The first "big game" of the season is today. With a 2-4 start and playing at "home" UCLA needs a win tonight. Texas vs. UCLA is a contrast in style with a quick guard-heavy team against an inside "post-heavy" team. An earlier preview is below and Texas has one here.
First, the defensive key for UCLA will be stopping J'Covan Brown. As Coach Ben Howland says:
"J'Covan Brown is as good a guy as we've seen, and that includes Kansas and Michigan," Howland said.
UCLA may counter Brown with an answer that we have seen only glimpses of so far this year, Norman Powell. Ben Howland seemingly has given up on the David Wear at small forward experiment and may be playing more three guard sets now, with a lot of Powell. And it will be Powell trying to cover Brown.
After his first practice, Powell said, "Darn, I have to play defense. I was a little out of control, didn't move my feet, didn't get low, didn't get in front of my man, and it was annoying."
But Powell said Thursday he now feels ready to guard anyone in the country. "I'm ready," he said. "I'll lock down the other team's best player." . . .
"He gives us good ballhandling," UCLA Coach Ben Howland said. "And he also gives us better quickness. We have two seniors in the backcourt with some experience [Jerime Anderson andLazeric Jones] and now Powell is ready too. It's a positive."
Texas has its own problems on defense. They are worried about our inside game but as a young team starting three freshman they are also worried about fouling.
"One of our other negatives is that we put the other team on the free-throw line too often, when we just try to play defense with our hands," said Brown, who is one of three guards in the Texas lineup.
Also there are some other player notes. That inside game of UCLA has some issues, of all kinds. First Travis Wear is banged up in unique ways but should be fine. He has lost teeth and has stitches in his foot.
For now, he has two partial implants that are held together by braces in the top of his mouth. He'll get permanent implants once the season is done, if he can wait that long.
. . .
He's still dealing with a cut on his foot from a snorkling accident in Maui that required him to get stitches.
"I was just in Hawaii swimming around and I'm assuming I kicked a rock and it was pretty sharp and I just cut my foot open," said Wear.
. . .
The cut is on the top of his foot, which makes it easier to run on.
. . .
"As a basketball player you get sprained ankles here and there," said Wear, but he's never experienced anything like this.
Of course while Travis' issues are a bit of bad luck, Josh Smith's problems are more self-inflicted. Hopeful Josh will work hard to address these as the season goes on.
"I think his conditioning is way behind where he was last year at the end of the season," Howland added. "I think that's the biggest thing effecting Josh right now."
Getting up and down the floor has been a challenge at times for the 6-foot-10, 305-pounder, and it could pose an even bigger problem Saturday when UCLA (2-4) hosts fast-paced Texas (4-2) at the Sports Arena at 1:30 p.m. on Prime Ticket. . . .
He is making an effort. The Bruins were off on Tuesday, and Smith went in and did some extra work on his conditioning., an effort Howland says "was a positive."
"It's hard, because in practice we're still doing a lot of teaching and it's not like we're going up and down (the court) a ton," said Howland. "Josh's skill level is not the issue, it's just his ability to handle getting up and down (the court) four or five times before he starts having some fatigue."
While being as big as Josh presents physical issues which can be tough to overcome. Reeves Nelson is also facing his own demons of a mental sort and until he learns to deal with them, he will be coming off the bench.
However, head coach Ben Howland announced Sunday that junior forward Reeves Nelson will not be in the starting lineup anytime soon due to behavioral concerns, so Nelson's status with the team will be something to watch as conference play starts.
Will UCLA's big men be able to overcome their issues, dominate and draw fouls? If so UCLA should win.