For anyone who thinks team chemistry takes a back seat to talent, look no further than the boys in baby blue.(7-5) How else can you explain the presumptive pre-season conference favorite losing to Loyola Marymount and Middle Tennessee State at home? Clearly, someone wasn't taking their meds. And speaking of headcases, we cannot confirm rumors that Coach Howland was planning on reinstating suspended forward Reeves Nelson before being vetoed by the Illuminati-like power of the online Bruin community.
Once again, the internet proves to be smarter than a proven coach as the once-staggering Bruins are on a five game winning streak now that Reeves has taken his talents and therapist to Lithuania.
On paper, there's really no reason for UCLA to have underperformed this year. They were supposed to have the conference's best frontcourt, an experienced backcourt, and plenty of blue-chip talent. And on paper, this team is just one half-nelson away from being the same group projected to wrestle away the conference title.
But besides obvious chemistry issues and poor guard play, this team simply wasn't playing like a Ben Howland-coached team earlier in the year. They were getting beaten on the glass, giving up a _nation's_ worst 3PG%, and allowing opposing teams to shoot 50% from the field.
If the recent win streak is any indication, the Bruin's may finally be starting to buy in to their coaching staff. That could make them dangerous. At their best, Howland's teams take a page from the Oregon offensive line and assume that mugging, fouling, and holding on every play just won't be called. They're not a great shooting team, but have enough size with a rotation of four 6'10 players that can cause serious issues if they get the Cal bigs in foul trouble.
After the jump, we'll look at personnel and match-ups:
Lazaric Jones(Sr), 6'1, 187 lbs, 13.3 ppg, 3.7 apg
Jerime Anderson(Sr), 6'2, 183 lbs, 9.3 ppg, 3.5 apg
Tyler Lamb(So), 6'5, 200 lbs, 9 ppg, 3.7 rpg
David Wear(So), 6'10, 225 lbs, 8.7 ppg, 6.1 rpg
Joshua Smith(So), 6'10, 800 lbs, 9.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg
Jones and Anderson are a long, long way from the glory days of Russell Westbrook, Aaron Afflalo, and Jrue Holiday. Although both of them are veterans, they're more solid than stalwart, and more streaky than explosive. Neither one of them shoots the ball particularly well from the outside, so naturally they've been saving their career highs for today. Tyler Lamb under-achieved relative to his high school press clippings last year and has stayed true to form thus far this season. He's still more of an athlete than a shooter. The Wear twins are skilled and have size. But, they'd rather shoot from the outside than bang underneath. Joshua Smith is The Mountain That Walks with soft hands and a deadly touch from the paint. However, he's also The Mountain That Frequently Sits due to fatigue and foul issues; he's only playing 17 minutes a game. Teams have been employing zone defense against Smith with good effect. He often gets frustrated and will check out mentally, such as it is, if he doesn't get his touches. Where he's most dangerous is on the boards where he goes after offensive rebounds like a fat man chasing down free cheeseburgers.
1) The Battle In the Paint
If Richard Solomon can't go, our depth in the post is a serious concern. Our bigs absolutely have to stay out of foul trouble and do their best to keep UCLA from getting easy put-backs. With the way the Bruins normally shoot, there are plenty of offensive boards to be had. It'll be interesting to see if Monty goes zone because UCLA (presumably) lacks the 3-point shooting to make Cal pay for packing it inside.
2) Ball Security
Howland likes to pressure the ball and will automatically double the post. Because the Bruins are otherwise a poor-shooting team, it'll be key not to let turnovers give them too many easy points. Harper Kamp has seen this approach before and should be ready. Our younger post players haven't faced aggressive double teams before and will need to be ready to swing the ball.
Go Bears! Beat LA!
Tip-off: 1pm PST
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