Zeek was dominant last game against ASU . Hopeful his wrist will let him be so again. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
The Arizona State Sun Devils are currently at the bottom of the Pac-10. They are hurting with two of their better players questionable for tonight's game. A normal preview would be worthless and possibly inaccurate as I am not even sure who will be playing. Arizona State did pull off an upset victory in their last game with little used freshman in the lineup. Maybe that was their secret.
However, the point is this is a game we should win. To me the only question is when do we get to say "This game's in the refrigerator: the door is closed, the lights are out, the eggs are cooling, the butter's getting hard, and the Jell-O's jigglin'!:" I know that is cocky but I think we should win tonight without any two starters.
But since the loss to Cal there has been some teeth gnashing by some here. Achilles is even looking ahead to the Washington game. Many of the stories, including on the UCLA website, are looking at the Arizona game. Yes, that is dangerous, and on BN we generally caution against looking ahead or looking past any opponent, but there are sometimes you should just win. This is one of those nights. Tip-off tonight is at 8 p.m. PST.
So what should Bruins' fans watch for Thursday night? Let's go for a few things that are important for more than this game after the jump.
First, the obvious, said by the player who really needs to show it.
"There’s really no excuse for coming out flat with where we’re at right now," sophomore forward Reeves Nelson said.
While I am not as harsh on Reeves as some of my fellow frontpagers, it would be nice if Reeves came out with passion from the tip off so we could get the bench to play a lot. Reeves should dominate against Arizona State because they do not have a good player to match up with him. The Bruins should come out hard to tee up the all important Arizona game on Saturday.
The Pac-10's hardest player to figure out: Bruins forward Tyler Honeycutt. Overall, there might not be a more gifted player in the conference. Honeycutt is an exceptional passer, a capable rebounder and a clutch performer (remember the 33 points he had at Kansas?) But in Pac-10 play, all he has shown is flashes. Honeycutt averages 11 points, 7.4 rebounds and 3.1 assists, but he shoots 37.9 percent and has had five games where he's collected five or more turnovers. Making matters worse: Honeycutt, the team's second-leading rebounder, didn't grab a single board in 43 minutes in Sunday's loss at Cal.
The "toolbox" prides himself on being unselfish. Ironically CBH is not happy about that (emphasis mine):
Honeycutt has committed 18 turnovers in his last three games and has 86 for the season, second-most in the Pac-10 behind Washington State guard Klay Thompson's 97. "He's just got to be focused on it and take better care of the ball, take less risk with some of his passes," said UCLA Coach Ben Howland, adding that he would like to see Honeycutt shoot more and pass less.
I would be happy if Honeycutt shot more free throws because he was drawing more contact and going to the basket. Honeycutt seems too content to pass and shoot threes. Honeycutt got torched last game on defense against Arizona State. He also needs to work on that.
Briefly on the other starters: CBH says he needs to play Josh Smith more. We shall see if that happens tonight. One remarkable thing during the recently ended win streak is that Lazeric Jones has never been close to healthy. The first game against Arizona State he was 7-9 with 18 points and the all around leader. But now he is still having trouble with his wrist:
Jones has taken 5.2 shots per game since injuring his left wrist against USC on Feb. 2, a significant dip from the 9.7 shots he had averaged over the previous six games. "I'm still trying to get used to playing with it," he said, "so I don't want to try to do too much."
Lastly a note on the Bruins unequivocal leader right now, Malcolm Lee: teams know what a weapon Malcolm is on defense. The solution teams have come up with to stop Lee shutting down their best man is to really work on screening him. Both Stanford and Cal had some success with this late in games.
UCLA’s pick-and-roll defense was exposed again, too – this time by Cal’s Jorge Gutierrez. The junior guard torched the Bruins for 34 points, getting to the basket at will.
Cal did this late in the game when Lee was on Jorge. I look for Arizona State to try to do this as well. CBH had better be ready for this.
Which turns me to the last issue tonight, the bench. Besides Jerime Anderson who started the first game against Arizona State and hit a key three in OT, how are the rest going to play? It should be noted that Arizona State is so small that Stover did not even play last time and Tyler Lamb had his most minutes in a Pac-10 game.
For while smarter commentators nationally are starting to question Tyler Honeycutt's commitment to playing to his potential, others are blaming our bad recruiting and lack of quality players for our fall from a final four team:
More recently, one could argue that good and bad calls recruiting locally have led to UCLA's slide since making three straight Final Four appearances from 2006-08. Ben Howland has even openly admitted to some recruiting mistakes hurting his team.
The next couple games will be interesting to see if someone from the bench can step up. It should be relatively easy tonight and may be necessary Saturday against Arizona.
I know we should not look ahead but its okay if we do it. The Bruins players better focus on taking care of business for 40 minutes tonight. Or at least build a big enough lead so Blake Arnet can close out a game one last time at Old Pauley.