The "experts" at WWL are now lavishing praise on Coach Ben Howland and UCLA. It is funny to watch this considering that all the experts gave up on UCLA before the year. To the WWL's credit, most of their "experts" state that they thought UCLA was a year away but now say UCLA is a "lock for the tourney." I think Achilles laid out a better road map. I think 3-3 is a minimum still. But it is not just the ESPN commentators who are admiring the Bruins and CBH, it is his fellow coaches:
"I like their guards and their athleticism," Oregon coach Dana Altman said.
Oregon State coach Craig Robinson praised UCLA reserve guard Jerime Anderson and said that, had Jones not been limited by a balky hand, he would be "one of the best point guards in this conference." . . .
[Cal Coach Mike Montgomery said.]"They've got enough guys that are all capable of scoring the ball that it makes them that much more difficult to guard."
"I can tell you, once you get on the court with that team, they have the look and feel of a very confident group," Robinson said. "Very confident."
Who would believe that a team coming off a losing season with an allegedly weak backcourt would be praised like that?
More after the jump.
But in reality the key to the game tonight at Stanford might be what Lee has helped inspire in all his teammates:
When their defense holds an opponent under 40% shooting, the Bruins are 11-0. And it's been happening a lot lately.
UCLA has held five consecutive opponents and eight of its last 10 under that threshold, perhaps the biggest reason the Bruins have won five games in a row and nine of 10 heading into their game against Stanford on Thursday night at Maples Pavilion. . . .
Defensively, the Bruins are no longer Malcolm Lee and the minnows. Other players have become factors, particularly forwards Tyler Honeycutt and Reeves Nelson. Honeycutt leads the Pacific 10 Conference with 47 blocked shots, helping the Bruins lead the conference with 5.6 blocks per game.
Part of the reason for the improvement, Lee said, is that his defensive prowess has become contagious.
"My teammates kind of feel that, well, if Malcolm's putting all this time into shutting a guy down, it's going to take all of us to do it" to be the best team possible, Lee said. "We all kind of buy into that."
It is ironic that the articles mostly are talking about Lee (which is well deserved), Nelson and Honeycutt. Nelson has become a good man-to-man defender and Honeycutt a good help defender but both are weak in the other areas (although Nelson is improving and Honeycutt does better M2M against a 4). They are missing a BIG thing: Joshua Smith.
I admit I am guilty of it as well. Often when I do one of these front page stories, someone (correctly) writes what about Josh? LVBruin has proved the plus-minus with Josh is off the scale because he has such an effect on both sides of the court. And while we are not playing at home this time against Stanford, Josh Smith will be playing after he missed the first Stanford game. It seems incredible that anyone could forget how big Josh is; in our defense, it seems Josh did as well:
"I’m starting to be more aggressive than usual," Smith said. "I’m really trying to utilize my size."
Q: Foul problems limited your production early in the season, but lately that issue appears to have been thwarted. Why?
A: "I’m watching film and I’m comparing myself from the first half of the season to the second half. As long as you stay low and show your hands the refs won’t call fouls as much."
Of course on the road with the SPTRs will be a true test of whether Josh gets more fouls called on him. But I really don't see what answer Stanford has for Josh.
Moving on to the match-ups, any discussion of Stanford begins with Jeremy Green. Green has been hot lately. In Stanford's two most recent wins Green went 5-5 from three in both games. He has scored over 20 in their last four games. Malcolm Lee may be very busy on the defense side with another tough challenge:
Lee will by busy trying to guard Stanford leading scorer Jeremy Green on Thursday. Green has been on a roll, averaging 23 points over the last four games and had a string of 12 consecutive made three-point baskets during that stretch.
Green had only 12 points on four-of-15 shooting with Lee guarding him last month, but the Bruins are well aware of his potential to go off. He had 30 points against them at Stanford last year.
"He’s just a big-time scorer," Lee said. "He can shoot as well as put it on the floor."
. . .
"I keep reminding myself that guarding these types of players, you can’t take time off on the defense because once they see that, that’s when they take advantage," he said. "You’ve got to be on your toes every time when you are guarding these types of players because they will score on you if you’re relaxed."
Stanford plays two other guards. PG Jarret Mann is another low-scoring bad -outside-shooting pass first PG. I am not sure of Jones' health, but relatively healthy last time Jones scored 17 points off him. Of course, many of those points were from the FT line.
But that brings me to my biggest worry for this game. Mann has shot 33 FTs in his last 6 home games and 21 in his last 6 on the road in the Pac-10. I think this could be important and the Bruins need to realize the FT line will look different tonight.
The Bruins have shot more FTs than the home team on the road this year only one time, against Oregon (13-8). In the last three games at home alone the Bruins have shot a minimum of 10 more FTs than their opponent. The Bruins shot 33 FTs to Stanford's 15 in the first game.
I don't think this is a pro- or anti-Bruin thing (although Josh has been treated unfairly) but being at home does effect the referees, especially Pac-10 refs. Obviously, the style of play and score effects foul calls but still this is going to be a different game in that regard.
Stanford's third guard is Anthony Brown. A player who has shown flashes of potential and best games are ahead of him. It may be a tough match-up for Tyler Honeycutt but at 6'6" it may also be too tough for Anderson. He has been a bit streaky.
Stanford best big is Josh Owens. He had 12 rebounds and 14 points the first game but again it is different with Josh in there.
Lastly comes the Dwight Powell, an athletic but still raw forward. Stanford is actually a younger team then UCLA.
Let me wrap up by not encourage gambling, but noting that covers.com picks UCLA as one of the best bets for Thursday saying:
No team in the Pac 10 is crashing the boards like UCLA. The Bruins have out-rebounded their past 10 opponents and during that stretch the team is a staggering 9-1 SU and 6-3-1 ATS. The recipe for success for UCLA is simple: grab rebounds to grab wins.
Sophomore forwards Tyler Honeycutt and Reeves Nelson have been two of the team’s biggest pillars in the paint. Over the team’s past five games—all wins—the duo is are combining to average nearly 20 caroms per contest.
"Honeycutt and Reeves in particular have been really consistent on the glass, and they're two of the best in the league," said UCLA coach Ben Howland. "That's a huge factor going forward."
Stanford, meanwhile, is coming off an 11-point defeat at Washington and has lost six of its past 10 games. Over that stretch, the team has failed to grab more than 30 rebounds five times. The Cardinal also haven’t been very successful against the Bruins lately. UCLA has won seven of the past eight meetings and is 4-3-1 ATS over that span.
I guess that is the sign of a good team. Almost every review discusses a different player and different key. I feel confident tonight. Hopefully it is not misplaced. But I think UCLA's defense and Josh may make up a big enough difference, enough to cover the other potential difference; Stanford's being at home with the SPTRs.