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Ben Ball Gameday Round: Tough Matchup Against Mississippi State

We have got a busy Saturday here on BN. The Army-Navy game kicks off around 11:30 am PST. Right after that game is over we will shift our attention over to Anaheim where the Bruins are going to take on kind of a red hot Mississippi State team in the 2009 John Wooden Classic. The tipoff for that game is scheduled for 1:40 pm PST. While the Bulldogs seemed to be the favorite heading into this game, their coach is showing nothing but respect for the Bruins, who are still working to get healthy after a week off for finals.

Here is the game day setup from

The Bulldogs have destroyed the last two teams they've faced, beating St. Bonaventure by 52 points and then easily handling DePaul 76-45 on Thursday in the SEC/Big East Challenge.

State had a brutal travel schedule after that game, leaving immediately by plane from Tampa, Fla., and not arriving in California until what would have been 5 a.m. Central time.

"We've got a quick turnaround and face a UCLA team that's getting better every time they play," MSU coach Rick Stansbury said in a released statement. "We'll have our work cut out for us on very short rest."

Stansbury is being gracious because it willl be the Bruins who might have serious matchup issues heading into this game. From the LA Times:

Mississippi State's Jarvis Varnado, a 6-9 forward, leads the nation with 5.3 blocks a game.

But Howland said his team will face other problems when it comes to the Bulldogs' defense.

"They are long and athletic," he said. "They can get out and pressure you, get after you. They get after the ball."

Mississippi State has held opponents to 38.7% shooting this season.

Varnado is an imposing figure in the paint. Watching him on Thursday night though, I got the sense he is more of a defensive menace. On the offensive side he was picking up garbage points with offensive rebounds. It was in the defensive side he was dominant. It is going to be difficult for Nelson, Morgan on the offensive end this afternoon unless they decide to go right after Varnado. That will not be an easy task. More after the jump.

Complicating the matchup issues for Bruins, the Bulldogs' guards are uhm shooting lights out in last couple of games. They are red hot right now. As Patroclus noted, they are in the top-10 among all D-1 teams in reliance on 3-point shots (27% is the current D-1 average). With the same starting 5, MSU got 1/3 of its scoring off of 3’s. So throwing zone defense at them will not solve our defensive issues in the backcourt this afternoon. We will need JA, ML, MR and TH to bear down and work on putting on ball pressure on Bulldogs guards so that they can't get in any kind of rhtyhm early on. Honestly not sure if they are capable of doing it.

On the injury front, apparently there was a little "scare" around TH as he felt pain in his right leg where he experiened stress reaction few weeks. But he will be ready to go:

"We actually had a little scare," UCLA coach Ben Howland said. "We thought maybe we were going to lose him again. He had a little pain in the same shin where he had the stress reaction."

The MRI exam turned out to be negative, and Honeycutt responded to the results by having a solid outing at practice on Friday. He will be back in the lineup for Saturday’s game against Mississippi State in the Wooden Classic at the Honda Center.

And Nelson is feeling good:

"I feel good," Nelson said. "It was sore the last couple of days but it feels good."

Hopefully, Nelson and Honeycutt will be able to build on the encouraging effort from last Sunday. I think it is going to be an uphill battle for them this afternoon. However, if they can establish themselves on the defensive end early on and use that intensity to generate offense via some turnovers and get the crowd behind them, I think we will have a good shot. Hope we can really start turning it around today and celebrate a real victory instead of meaingless moral ones.