The UCLA Bruins men’s basketball team returns to action today at Noon PT when they play the North Carolina Tar Heels in the first game of the CBS Sports Classic at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. While UCLA is obviously much closer to Vegas than North Carolina, the Tar Heels have been designated as the home team for today’s game. So, look for the Bruins to be in their road blue uniforms this afternoon.
Today’s game is an important one for the Bruins. It represents the last chance for UCLA to pick up a quality win in non-conference play. It may also represent the Bruins’ best chance. That’s because North Carolina is not playing well at all right now.
The Tar Heels have lost four straight and five of the last six.
The big difference for Carolina seems to be Cole Anthony. The freshman guard played three seasons at Archbishop Malloy High School in Queens, NY where he was teammates with former Bruin Moses Brown. Anthony is the son of former UNLV guard Greg Anthony.
The reason Anthony might be the key for Carolina is that he has been what SB Nation sister site TarHeelBlog.com called “their primary source of offense.” Anthony will miss today’s game because he had surgery recently to repair a torn meniscus and will be out until probably February.
So, the good news for the Bruins is that his replacement KJ Brooks isn’t the prolific scorer that Anthony is. In his two starts since Anthony was hurt, Brooks has averaged just 5.5 points. In fact, after the Gonzaga game earlier this week, Brooks may not even get the start because he only played 15 minutes against the Zags. Roy Williams might opt to turn to graduate transfer Christian Keeling or freshman Anthony Harris for the start instead.
With Anthony out, forward Garrison Brooks has become the Tar Heels’ biggest scoring threat. More good news for UCLA is the fact that Brooks is not an outside shooting thread. He hasn’t taken one shot from three in either of the last two games. In fact, none of UNC’s starters hit from three against Gonzaga.
Of course, that may be because the Bulldogs were able to play perimeter defense, but we’ll see how that works this afternoon.
Senior guard Brandon Robinson did hit three treys on nine attempts against Wofford, but he had no points at all against Gonzaga. UNC’s other two starters against Gonzaga were freshman forward Armando Bacot and sophomore guard Leaky Black.
Overall, today’s game has become more winnable with Cole Anthony out. Given that the Tar Heels don’t really seem to have a big three-point shooter, I think UCLA will keep today’s game a lot closer than last week’s game against Notre Dame and if things break the right way for the Bruins, UCLA could come out of today with a win.