This is the biggest game of the season so far.
Why? It’s UCLA’s first true road game. It’s the last non-conference game that is seriously in doubt. (This UCLA team is not beating North Carolina or losing to Cal State Fullerton.) It’s the last realistic chance for a “good” non-conference win. It’s the last chance to erase the bad non-conference loss to Hofstra. And most important of all, it’s because Digger is a wimp.
This is still a rivalry game of sorts and this is the 50th matchup. It would be a nice symbolic win for Cronin, regardless of what else happens this year.
Notre Dame is not the worst matchup for UCLA. The 7-3 Irish are led by 6’9” John Mooney. CBS Sports explains:
In addition, the model has taken into account that John Mooney is a beast on the boards. The senior forward leads the nation in rebounding, averaging 13.2 rebounds per game. He also is tied for second in the country with seven double-doubles.
But just because the Irish seem to have the edge on paper does not mean they will win or cover the Notre Dame vs. UCLA spread.
UCLA has the rebounding prowess to neutralize Mooney. The Bruins lead the Pac-12 and rank 21st in the country in rebounding margin (8.9 per game). They have out-rebounded the opposition in all 10 games this season.
Jalen Hill and the UCLA defense may be able to do okay against Mooney. Of course, Mooney could get Hill and Riley in foul trouble as well.
The guards of Notre Dame are a tough matchup for UCLA. They don’t turn the ball over much and can hit threes. While I think UCLA has a chance against Mooney, I am not as optimistic on the guards/wings. Bruin Report Online has this free preview up which discusses on the guards:
One of the other senior leaders of the team is guard TJ Gibbs (6’3”, 185 lbs.). He is averaging 12.4 PPG and has 40 assists against only 13 turnovers, and he isn’t even the primary point guard. Gibbs hasn’t been shooting well from inside the arc but he has been from beyond it. He is averaging 33% overall from the floor, but 40% from the three-point line. He is the team’s best on-ball defender and arguably its best athlete. Big things were predicted of Gibbs after a strong sophomore campaign, but he has been relatively disappointing the past season-plus. Still, he is fully capable of dominating this game if the Bruins don’t pay attention to him.
The point guard is sophomore Prentiss Hubb (6’3”, 175 lbs.) who has had a good year distributing the ball. He leads the team with 45 assists against only 21 turnovers and has progressed nicely from his freshman season, which was inconsistent to say the least. He is averaging a solid 10.4 PPG, but his shooting is still a concern, both inside and outside the arc, and he simply isn’t getting to the free throw line. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as Hubb likes to get the ball to his teammates, but there are times where he has needed to get to the basket and he hasn’t done it. Even when he has, he is only 1-5 on free throws for the season.
Because of UCLA’s deficiencies so far this season in defending the three-point line, the real danger man as far as the Bruins are concerned may very well be sophomore Dane Goodwin (6’6”, 200 lbs.). He is the best shooter on a poor shooting team, but he would be considered a good shooter regardless of where he played. He is statistically the best overall shooter on the team at 48% and he’s hitting 43% of his three-pointers. He is averaging 11.3 PPG but the feeling is that this is the kind of game where he could go off unless UCLA head coach Mick Cronin has improved UCLA’s perimeter defense. Interestingly, Goodwin has yet to start a game this season.
Keys to the Game:
1. Shutting Down Mooney: UCLA has a realistic shot to shut down a good big in Mooney. Can they do it? UCLA has to win the boards this game and that will be the key to having any shot.
2. Defend the Three: Notre Dame is not a great driving team but they can shoot the three. Can UCLA do a good enough job defending the three?
3. Play Well On Offense: How much offense can UCLA create against a team that does not turn the ball over? UCLA’s set offense has not always been the best. Especially against teams that can defend inside. Can Jaime Jaquez Jr. continue his magic?
Go Bruins! Beat the Irish! Digger is STILL a wimp!