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UCLA Basketball Weber State Preview

Above is a picture of all the Bruins that have been consistently improving this season.
Above is a picture of all the Bruins that have been consistently improving this season.
Jeff Gross

Before the season when I looked at the schedule this was the game that worried me the most. Yes, you read that right a 4 pm game on December 23 against Weber State. I was thinking a game right before Christmas with zero students in attendance and after a likely loss to Duke against the best team from the Big Sky would be a "trap game." For preseason Weber State looked tough:

The Weber State men's basketball team is a heavy favorite to win the 2013-14 Big Sky Conference title, according to the preseason media and coaches polls released Thursday by the conference. It is the fifth time in the last six years the Wildcats have been selected as the conference preseason favorite.

. . . The Wildcats were also first in the media poll, receiving 31 of the 34 first place votes and totaling 370 points.

Weber State is coming off one of the most memorable seasons in school and Big Sky history last year. The Wildcats set a school and conference record by posting 30 wins, finishing the year 30-7. WSU advanced to the championship game of the Tournament, becoming the first team in Big Sky history to reach the championship game of a national postseason tournament. The Wildcats finished second in the Big Sky standings, posting an 18-2 record in league play, and advanced to the Big Sky Championship game for the third time in the last four years. WSU has won 10 or more conference games for seven straight seasons, a Big Sky record.

Weber State finished the season first in the country in field goal percentage and first in three-point field goal percentage. The ‘Cats were also second in the nation in three-point field goal percentage defense and finished the top 10 in the nation in six statistical categories. WSU won a school record 17 home games and posted the best season attendance average in 17 years.

However, things have not worked out the way there were supposed to for Weber State. They have come apart and have only one win against division one competition.

Now the game looks like a tough game only because UCLA is in turmoil because of Alford. For three straight games UCLA has been out played in the second half. Yes even lowly PVAM out scored UCLA in the second half of that UCLA victory. But more disturbing is what Kyle Anderson said after the Duke game:

"I don't know what's going on," sophomore Kyle Anderson said. "I think us players trust the coaching staff to let us know what's going on in the second half. I wish myself and everyone else knew what it was so we could be a better second-half team."

This is not good. Kyle has a high basketball IQ and is a willing student of the game. Last year he played the power forward full time because the team needed him and he never complained. It could be a frustrated kid after a loss in front of his family but regardless his comments ring true.

The bad news keeps coming.(emphasis mine)

NBA scouts and front office types have become enamored with LaVine's athleticism and scoring ability. The 6-foot-5, 180-pound guard is ranked third among point guards (behind only Australian phenom Dante Exum and Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart) and 10th overall on ESPN NBA Draft insider Chad Ford's latest 2014 Big Board. DraftExpress ranks LaVine 14th among NCAA freshman, and projects him as the 5th overall pick in its latest 2014 mock draft.

. . . Of course, debating LaVine's draft stock misses the point if the freshman doesn't plan to declare for this summer's draft. LaVine, who says he has also heard himself described as "a more athletic [Golden State Warriors guards] Klay Thompson or Stephen Curry," says he will consider leaving for the NBA after one college season. "That's my ultimate goal, is to get to the NBA," he says. "With the one-and-done, I don't know about that yet. I feel like anyone would consider it. It's going to be a decision me and my family make at the end of the year."

The article was written after the Duke game. It did say LaVine needs seasoning. However, I don't think you can blame a kid for going to the NBA if he is a lottery pick. This means next year Bryce Alford could be the only point or even combo guard on the roster. There is no else.

But back to this year. Obviously Weber State is not the team it was hyped to be in the preseason but this game is still bigger than it looks at first glance. Winning the game is expected and necessary. Losing the game or even playing poorly in the second half will be a disaster.

The team is reeling, lost, likely playing in front of no fans, and playing a game to which winning is as meaningless as it should be easy. No credit will be given for winning. This is a game for the body language experts to watch closely.

Fortunately Weber State is a bad team that looks like another cupcake. How bad, taking out the statistics of a 71 point win against a division III team ,Weber State is:

  • 317 out 345 in rebounding in the country with a margin of -5.6
  • 227 in field goal percentage
  • 297 in assists per game

This is a bad team. This cupcake is different because when the game was scheduled it looked like a solid game. But now things have changed. More importantly cupcakes are not "fun" anymore.

So I am not going to break down the players or matchups because it should not matter.

However, there is one more Weber State item worth mentioning: Weber State has some interesting UCLA connections that could make some points for today's situation.

Despite playing just two times over the years, Weber State has two coaching connections with UCLA. Two former UCLA head coaches also have strong ties to Weber State. Larry Farmer, a former standout player at UCLA under John Wooden, became the head coach for the Bruins for three years from 1981-84, replacing Larry Brown. Farmer finished 61-23 overall in three years with the Bruins. After UCLA he went on to coach for three seasons as the head coach at Weber State from 1985-88. He finished 34-54 overall and 17-27 in Big Sky play in his three seasons with the Wildcats. Farmer is currently an assistant coach at Western Michigan.

Another former UCLA head coach is an alum of Weber State. Ben Howland, who coached the Bruins for 10 seasons from 2003-13, was a former Wildcat basketball player. Howland played two seasons at Weber State from 1977-79. He played in 62 career games, averaged 9 points and 3 assists per game, and was part of two Wildcat teams that won the Big Sky and advanced to the NCAA Tournament under head coach Neil McCarthy.

A lot of people have been quick to point out that Howland would have likely lost to one of the cupcakes. I agree but a key trait of even the worst Howland team was they improved as the season went on. All Howland teams were a better product in March than October. So far for Alford. . .

Ironically I have seen one player improving as this season goes on, Bryce Alford.

Which brings me to Larry Farmer. At the time Farmer was coach at UCLA, UCLA had never fired a basketball coach. Then Chancellor Young made clear he was not going to fire Larry Farmer, no matter how bad a coach he was (IMO he was the worst UCLA basketball coach ever). So the AD at the time stripped Farmer of some of his powers and even hired assistant coaches to "toughen him" up. Farmer quit.

Alford has a huge guaranteed contract of six years, but that does not mean he can't be forced out.

Is it too early to make that happen, of course. But if UCLA keeps playing second halves like the last three games, then it will soon be time to start thinking it.

Go Bruins.