The last time UCLA played Stanford on January 8, the Bruins had just lost five games in a row and were 0-2 in the conference. My articles (and here) expressed the desperation of the team and the Bruins Nation. They were in a must win situation. Win three in nine days was the mantra. It was looking like Steve Alford had lost the team, and many of us feared they were about to crater emotionally. March Madness was on the line.
March Madness is still on the line. Starting with that Stanford game, the Bruins have won five of the last seven games, but they were embarrassed in Oregon without Tony Parker. Those Oregon losses made the NIT look iffy -- never mind the NCAA's.
Meanwhile, Stanford went 4-2 since the loss to the Bruins, including three road wins, albeit they were at USC, a totally discombobulated Cal and Washington without Robert Upshaw. The losses were to Arizona at home and Washington State on the road. Chasson Randle scored 33 points in the one point loss to WSU. Sound familiar? He scored 32 against UCLA (box score), Stanford hit 15 3's, and that's one of keys to the game. (WSU did it differently - they just outshot Stanford, and no one else on the Cardinal contributed much.)
Sometimes, in basketball, you let the other team's scorer score, and contain the rest of the team. Anthony Brown did score 21 against UCLA. He's having a good season averaging 15.9 and shooting 46% from 3 (he's 6'6" so it is a distinct possibility that he and Norman cover each other again), but this is a case where, because Chasson Randle dominates the ball so much, that you have to put your best man on him. That's Norman Powell. I think the Bruins are in a good place here. Norman would be the primary man defender backed up by Isaac Hamilton.
What about the 3-2 zone? Randle doesn't pass so the motivation is less. He's averaging 2.8 assists per game -- not much for a point guard. I'd still use it to mix things up and of all zones, 3-2 is geared to the perimeter -- where Anthony Brown will be standing all night. The point is that I feel good about UCLA's ability to control Randle without getting into foul trouble by giving him three good looks. And for god's sake, overplay him. He will not go left!
That said, the big matchup for UCLA, likes it's been for the past three Stanford games, is our bigs versus their bigs. Our bigs have dominated. Tony Parker scored 22 last time along with 12 rebounds. Stefan Nastic had 11 and 8 and fouled out. Overall, UCLA won the rebounding battle 51-42, and led in offensive rebounds 18-16.
The major story of that game was Kevon Looney igniting a 19-5 run when the Bruins were down by 14 in the second half. He had 27 points and 19 rebounds. Let's not forget Norman Powell who came back limping to start the first OT ala Willis Reed.
The Cardinal will have freshman starter Reid Travis back from an upper leg stress fracture. He looked tentative at WSU, and only got 13 minutes. Will he be ready to take on Looney? This is another key to the game.
I like to put the Four Factors at your fingertips. Dean Oliver has determined, through statistical analysis that the certain factors shown below are highly predictive of wins (there are formulas that tie these factors together to make a prediction, but, unfortunately, those formulas are proprietary and behind firewalls). I like that the factors are matchup style. I'm a fan of statistics, but we know that head-to-head they aren't always predictive. You want to know how one particular offensive scheme performs against a particular defense, how individual players perform against each other, the team psyche at that particular time, and how the coaches prepare and adjust.
Stanford dominates the stats except for offensive rebounding and defensive free throw rate. Our garbage men are better than theirs, and they foul a lot (Stanford averages 19 fouls per game compared to UCLA's 17, and Nastic is the biggest fouler on either team). Stanford is only a marginally better defensive team than UCLA. Bottom line, you can see that Parker and Looney should win their matchups and Randle should score a lot, but what you don't see is that Norman has been on the upswing since the second half of Oregon, and there will be a concerted effort to keep Randle under wraps.
This is the type of game you wish were in Pauley. I don't know how many fans would actually come out to see who finishes in third in the PAC-12. You get the feeling that ship has sailed, but could you imagine one of those raucous games (like Arizona last year) with an NCAA bid and pride on the line?
The Bruins have not won a road game yet (except for neutral court UAB). That's my biggest hesitance in calling this game for UCLA. A lot of fouls were called on Stanford last time, and that probably won't happen this time. Further, the rim has been too tight for the Bruins on the road, especially in the first half. This makes it all the more important to get the points in the paint. This game -- and this is different from the last time -- the points in the paint includes the dribble-drive contribution from Norman Powell.
Summing it up, the road map to a Bruin victory over the Cardinal is:
1) Tony and Kevon dominate the boards, score significant points in the paint, and draw fouls.
2) Norman is able to take his man off the dribble and also score in the paint (and transition).
3) The Bruins take it easy from the perimeter (be selective), especially in the first half. Build confidence by getting points in the paint. I'd love to see another benching if Bryce starts clanking shots.
4) Hold Randle to under 20 points.
Although, I believe the road map to victory is pretty clear with the favorable matchups, it's probably not enough to overcome Stanford's home court advantage based on UCLA's no-win road record. I hope I'm wrong. In his presser, Steve Alford said it's February now, and the team has matured. We'll know early. The Bruins have fallen behind on the road in the first half consistently, and then tried to mount a comeback. The problem is that Stanford is better than Alabama, Colorado, Oregon State and Oregon. Will the road outcome be different in February?