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UCLA Basketball: Alabama Preview Part 2

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The Bruins are at a crossroad in their season. Can they bounce back from the crushing Kentucky defeat, and head into conference play with some confidence? Alabama is the Bruins first true road game. Though the Tide has a slight statistical advantage and are playing at home, like the Bruins, they are integrating a bunch of new faces and have not had a marquis win.

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Steely Dan:

They have a name for the winners in the world. I want a name when I lose. They call Alabama the Crimson Tide. Call me Deacon Blues.

I hope we're not Deacon Blues, grandiose name and all (although they meant the Wake Forest Demon Deacons).

Thank goodness Trevor Releford graduated! If you'll recall, Releford lit up the Bruins for 34 of Alabama's 67 points in Pauley last December -- a significant chunk on Bryce Alford. Fortunately, Tony Parker had 16 points, 5 rebounds and 2 blocks in 19 minutes.

(Correction to Alabama Part 1: Releford was benched for disciplinary issues for the UCLA, but he was, in fact, a starter. Here's his bio.)

Steve Alford held a teleconference yesterday in which he was asked if there was the potential for a snowball effect if the Bruins lost to Alabama. He sidestepped the question, but did acknowledge that the game was important for the team's "psyche." His theme for the presser was having to deal with things for the first time (a variation of the inexperience excuse). Well, this is the Bruins first "legit" -- as he calls it -- road game of the year, so yeah, this might be a little problem. In Alabama Preview Part 1, I point out that the stats are in Alabama's favor, and they are a relatively athletic team that might press the Bruins full-court for part of the game -- not a recipe for success, particularly for the first "legit" road game.

We've been talking about that "snowball effect" or meltdown at around this time since the season previews. So that's what I'm looking for most from this game. Can this team bounce back from the historical humiliation to Kentucky and the Gonzaga loss? Can this be an inflection point in the season when the Bruins put together a full 40 minute game against a good team that launches them into conference play next weekend on the road in Colorado and Utah? That's the $64,000 question.

Steve Alford did manage to get the Bruin players to chill out twice now: after the Washington State loss/before the PAC-12 Tournament last season and after the Oklahoma and North Carolina losses in the B4A. Interestingly, this year the Bruins got three days off for the holidays, but practiced on Christmas Eve and Christmas Night. Alford says it was spirited -- don't know if that was a pun. Also, they talked more on the court -- no small thing in trying to play team defense.

Here's Alabama's current roster:

No. Name Pos. Ht./Wt. Year
5 Justin Coleman Guard 5-10/160 FR
21 Rodney Cooper Guard 6-6/218 SR
4 Jeff Garrett Forward 6-7/206 FR
41 John Gibson Forward 6-7/220 SO
11 Shannon Hale Forward 6-8/226 SO
3 Michael Kessens Forward 6-9/223 SO
23 Devin Mitchell Guard 6-4/182 FR
1 Riley Norris Guard/Forward 6-7/207 FR
32 Retin Obasohan Guard 6-1/208 RS JR
20 Levi Randolph Guard 6-5/208 SR
35 Dakota Slaughter Forward 6-6/220 SR
2 Ricky Tarrant Guard 6-2/190 JR
10 Jimmie Taylor Forward 6-10/240 SO

The starters are (F) Kessens (transfer from Longwood), (F) Taylor, (G) Tarrant (transfer from Tulane, (G), Cooper and (G) Randolph. Beyond these five, Alabama goes nine deep this year (see Part 1 for stats).

Center/Forwards

Taylor and Kessens are roughly the same height as Parker and Looney. Taylor averages 23.5 mpg, 4.8 ppg and 5.5 rpg while Kessens averages 17.8, 6.9 and 4.8. Hale comes of the bench for 20.8, 9.8 and 3.7. This compares to Looney at 31.8, 13.5 and 10.8 and Parker at 24.3, 10.1 and 7.9

Alabama's strength has not been at the bigs for the past two seasons while, arguably, the bigs Looney and Parker are UCLA's strength now. These are not the same Alabama bigs as last year. Transfers Taylor and Kessens, though still integrating into the lineup, are improving. Taylor is a shot-blocking force. Can Parker dominate again versus Alabama new posts?

Guards

6'5" Levi Randolph is Alabama's all-everything this year: plays 34 mpg, scores 16.5 ppg, passes 3.1 apg and rebound 4.9 ppg. Control Randolph and you control the Tide - there is no Releford this year. Is there really any other choice than to put Norman Powell on him?

Alabama lost to Wichita State, beat cupcake Stillman, then barely edged Appalachian St. 60-59 at home. Appalachian St. is a 3-6 Sun Belt Conference team near the bottom of the national rankings is virtually every category. How did they get so close on the road? Alabama had a letdown game and missed its free throws. Scary stat -- Taylor had nine blocks that game.

Alabama is integrating 6 new players -- two transfers in the starting lineup and four freshmen, three of whom are in the regular rotation. They lost their best player in Trevor Releford, their defense has not been able to apply the same pressure as last season, and they appear to have motivation problems. They lost to Iowa State, Xavier and Wichita St. so they have no marquis wins. All that sound familiar?  Makes you think the Bruins have a shot if they get out to a good start without the usual early nerves, and play for the entire 40 minutes.

Wichita St. pressed Alabama for much of the second half, and turned Alabama over repeatedly. On top of that, Alabama missed free throws late. Unfortunately, applying full-court pressure doesn't seem like something the Bruins can do, but should against a team that has miscues in the clutch. We'll probably see the ¾ zone press instead.

Alabama plays slow so the Bruins should run. If Alabama uses the anti-Bruin playbook -- pull back to protect against the transition and bottle-up Looney, then the Bruins first have to look to Parker down low -- although a slight upgrade from last year, Alabama's bigs are no Cauley-Stein, Towns, Lyles and Johnson. Run first, look inside second, shoot from the perimeter third when open.

Though I don't see it in the head-to-head stats, ESPN's BPI has UCLA at 62 and Alabama at 69. Kenpom has UCLA at 51 and Alabama at 74. So the Bruins should win, right? Let's see who shows up.

What I'd like to see:

  • The team come out with a sense of urgency (like against UAB) and put together close to 40 minutes of good basketball. They have to play like they know they're playing for the season, and they care about each other.
  • Norman covers Randolph. It's time to have Powell focus on defense. I would like to see Norman get out on transition against the Tide, but he shouldn't worry about being the first or second option in the half-court offense.
  • Looney finishes and hit foul shots. If the trend of bottling him up down low continues, Kevon can step out and play the hi-lo with Parker, and shoot when the elbow is given.
  • Parker have another big game against Alabama