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Ben Ball Gameday Roundup & Notes

I have to say I am a little amused by the confident predictions in reaction to my post on Cal notes. I just don't think this game is going to be easy and I will not be surprised at all if the Bears pull it out. Of course, I am not knocking down our Ben Ball warriors at all. But the reality is people need to appreciate how difficult it is to pull off sweeps during these Bay Area road trips. If I have it right, I believe since Harrick became coach, we swept the Bay Area trip only four times: 91-92, 94-95, 99-00 and 05-06. Again, I am coming up with that off the top of my head. So I could be a little off. But the point is this game is going to be a war. And given a talented Cal team that is healthy and hungry, this will be yet another brutal test on the road.

Bilas on the WWL has this pegged as his game of the week. His notes on ESPN track pretty closely with what I had up yesterday:

Key matchup: UCLA's guards vs. Cal's guards. The frontcourts matchup very well, but UCLA has an advantage in the backcourt. Collison and Westbrook are both in the top five in the Pac-10 in assist-turnover ratio and make very few mistakes. If Cal is able to win this one at home, the guards will have to at least play UCLA's guards to a draw. UCLA had issues with Texas' guards because of the Longhorns' scoring ability and ability to keep their dribble, but Cal does not have guards like that.

Key stats: Rebound margin and turnover margin. UCLA is the better rebounding team, and the glass will be a major factor. Cal and UCLA have similar margins overall, but UCLA has played the tougher slate. Cal will have to be stronger with the ball than it has been all season.

X & O to watch for: UCLA does as good a job as any team in the nation at doubling the post, and only Cal and Florida did a good job in handling UCLA's post doubles last season. UCLA brings its double team from the opposite big. The Bruins press up on the ball side and deny the pass out, and then they zone up on the weak side and force the pass opposite and long. With guys like Alfred Aboya, Love and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, UCLA is long and athletic and forces a lot of big men into bad passes. Cal, however, has some good passing and smart big men, and the manner in which Cal handles UCLA's post doubles will be a major factor.
More on the backcourt matchup from the preview at Bruin Basketball Report:
At point-guard, the Bears have lightening quick 5'10 sophomore Jerome Randle. He was recently named Pac-10 player of the week after averaging 23 points in two games.

Randle is averaging 13.7 points and 4.0 assist, however, he also turns the ball over 3.9 times a game. Earlier in the season versus Missouri, he turned the ball over 10 times in 36 minutes. Coach Braun feels part of the problem is that Randle tries to make a big play each time he has the ball.

UCLA's Darren Collison had problems staying in front of Stanford's Mitch Johnson on Thursday and will need to step up his defensive effort against the speedy Randle. If Randle starts hitting from outside, he shoots 50% from three-point distance, it will open up the inside for Cal's Hardin and Anderson.

Nikola Knezevic (6'2,185,So) has been starting at a guard spot, but we'll likely see both Jamal Boykin and Eric Vierneisel logging more minutes on the floor.

Boykin (6'8,235,So) transferred from Duke last season and is still learning the Cal system. It wouldn't be surprising to see him eventually move into the starting line-up later in the season. He's averaging 7.0 points and 4.3 rebounds in 14.0 minutes per game but he is capable of bigger numbers. Against Long Beach State two weeks ago, Boykin had 18 points and 10 rebounds.

Vierneisel (6'7,210,Sr) is averaging 4.9 points and 2.6 rebounds a game. He hit 3 big three-point shots to finish with 15 points in the win against USC on Thursday.
As usual, make sure to read the whole preview by going here.

Obviously, a key X factor in this game will once again come in the form of Russell Westbrook. Pucin has a report in the LA Times today about how Russell has embraced his new role of being the microwave off the bench:
Russell Westbrook, assist leader of the Pacific 10 Conference, UCLA's premier perimeter defender, a lanky sophomore who seems able to bend and not break no matter how many hard knocks he takes, shrugged his shoulders and said "why not?" when Coach Ben Howland told him he wouldn't start for a while.

"That's the UCLA way," junior forward Alfred Aboya said. "I think the coaches here do a good job of recruiting good players. But not only good players but good people with good character."
If anyone thinks this was an easy decision for Coach Howland, read this:
Measuring his words carefully, Howland described Friday how difficult the decision was. "It bothered me for a while," Howland said. "At the end of the day, it is what it is."

Partly, it was a gut decision, Howland said. Partly, it is an experiment. Mostly, it is a necessity.

"The bottom line is, we had four perimeter players getting major minutes," Howland said. Now it's three and, Howland said, "they can't all start or no one is coming off the bench for them. Russell's one of our top five players and it makes it hard."

Westbrook said he was "fine" with the decision. "Doesn't matter," he said, "as long as I play and we win."
I know what everyone is thinking after reading Howland's words. Yeah, I say they have a whole different (and deeper) meaning coming from him as compared to you know who.

As for AA2, something very interesting from Pucin:
Aboya is on track to graduate in June with a degree in international relations. Aboya said he was torn about whether to play his senior season for UCLA if he gets his degree, or go home to begin a career in government work.

"Right now, I can't tell," Aboya said. "It's obviously a hard decision. You have to talk to people that are important to you -- your family, your coaches -- and decide what's best for you and for them. As for now, what I have in mind is California tomorrow and the Pac-10 season."
Well, I will tell you right now that AA2 more than Love is a priority for next season. I have mentally prepared myself for Love being one and done. I am not expecting anything more from KL than this season. However, we have a chance of getting AA2 back for at least one more year, if we make sure to let him know how much we want him back. If you are a student on campus, let him know every time you see him that you want him back, and I would honestly start thinking about starting a facebook group, t-shirt campaign etc pleading with him to come back for one more year. That man is going to be our starting center next season.

More on AA2 from Painter in the DN:
"He reminds me of the Terminator," Howland said on Friday. "He's like a machine. He never stops. I told my staff that I've never had anybody who brings more intensity every day like he does. He's the best I've been around in 27 years. It's really incredible how hard he plays. There's nobody like that."

Aboya's mettle has never been more important for fifth-ranked UCLA (13-1, 1-0) than now. He moved into the starting lineup for Thursday's Pac-10 Conference opener and will remain there for the foreseeable future because of the injury to Michael Roll. The Bruins are essentially working with a seven-man rotation.

Staying out of foul trouble, which has long been a problem for Aboya, will be crucial.

Howland can live with his foul trouble because he doesn't want to take away the aggressiveness that defines Aboya. He's averaging 3.9 points and 2.4 rebounds in 17.3 minutes per game. Yet there's no statistic for his defensive intensity and disruption of an opponent's offense.

When asked about his nickname, Aboya said: "Oh, that's public?"

The "Terminator" is out, not that fans couldn't have dreamed up something similar. Aboya has seen the movies but says he can't do an impersonation of Arnold Schwarzenegger. At least the accent. But he can inspire his teammates.

"I bring excitement and energy," Aboya said. "I try to motivate people. Everyone feeds off my defensive intensity."
Again, remember AA2 has been making this kind of contribution despite breaking the orbital bone around his eye a little more than a month ago. And you wonder why Coach Howland loves his game? The Terminator is also the focus of OC Register's game report for today.

AA2 and his team-mates will have a huge test today. As I mentioned above I am not confident as many of you. However, I do believe we are going to be okay if we come out with the same focus and intensity we showed during the second half on Thursday night.

Open thread will be up later this afternoon.