UCLA has had a tough go of it, but they are always a dangerous team if you sleep on them--Arizona State will attest to that as they fell behind early on the Bruins and couldn't catch up before the buzzer sounded. After being swept last season by the Bruins, the Bears shouldn't be lacking in motivation and desire to win this one. No matter how down on their luck this current incarnation of Bruin basketball may be, UCLA is UCLA.
We go inside the numbers and look at both sides of the ball. All stats again courtesy of Pomeroy.
UCLA Offense vs Cal Defense: An average offense (101.2, 165th in the country) clashes against an underrated defensive squad (91.6, 50th in the country). Only ASU and USC are more defensively efficient squads in the conference, and both of them played a game last Saturday, that, as norcalnick described, "set offensive basketball back several decades". So it's safe to say UCLA will be facing not only a good defensive squad, but a good defensive squad with good offense to complement it on Wednesday night.
The Bears have seven players with an offensive rating of 110 or higher; the Bruins have two in Reeves Nelson and Michael Roll (there was a third--Drew Gordon). Roll looks like their most consistent offensive player with a 58.4% eFG, rivaling Boykin and Randle's efficiency. Interestingly enough, the fifth-year senior was barely hitting ten minutes a game some nights in his earlier years as a Bruin, which makes you wonder what happened to UCLA's talented recruiting classes the past few years and why they haven't panned out as expected.
What's most perplexing about the Bruins is that they're very good at shooting 2s (77th in the country), not so good at shooting 3s (190th). So why do the Bruins have a higher 3PA/FGA ratio than Cal (i.e. UCLA shoots more 3s at a less efficient rate than Cal)? I can only assume UCLA found themselves in numerous holes and tried to shoot their way back into it. Of their three big shooters from downtown, Roll is shooting a good 44%, Lee is shooting an average 35%, and Nikola Dragovic is currently at a horrifying 27% (keep on hoisting them up Drago!). It evens out, but you wonder if the Bruins wouldn't be better at slashing to the basket and attacking every chance they get (Lee, Nelson, Roll and Jerime Anderson are all around 50% at two-point percentage).
The most grave number for the Bruins is their woeful free throw shooting: UCLA is one of the worst teams in the country at the charity stripe, hitting only 64%. Their inability to nail free throws turned a comfortable win over Arizona State into a last second nailbiter. By contrast, thanks mainly to Randle, the Bears are one of the best in the country at around 73%.
Only Jorge and Max struggle at the line; everyone else in the big rotation hits 64% or more, and the players who shoot the majority of the free throw shots (Christopher, Robertson, Boykin, Amoke, Randle) all shoot 70% or better. By contrast, only two Bruins hit 75% (Dragovic and Roll); everyone else is 68% or below.
One bright spot: the Bruins have three pretty good passers in Lee, Roll, and Anderson, all who share and distribute the ball when given the chance. If Cal gets careless with their defense, there could be some lapses for UCLA to exploit.
If you're the Bears, you want to put the Bruins down early and get a big lead--UCLA has not shown the ability to come back from an early lead. Strike hard, strike fast, strike often.
UCLA Defense vs Cal Offense: Although the Bruins haven't been lighting the world on fire with their offense, we're not exactly shocked that the powder blue and gold aren't freewheeling and dealing the ball like Showtime (when was the last time you watched Ben Howland's teams and admired their offense?). What is surprising is how far the Bruins have fallen on the defensive side of the ball.
UCLA is ranked an average 148th in defensive efficiency, 193rd in forcing turnovers, 217th in effective FG% defense...the only constant is they keep teams off the offensive boards (65th). They'll be squaring off tomorrow night against a top 10 team in offensive efficiency, a top 40 team in protecting the ball and effective FG%. Talk about mismatches--the Bears need to make sure their offense dictates the game or they could end up in one of those Howland slugfests they want no part of.
The most glaring weakness for UCLA is their three point defense--the Bruins are one of the worst in the country, giving up almost 39%. Coming in is a Cal team shooting about 39% from downtown. The Bears could have a lot of looks at triples in this game, and they'll need to take full advantage of the opportunities they're given if they want to bust this one open and ensure there's no contest.
Leadership/Intangibles: UCLA is a young team with a lot of one-and-doners. Cal is a team with four starting seniors. Not hard to see where the advantage lies. Comments like this only adds credence that their squad is bereft of tested veterans.
That is not happening with the team "led" by Dragovic, Roll and Lee. All of these guys are mentally soft. You can read it in their body language every time the going gets tough. Dragovic has always been a terrible shooter except for the decent nights he has one every few games. Roll has good fundamentals and a sense of Howland's scheme but haven't seen him make a clutch shot or a play since a mid range jumper he sank against Pitt in a tourney game few years ago. Lee has shown signs of being a decent defender (relatively speaking here) but his offensive skills are not there, and at least from what we have seen he is no where to close to level of AA, RW in terms of bringing passion, intensity and leadership on the basketball floor.
You can sense it when you watch these guys. Every time we face an adverse situation you can sense from their body language how they are ready to crumble under pressure. They got incredibly lucky against Arizona State down the stretch as their un-leader like plays almost cost us in crunch time.
The big thing that could help UCLA is if Jorge Gutierrez can't suit up, which would force Christopher and Robertson into more defensive assignments on the talented Lee and maybe stretch the Cal rotations a little more. That could open up Dragovic as a three point threat (he's very hot and cold with his stroke, but it wouldn't be shocking if he got going), slow the pace down and make Cal play a drag-it-out game. The Bears have to make sure they don't get sluggish in their offense and dictate the tempo--keep the ball moving, keep players moving, rotate onto their defenders, and show a similar effort to what they put up against the Cardinal.
Ultimately, the Bruins are truly baby bears this year. Cal has to show them who's Papa.