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Focusing On The Hilltoppers

Brittany Page, a Bruin senior (from San Diego) majoring in English sent us the following preview helping all of us zero in on the Hilltoppers. Brittany is graduating next quarter in June. Enjoy. GO BRUINS. -N

Top-seeded UCLA takes on No. 12 seeded Western Kentucky in the Western Regional semifinal in Phoenix, Arizona on Thursday.

The Bruins rallied behind Kevin Love and Darren Collison's combined 40 points, to defeat a dangerous Texas A&M team, 51-49, on Saturday to advance to the next round of the NCAA basketball tournament.

Western Kentucky, making its first NCAA appearance in five years, has been one of the surprises of this year's tournament. They upset No. 5 seeded Drake, 101-99, in the first round when senior guard Ty Rogers hit a deep three pointer at the buzzer.  In the second round, the Hiltoppers beat No. 13 seeded University of San Diego, 72-63, to advance to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in 15 years.

The Hiltoppers (29-6) press teams in hopes of forcing an up-tempo game and are known for their ability to expose and defeat opponents by shooting plenty of three pointers.

As a team, Western Kentucky is 18th in the nation in three point percentage shooting 39.4 percent, with four players shooting over 40 percent from beyond the arc. UCLA Assistant Coach Scott Garson told me this morning in a phone interview:

"We have to do a great job defensively and a great job in transition."

"We have to get back in transition and have to guard guys who not only can shoot the three very effectively but who can beat you off of the dribble. So we will have our hands full but I think our team is very excited about this matchup."
Western Kentucky is led by an experienced backcourt consisting of senior guards Courtney Lee, Ty Rogers and Tyrone Brazelton.  NBA scouts have been watching Courtney Lee much of this season as he led Western Kentucky in scoring.  More from Coach Garson on Lee:
"He is a very good player and has a great chance to do very good in the future of basketball."
Lee is shooting 40.4 percent from 3-point range and averaging 20.3 points per game. He scored 29 points in the NCAA tournament's second round when Western Kentucky defeated USD.

This will be the first time UCLA plays against Courtney Lee, but his game is similar to a player they faced in the PAC-10, James Harden of Arizona State per Garson:
"He compares a little bit to James Harden of ASU who is obviously also a great player."

"Lee has the ability to shoot threes, score off the dribble and rebound like Harden."
It is safe to say that while UCLA has not directly faced Lee in conference and non-conference play they will try to defend and contain him much like they did with Harden. Although it will be a team effort, Russell Westbrook, the PAC-10 defensive player of the year, will be in charge of defending Lee since he usually takes on the best perimeter player while on defense.

While the Hilltoppers will attempt to speed up the pace of the game UCLA will try and maintain their control of the tempo. Here is Garson on tempo:
"When you can control the boards you are able to control the tempo of the game."

"Darren Collison is a great point guard and he knows when we want to push and when we want to slow it down and run our offense."
UCLA Coach Ben Howland will seemingly counter Western Kentucky's presses by controlling the tempo with a disciplined halfcourt set led by point guard Darren Collison.

While the Hiltoppers have scored an average of 85.5 points a game, their defense has not been as successful, allowing opponents to average 81 points per game.

The main advantage the Bruins have over the Hiltoppers is in the low post with 6-foot-11 freshman sensation and PAC-10 player of the year, Kevin Love playing underneath.

The Hilltoppers will use 6-foot-9, 190-pound sophomore Jeremy Evans and 6-9, 260-pound D.J. Magley to guard Love. Once again from Garson on their inside game:
"Evans is a great player who has more blocked shots than anyone on our team and Magley I'm sure is very excited to play against Kevin."

"We expect them to do a good job down in the post."
The Bruins will no doubt try to get the ball inside to their bigs as often as possible to expose this lack of low post presence and the size advantage they have over the Hiltoppers. They will attempt to get the ball into Love at the low post as much as possible for the high percentage shots and to exploit the offensive threat he poses.

Both teams have proven themselves thus far in the tournament and this matchup will be nothing short of a great game.  Here is Garson one last time on the key for tomorrow night:
"The key to winning is always our defense and rebounding."

"We have to play great defense and make it a battle of the boards. The key for this game will be taking good shots, our shot selection and rebounding."
UCLA has the obvious size and tournament experience advantage over Western Kentucky; however the key to the game for the Bruins will be defense and tempo. If UCLA establishes the tempo and defensive presence early in the game and stick to their game plan, they should come out with a victory.  But, this will be no easy feat for UCLA, as Western Kentucky has proven they are capable of pulling off upsets.

- Brittany Page