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UCLA v. Stanford Preview: Another Must-Win for the Bruins

As Achilles discussed and I did here, the Stanford game is the last of the four must win games.  The last three wins will all be for naught if the Bruins don't pull this one out against Stanford.  Sure, beating the Oregon schools and Cal is good, but right now, at this snapshot in time, it's only NIT good.  UCLA has won the first three games and made them all interesting, but remember they did win. Stanford may be the toughest of the four games and the status of Josh Smith will be a game time decision.  However, this team has shown some mental toughness and overcame adversity (sometimes self inflicted) in winning those three games.

First on Josh.  CBH said:

UCLA head coach Ben Howland said that freshman center Joshua Smith would be a game-time decision for the Bruins' matchup at 11 a.m. today at Pauley Pavilion.

Smith hit his head on the court after a first-half fall during UCLA's 86-84 win over Cal on Thursday night, returned briefly in the first half, but was then benched for the second half for precautionary reasons after complaining of a headache and neck stiffness.

Howland said Smith suffered a mild concussion - Smith passed a verbal concussion test but had a "glitch" in the physical test - and would be reevaluated on Saturday morning.

"You can't make up for what Josh had given us," Howland said. "He was on his way to a great performance again yesterday. He was going to do some big things for us, and if he can't go, it'll be a big blow."

What we lose without Josh is not just the obvious offense and rebounding but it is also a defensive presence.  CBH also mentioned for the rest of the year Josh will be coming off the bench.

The Bruins held on without Smith, who had four points and five rebounds in six minutes, but their interior defense clearly suffered. Golden Bears big men Harper Kamp, Mark Sanders-Frison and Richard Solomon combined for 43 points and made 15 of 24 shots, mostly on layups and dunks.

UCLA freshman center Anthony Stover, who had supplanted Smith in the starting lineup to help keep Smith out of foul trouble, had four rebounds, two turnovers, a block and a steal in 15 minutes.

Howland said Smith would come off the bench for the rest of the season regardless of whether he was cleared to play against Stanford.

"I don't want Josh getting a foul in the first three minutes of the game," Howland said. "It's not good for him psychologically and it's not good for us."

Fortunately for us Stanford is not an inside team.  Their offense is led by Jeremy Green and he is the key to the game according to this free preview on Bruin Report Online:

Stanford’s best player and the one man who lit up the Bruins last year in both games against the Bruins is junior guard Jeremy Green (6’4" 198 lbs.). Green is Stanford’s leading scorer at 14.9 PPG and by far the best three-point shooter on the team at 41%. In fact, he’s made almost as many three-pointers as any other Cardinal has attempted. He really is the cog that makes Stanford’s offense run. Anyone that watches this game can bet his or her mortgage or rent that Coach Ben Howland will put UCLA’s best defender, junior guard Malcolm Lee, on Green. It can’t be overstated how important it is for the Bruins to shut down Green. USC did it Thursday night and steamrolled Stanford, who couldn’t score with Green held in check (5 points). Even though Stanford has issues scoring when any of its guards are shut down, Green is the key. Even if Joshua Smith doesn’t play the Bruins can win this game by shutting down Green and although, as Tracy Pierson pointed out in his Cal game review that UCLA is a mess defensively, the one player who isn’t, the one Bruin who has consistently played good defense and shut down opposing team’s best players, is Malcolm Lee.

. . .

Stanford’s offense looks to dribble penetrate and kick out to open shooters, namely Green. Once the shots start falling for them the Cardinal then pound the ball in to Owens and let him score in the low post. USC defeated this Thursday because they basically played heavy ball pressure and denial on the wings and allowed their bigs to take Stanford’s bigs without much help, almost saying "beat us if you can". This really threw the Cardinal off and they ended up shooting 22% from the floor…as a team…for the game.

UCLA will need to be especially alert on the backside and with their help if the Bruins want to come close to shutting down Stanford’s offense. Still, with Stanford so reliant on Green, if I were the coach I might tell Lee to stick to Green as if UCLA were playing a box-and-1 and basically tell the Cardinal that I didn’t think any of their other players could beat the Bruins.

This all comes down to Smith, though. If he plays, because the Bruins match-up better with the Cardinal than they do with Cal, expect the Bruins to win comfortably. If he doesn’t play...let’s just say I hedge my best because it’ll be about as close as Thursday’s win was over Cal.

I think the box and 1 comment is an unlikely but interesting one.  After Cal, we are looking like a team of one great defender and a number of offense players.  While the big guys were singled out above, I don't think anyone outside of Lee had a good game in the second half on defense when Cal shot over 70%.  But don't forget we beat Oregon and Oregon State on the road holding them both under 60 points.  

A few other Stanford notes.  On the game last year at home against Stanford.  It should be remembered that Lee was clutch and that Tyler Honeycutt arguably first earned his nickname toolbox for this game (emphasis mine):

In last year's game in Los Angeles, Reeves Nelson led the Bruins with 18 points while Malcolm Lee (eight points) hit a pair of free throws with 24 seconds left to secure the victory. Michael Roll had 16 points and five assists while Nikola Dragovic added 15 points, six rebounds and three steals for UCLA. Tyler Honeycutt had a monster game, registering 12 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists, three blocks and two steals. Landry Fields had 35 points and 10 boards for Stanford. Jeremy Green was the only other Cardinal to reach double figures with 18 points. UCLA Head Coach Ben Howland is 9-6 against Stanford and 5-2 against the Cardinal in Pauley Pavilion.

The official Stanford preview has some more details for those interested:

After a 65-42 loss at USC two days ago, Stanford (10-7, 3-3 Pac-10) still finds itself searching for its first win against either of the Southern California schools since 2005. Now Stanford must contend with UCLA (12-6, 4-2 Pac-10), winners of three straight.  . . .

However, the Bruins have won eight of the last 10 overall [against Stanford]. .  .  .

Josh Owens is averaging 10.5 points per game in two meetings, connecting on 9-11 tries from the floor.

Stanford is a tough defensive team who gave Washington their only Pac-10 loss by a scored of 58-56.  Despite their 3-3 record, no one in Pac-10 play has  scored more than 68 against them. On the other hand they have only won once on the road this year, against lowly ASU.  

In a new concept for Bruins' fans, this game will likely be better for UCLA if it is higher scoring (UCLA is 4-1 when they score 80 or more including their best win of the year over BYU).  UCLA should win today as our defense should play better against Stanford weak bigs.  On the other hand, without Smith for 20 plus minutes, it could be interesting.

Regardless of that, UCLA needs to win today to make the Big Dance.  UCLA is improving but losing today makes the last three games fodder for the NIT resume.  This really is a must win.

Go Bruins.