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Can UCLA Beat A Very Good Mid-Major?

San Diego will be favorite against the Bruins and incredibly "owns" California. Another reason why Howland must win.

Will Franklin be able to Dominate  the Boards Against UCLA?
Will Franklin be able to Dominate the Boards Against UCLA?
Christopher Hanewinckel-US PRESSWIRE

The biggest game of the season thus far is coming up. UCLA is playing #23 San Diego State which believe it or not owns California:

San Diego State, winners of 25 consecutive games against teams from the state of California, looks to extend that streak when the Aztecs travel to Anaheim to face No. rv/24 UCLA on Saturday night at Honda Center in the John R. Wooden Classic.

Game time is set for 7 p.m. PT and the contest will be broadcast nationally by ESPNU with radio coverage on AM 600 KOGO and 101 KGB.

The Aztecs have not dropped a game to a member of The Golden State since Nov. 25, 2009. The current 25-game winning streak is 15 longer than the second team on the list (Kansas, 10) and is the longest streak in more than 17 seasons (records only go back to 1996-97).

Of course UCLA lost to Cal Poly and last year did not even own Los Angeles as LMU beat Ben Howland. But in addition to pride and bragging rights, this is a must win game for UCLA for the tournament. The Cal Poly loss and the possible weak PAC 12, make this game one of the two big games of the non-conference season.

San Diego is coming off a tough win against USC. But don't let that fool you, USC under O'Neil is always a good defensive team and SUC was at home and much improved. UCLA is playing on a neutral court and is not a good defensive team. This game has potential nightmare written all over it as San Diego has not given up more than 62 points all season. How will the young running offense of UCLA do in this game?

While at first glance San Diego is a terrible three shooting team, keep in mind they were 1-18 from three in the carrier classic. In that game outside shooting was difficult with the wind. So while San Diego may not be great outside shooting for the season, they did hit 7 of 15 against USC.

San Diego State is also the number 8 team in the country rebounding. Traditionally a weakness of the zone.

So with Ben coaching and UCLA's chaos, San Diego looks to be a favorite. San Diego Coach Steve Fisher had some interesting comments on UCLA in a press conference. Firs the coach-speak answer:

College sports and in particular, college basketball, the landscape is, 40 percent of those who go to a school are not there after their sophomore year. So what happens at the schools that have names, reputations, and talent, that's front page above the fold. It happens everywhere and UCLA is not the first school it's happened to where somebody has transferred and transferred before the semester was ended. So I watched them. I don't know if you watched them last night when they played Cal State Northridge who was 6 1, and went up to Provo, Utah and played BYU and should have won the game there and beat them like a drum. They were fantastic last night. So I think our worry is about us. UCLA has got a lot of good players.

Fisher also mentioned that unlike CSUN, San Diego will be ready for the UCLA zone, having already played the best:

But they are going to play some zone against us, there's no question about it. I would, too. I would play zone against us, also. And we have to do a good job of attacking the right way and we have got enough looks. And I said before, I think the fact that we played Syracuse on the opener, and we worked so hard preparing for a zone, we are much better prepared at this stage to play a zone defense than we have been in the past. But, you have to make shots. You know, eventually, if you don't make a perimeter shot, and James did that for us to start it for us in the last game. They will get tighter and tighter and tighter on you and they won't let you do anything inside. So we are going to have some shots and we are going to have to make some shots.

Both Chase Tapley and DeShawn Stephens of San Diego are "iffy" for the game. Have to think they will play for this game.

As we will likely zone a lot this game so matchups will be less important, just a few San Diego player notes.

Of course any such notes has to begin with Jamaal Franklin, a 6'5" inch guard and the leader:

MW Rankings: 1st in scoring, 3rd in defensive rebounds, 4th in rebounding, 4th in free-throw percentage, 6th in field-goal percentage, 9th in offensive rebounds, 10th in blocked shots
NCAA Rankings: 59th in scoring, 100th in rebounding, 142nd in free-throw percentage, 175th in field-goal percentage

Associated Press Honorable Mention All-American... Named Mountain West Player of the Year to become the second Aztec player to earn the honor

Franklin has been struggling a bit but keep in mind he shoots 9 free throws a game and is a terror on the boards averaging over 10 a game. The Bruins better hope Tony Parker can play because Franklin is likely to wear out or get in foul trouble some of the Bruins bigs.

Next leading scorer is Chase Tapley. He is expected to return after missing the SUC game. He is a good player and a senior:

As A Junior (2011-12 Season)
MW Rankings: 1st in minutes played, 2nd in scoring, 2nd in three-point field-goal percentage, 3rd in three-point field goals made, 3rd in steals, 3rd in field-goal percentage, 16th in rebounding
NCAA Rankings: 85th in steals per game, 110th in three-point field goals per game, 133rd in field-goal percentage, 140th in points per game

The Bruins will catch a break if Tapley is limited or rusty. He shot 43% from three last year and can be a zone buster as he shots 5 threes a game.

Next is the point guard Xavier James. James started his career at WSU before transferring. He has not shot the ball well this year but did go 3-6 from 3 against USC.

Forward JJ O"Brien is another PAC 12 transfer from Utah. He is strictly an inside player and has shot 1-13 this year from the Free Throw. UCLA could do Hack a Shaq on him as UCLA is so deep inside with Anthony Stover, Brendan Lane, Josh Smith . .. never mind.

Senior Forward Deshawn Stepehns is also like O'Brien in that he is an inside player and the free throw line is outside his range. Although he shoots a much better 46% from the line.

Key off the bench is former starter James Rahon who lit up USC from 3. James is another guard.

Although San Diego has some players who don't like shooting outside the paint, they have a star in Franklin and are good on D and the Boards. They will be a tough match up for UCLA but one Ben Howland has to coach his tail off to win.

Go Bruins.