UCLA at Florida Preview: The Center of Attention

TAMPA, FL - MARCH 17: If Joshua Smith #34 (C) of the UCLA Bruins has a big game, he will likely be celebrating again. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

As fans of Josh who see him play every game we forget just how big he is.  The Gators are in awe of his size:

The way the Gator players and coaches talked about the UCLA freshman center as the two teams met the media in advance of tomorrow's 11:45 a.m. NCAA Tournament third-round matchup at Tampa's St. Pete Times Forum, you would have thought they were talking about unicorns.

They haven't seen a player of Smith's size and strength, not many have, and they stood in awe.

"He's a mountain, sure," Florida coach Billy Donovan said of UCLA's gentle giant. "He's a freight train. I would say every game that Josh Smith goes into, he has a physical advantage. I don't think there's a question about that. He has a physical advantage against everybody he plays against." 

Smith was a key to the Bruins win over MSU

He finished with 14 points on five of seven shooting.

"I thought it was a great move on Ben's part to start him," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "He's a load in there, and we haven't faced anybody like that so it was something new."

Smith's size and inside presence from the start was a key reason UCLA was able to out-rebound the Spartans, 25-14, in the first half and helped set a physical tone that impressed Michigan State.

"I think that's one thing Ben Howland has done, he's taken smash-mouth basketball to the West coast," Izzo said.

IMO one of the keys to our good start against MSU was starting Josh Smith.   CBH seemingly agrees:

"I just want to get off to a good start," Howland said of the Bruins, who raced to a 42-24 halftime advantage against Michigan State only to eke out the two-point win. "He is one of our five best players. He should be our starting center. I just thought it was the right thing to do."

Lastly, Smith provides UCLA with a unique advantage, one that Florida had in the last two storied meetings:

"He changes the game when he's in there because he's a low-post threat," Howland said. "There's so few guys that are really good in the low post, or anywhere, whether it's in the NBA or college basketball. When you find one and you have one, it's important to take advantage of it."

Howland and Donovan know that as well as anyone.Florida beat UCLA in the Final Four in consecutive years in 2006 and 2007. The Gators had a significant size advantage inside, with 6-foot-10 Al Horford and 6-foot-11 Joakim Noah in the starting lineup and 6-foot-9 Chris Richard coming off the bench.Horford, Noah and the Gators dominated both meetings, winning 73-57 in the title game in 2006 and notching a 76-66 victory in the semifinals the following year.

More after the jump.

First while Jones wrist continues to be an issue Lee got more banged up and looks even more like a Ben Ball Warrior:

The injury occurred in the middle of the second half when Kalin Lucas drove toward the basket and Lee jumped up to defend. Joshua Smith's elbow hit Lee in the head on the way up.

Lee finished the game without realizing how bad the gash was and had the staples inserted afterward. He had 16 points, five rebounds and three steals.

"I didn’t know it was bleeding until I was rubbing my head and somebody said you have blood on your shorts," Lee said. "I guess I was wiping my hands and I had blood on my hands. At first it [hurt], but then it just went away so it was nothing."

Lee said the injury would not affect him for Saturday's game against Florida, and that's good news for the Bruins.

By the "experts", UCLA is again the underdog, as Patrocus detailed.  Here is one overview key:

The biggest edge to Florida, however, could be in the tactical matchup.  UCLA needs to keep the tempo slow and deliberate if they’re going to have a chance in this game.  The problem is that’s easier said than done against a potent Florida offense that has demonstrated time and time again this season that they’re able to force teams into uptempo play.  We’re also impressed with the Gators’ poise on the road this year–they went 13-4 SU/10-6 ATS away from home.  UCLA, meanwhile, was only 7-8 SU/8-7 ATS on the road.  This is more of a home game for Florida and a road game

Onto the matchups, Florida may have the best backcourt UCLA has faced all year.  The tiny Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton dominated UCSB.  Assuming his knee is fine and not too swollen, Lee should be able to handle one of them (more likely Boynton) but that still leaves a difficult matchup  for UCLA against a good PG.  Jones has no excuse here as his legs are fine but Jones and Anderson will have to contain the quicker Walker. 

Walker and Boynton are the type of small, quick guards who have run the Bruins ragged. Walker, a 5-foot-8 point guard, and Boynton, a 6-2 shooter, are roommates who make things doubly difficult on opponents, averaging a combined 28.6 points per game.

"They're a two-headed monster there," UCLA Coach Ben Howland said.

In the front court, the Gators are right to fear Smith.  There 4 and 5 are not solid (Alex Tyus and Vernon Macklin) but not imposing.  UCLA should have an advantage here.  These guys are true inside players that will not be able to draw Smith outside.

The worrisome matchup is another point forward matchup who can seemingly do it all.  6'10" Senior Chandler Parsons leads the Gators in Rebounds and Assists, remember what MSU's Drayton just did to UCLA?  Unlike MSU if Parsons gets a triple double this game is likely over.   There is another difference here though, Parsons is likely to matchup some with Honeycutt.  Honeycutt has never had problems playing against people bigger them him (he is arguably much better defensively as a 4) but does have problems with people more skilled them him.  Lee may even guard him

Junior guard Malcolm Lee, the Bruins' designated stopper, said he would alternate defensively on Boynton and Parsons, even though he gives up four inches in height to Parsons.

I wish CBH had four days to prepare for this game and this matchup. This game may turn on who works their advantage better.  UCLA on the inside or Florida on the outside/wing.  Florida playing fast and pressing or UCLA playing slow and pounding the ball inside.

One thing is for sure, this means a lot to past UCLA players and fans:

Mata-Real is so burdened with the memory, he said he is going to pull out his old UCLA jersey and wear it all day Saturday.

But this is a new day and with Smith inside the Bruins should have the advantage down low.  Regardless here is to hoping for an all out effort from a motivated group of Bruins:

"We don't need what happened in the past to motivate us any more than we're motivated," Howland said. "This is the NCAA tournament. If you don't win, your season is over."

No argument here coach, Go Bruins!

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