a shot at winning this conference (or get to the Big Dance). Not a lot of margin of error left for Howland at this point. He needs to get it done.