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UCLA vs. Kansas Preview: Bruins Need to Channel the Force of Luc

UCLA will likely play its toughest game of the season tonight at 4th ranked Kansas. Kansas is a hot team right now:

Two of the most storied men’s basketball programs will battle in the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series when No. 4 Kansas (6-0) plays host to UCLA (3-2) Thursday, Dec. 2, at 8 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2. Last year Kansas defeated UCLA 73-61 in historic Pauley Pavilion. . .

Kansas is coming off an 87-79 win against Arizona in the championship game of the Las Vegas Invitational on Nov. 27. . ..

Kansas takes the nation's active longest home court winning streak and school-record 63 wins in Allen Fieldhouse into the UCLA contest. KU is 6-0 for the second-straight season and fourth time under head coach Bill Self.

Kansas has every conceivable advantage beginning with the fact this team, which has no freshman playing significant minutes is really clicking in mid-season form:

Kansas leads the nation in scoring margin (+35.3), field goal percentage (57.8), assists (22.0) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.9). KU also ranks in the top five nationally in scoring offense (third at 92.0) and three-point field goal percentage defense (third at 21.1). The aforementioned is also first in the Big 12.

--Under Bill Self, Kansas has led the Big 12 in field goal percentage defense all but one season and that year KU was second. The Jayhawks' field goal percentage defense through three games is 35.8 percent. Last year KU led the league and was fourth nationally with a 37.9 field goal percentage defense.

As far as that game last year which then #1 Kansas won 82-71, well let's turn to Nestor and what he wrote.    UCLA was in the game until Reeves Nelson got hurt:

The complexion of the game totally changed when Reeves Nelson was fouled and essentially knocked out with a poke in the eye with 14:07 left in the second half. JA missed the FT (yes, Kansas picked our starting pg to shoot FTs when RN was knocked out) and our intensity and emotion never matched what it was with a healthy RN in the game. RN made a valiant effort by trying to return with PAA's orange goggles in the game but it simply wasn't enough. We didn't get the leadership, poise, composure and tenacity from our three seniors (particularly Dragovic and Keefe), as Kansas simply overpowered Bruins down the stretch for their first true road win of the season.

I guess I shouldn't be so harsh in my first few grafs. After all we kept it close when everyone expected a blow out. For a young team, I guess that is signs of progress. However, at the same time I think we should be careful about not getting comfortable with moral victories, because last time we did that we had our guys embarrassed by Long Beach State.

RN is obiously the story for our Bruins. He played like a classic Ben Ball warrior. He was playing like the tenacity we are used to seeing from forwards such as PAA, LMR, and LRMAM. He was gunning for every lose balls, playing defense with a passion, and serving as the emotional lynch pin for the entire team. He finished the game with 9 points and 7 rebounds (5 of which came on the offensive side). Clearly he has lot more room to improve. He needs to finish around the rim as he missed from what I counted 3 layups (which he probably should have dunked them on). He will get them sooner or later.

Reeves needs to recapture that energy on both sides of the court for UCLA to have a chance tonight.    And CBH wants the players, and particular Reeves, to be thinking like LRMAM on Defense and realize that Defense leads to offense:

The team spent three hours breaking down the VCU game Sunday, a day after returning from New York following Friday's 89-85 loss to the Rams.

After, he showed the Bruins video clips of former defensive greats such as Arron Afflalo and Luc Richard Mbah-a-Moute.

"They just took more pride in the defense because they knew that by doing that, they could generate their offense," said sophomore forward Reeves Nelson, who leads the team in scoring at 17.6 points per game. "That's what Coach was trying to show us. He wants to put an emphasis on transition, but at the same time, if you don't get a lot of stops, you can't transition."  

Hopefully Nelson is taking that message to heart or else he may be seeing more of the pine as Anthony Stover is earning more time for his defensive effort:

"It kind of shows you how playing defense can generate your offense and it can be pretty fun," sophomore forward Reeves Nelson said. . . .

Freshman center Anthony Stover, among the Pacific 10 Conference leaders with five blocked shots, has earned more playing time because of his energy and hustle, Howland said. 

UCLA definitely needs to step up its defense and the "new" offense is no excuse for the lack of effort at times.  A good example of that questionable effort was the ability of VCU and VIllanova's big men, not either teams strengths, to at times dominate UCLA inside:

What worries Howland most is his team's repeated defensive breakdowns. Virginia Commonwealth scored eight of its first 11 baskets on layups, some coming on put-backs after the Bruins failed to box out. 

"We're not a very good defensive team right now," Howland said, "and I'm not sure if we weren't trying the [offensive] transition that would be any different."

The Bruins simply can't give up easy shots as they have been to inside players:

The Bruins' only chance in this one will be denying Kansas second shots, and that's only if KU misses the first ones.  Unless someone like beefy frosh Joshua Smith has a big game for UCLA, that leaves the glasswork to sophomore forwards Reeves Nelson and Tyler Honeycutt.

Reeves, Smith, Honeycutt, Lane, and Stover's defense is going to be very important this game as this is the two best inside players they have yet faced.  The Morris twins (Marcus and Markief) have been dominant so far:

Marcus Morris leads Kansas in scoring averaging 19.0 per game, which is currently third in the Big 12 behind UT’s Jordan Hamilton (22.7) and CU’s Alec Burks (20.7).

Marcus also developed a new skill this summer. He currently leads KU in 3-point percentage shooting .615 (8-for-13). Not too shabby for the big man.

Markief has also been a very strong producer, leading KU with 9.5 rebounds per game.

A few more productive games and he could quite possibly start averaging a double-double (currently 12.3 ppg and 9.5 rpg).  

They twins do have one flaw which it will be up to Nelson to exploit as did Arizona's Derrick Williams:

"There are some similarities; they have similar body types," Self said of Nelson and Williams. "Reeves has expanded his game, he can shoot the three now, and he can certainly drive it. So I do see some similarities. They are both undersized power forwards by the prototypical definition."

Williams showed the holes in Kansas’ post defense with his ability to drive the ball and take the outside shot. He was 2-for-3 from three-point range and got to the free throw line nine times by drawing foul after foul out of the Morris twins (both finished with four).

UCLA does have a match up seemingly in its favor. 

Now Honeycutt presents a matchup problem for Kansas as a 6-foot-8 wing. Brady Morningstar [6'3"], who has started the last four games on the wing for Kansas, doesn’t have the length to contain Honeycutt. It may be up to Travis Releford, who at 6-5 is at least comparable to the lanky Honeycutt, to do the defensive stopping.  

This is going to be a tough game.  For the Bruins to have a chance they have to play defense, stay strong on rebounds, and draw some fouls on the Morris twins (Kansas is not deep.)  Oh and most importantly they have to do the first two with passion for 40 Minutes!

Go Bruins!