For the third time in four games, the Bears will be fighting for at least a share of the lead in the Pac-10. A loss to the Bruins would put them in dire straits, as UCLA would own the head-to-head tiebreaker. Cal is running out of chances to prove themselves before the curtain comes down on what looked to be a promising season.
To say the least, Cal should and must win this game if they really want to be considered for an at-large bid. A sweep to the worst UCLA team in a decade would be nothing short of disastrous and pretty much put us in the same position as every other team in the conference--win the tournament to get in. Yuck.
We take a look at the revitalized Bruins with the help of ryebreadraz of Bruins Nation, who was kind enough to answer our questions about UCLA hoops.
1) Malcolm Lee seems to be struggling a lot. Is he really a good fit at the point guard spot?
Well, he's as good of a fit as this team has. Since moving from the shooting guard to the point guard spot, Lee has lost much of his aggressiveness going to the rim and coupled with his poor shooting (under 10% from three in Pac-10 play), his scoring has nosedived. Once UCLA's most dangerous penetrator and only player who can really create his own shot, Lee now focuses on initiating the offense and not turning the ball over. After the horrid point guard play the Bruins got early in the season, the limited turnovers is the best we can ask for from the point guard spot and Lee is providing it.
I fall somewhere in the middle of most people when it comes to Dragovic. Some loathe him and irrationally blame him for everything that goes wrong with the team. Others have become so repulsed by the attacks on Dragovic that they blindly defend most criticisms of him. What I think he really is is a below average player who can get hot, but it a major liability on the defensive end. In UCLA's Final Four years, that wasn't enough to get on the floor, but with this year's team, it's enough for 35 minutes a game. For reasons unknown, Dragovic is an awful shooter until Pac-10 play starts, then he turns it on and becomes a solid shooter with the ability to get unbelievably hot. His defense is laughable though to the point that he can't even be hidden in a zone. In the end, he plays because there are few good options behind him.
2) He probably is the player on the team all Bruins fans have different feelings about--what are your thoughts on Nikola Dragovic?
Right now, the Bruins are playing as well as they've played all year. The biggest fault this team has is not enough good players (I hear good players are helpful) and their lack of athleticism and that made Howland's normal man-to-man defense an impossibility. The switch to the zone defense has helped mask the team's lack of athleticism and has done a lot to help the team out on the defensive end. Also, because the team has become confident in the basic zone defense, they have been able to mix in some adjustments to the basic zone that can better match-up to the team they are playing. The better defensive play has been the biggest change to the team recently, although I would be remiss if I didn't at least mention the return to health of Tyler Honeycutt and dozen of games or so that has let the talented freshman adjust to the college game.
3) Are the Bruins starting to play better as a team? What are the adjustments you've seen from them as January turned to February?
The Pac-10 is an embarrassment. That cannot be overstated. It is truly awful, atrocious, abominable and whatever other synonyms you can think of. This year's UCLA team would struggle to lead the Pac-1 in any other year yet are tied for the lead in the Pac-10 this year. The conference is a joke.
4) UCLA is somehow tied for first place. Does that speak more to the resilience of the Bruins, or the ineptitude of the Pac-10?
A great deal of fortune? Jerime Anderson has spent hours perfecting the bank pass off of an opposing player. It's in the playbook. Honestly, the Bears should beat the Bruins. Cal isn't going to shoot 2-18 from three again and there's a decent chance that UCLA tops 15 turnovers again. That said, nothing is for certain in the Pac-10 this year and because of that, a UCLA win wouldn't shock me. I just wouldn't put money on it.
5) You had a great deal of fortune beating us last time. See a second round of good luck charms coming your way, or will the Bears finally get the best of the Bruins?