Cal At UCLA Preview: Southern California Sweep?!?

It's hard for me to approach this column rationally - I already have a history of over-the-top feelings towards UCLA basketball. And now the Bears are playing UCLA in a game they desperately need to win if they want a conference title. It's potentially the stuff of dreams, but mostly the stuff of nightmares.

You'd think that last year's Jorge explosion and this year's 2nd half rout would calm my fear/excitement/apprehension about the Bruins. You'd think that UCLA's thoroughly mediocre record over the last few years would weaken the hate. But no - the thought of a loss to UCLA still curdles the blood perhaps more than any other team in the Pac-12 (Note: We send our thanks to Johnny Dawkins for making Stanford so incredibly boring that beating them no longer seems special).

It has been pointed out that Cal has not gone 4-0 against UCLA and USC since the Pete Newell days in the 50s, which isn't surprising to me in the least. Obviously just sweeping UCLA has been a rarity - even Monty hasn't managed it in Berkeley yet. It would be a shame to miss out on the chance, but it's a secondary concern considering what's on the line for Cal.

This is the first of three scary road games left on the schedule, and Cal will need to take (at least) two of three if they want a share of the conference title. Win this one and It'll ease some of the pressure from a trip to the Rockies. Lose and we add another 100+ RPI loss to the resume (Thanks for losing to Loyola Marymount, Bruins) and the door reopens for Washington, Arizona, and company. And we'll all have to live with the knowledge that it was UCLA, the most entitled program on the west coast, that ruined things. I'm not OK with that.

Rotation

Josh Smith, 6'10'' center
Lazeric Jones, 6'0'' point guard
Travis Wear, 6'10'' forward
Jerime Anderson, 6'2'' guard
Tyler Lamb, 6'5'' guard
David Wear, 6'10'' forward
Norman Powell, 6'3'' guard

Smith and the Wear twins will get nearly every available minute at the four and five, though Brendan Lane and Anthony Stover will occasionally get a few minutes. They are collectively probably UCLA's three best offensive players, depending on your opinion of Lazeric Jones.

Jones is the best guard and gets the most minutes and shots on the team. He wasn't much of a factor in the first game this year, and hopefully either Cobbs or Gutierrez can take him out of the game again. It was Tyler Lamb who did the vast majority of the damage against Cal last time. His 26 points is double his highest scoring total since playing the Bears, so I'm not sure how much we should worry about him. Just don't give him open threes?

Tempo-Free Preview

Kenpom sez: Cal 67, UCLA 66, 53% confidence

Category

Cal Rank

UCLA Rank

Advantage

Cal eFG% vs. UCLA Def eFG%

45

210

CC

Cal Def eFG% vs. UCLA eFG%

46

81

C

Cal TO% vs. UCLA Def TO%

42

134

C

Cal Def TO% vs. UCLA TO%

183

31

UU

Cal OReb% vs. UCLA DReb%

141

70

U

Cal DReb% vs. UCLA OReb%

16

133

CC

Cal FTR vs. UCLA Opp FTR

265

97

UU

Cal Opp FTR vs. UCLA FTR

19

217

CC

Cal AdjO vs. UCLA AdjD

43

84

C

Cal AdjD vs. UCLA AdjO

17

40

C


UCLA's offense is pretty danged good, mostly because they shoot the ball really well. When you have three big guys like Josh Smith and the Wear twins who can all get off good shots inside (and, in the case of the Wear twins, have solid mid-range games) you'll probably shoot pretty well. The Bruins also tend to take pretty good care of the ball. When the offense is working well they get off good look after good look, getting the ball to the post and freeing up looks on the outside for Lazeric Jones and Jerime Anderson.

Conversely, UCLA's defense is pretty bad, and anybody who saw their 2nd half performance at Haas already knew that. The tradeoff for playing slower bigs is that your defense just isn't going to be very good. Josh Smith just can't move fast enough to avoid fouls, and neither of the Wears will ever be mistaken for great defenders. None of UCLA's guards seem especially great at preventing dribble-drive penetration, and that problem is compounded because there isn't an authoritative defender in the paint to punish those types of forays. UCLA has been particularly bad at 3 point defense, which is not a huge surprise if you try to force a 6'10'' Wear to play the 3 (though I believe Howland gave up that experiment rather quickly). In any case, Allen Crabbe certainly enjoyed their 3 point defense the first time around, and hopefully he'll do the same today.

Cal is the better team, but UCLA's offense is good enough that they are plenty dangerous, particularly at home. This is far from a sure thing.

Keys to the game

1. Which Josh Smith shows up? The dude can dominate games or he can get lost in the offense, be a liability on defense and pick up 4 fouls in 10 minutes of court time. There isn't really a guy on Cal's active roster that matches up with someone his size, but sometimes Josh will take himself out of the game. Hopefully Jorge or Justin Cobbs bounce off him a few times in the first half to draw some body bias fouls.

2. Keep rebounding. I'll admit it - when Richard Solomon was ruled ineligible I thought the Bears would really struggle on the glass on both ends. But Monty and the Bears have adapted really well, with David Kravish, Allen Crabbe and Jorge Gutierrez really picking up the slack on the defensive end. UCLA has a few guys (particularly Smith) who can do damage on the glass, but Cal has proven they can get the job done even without Solomon.

3. Keep (opponent) from shooting well. As far as I'm concerned, this is always the key to the game. Cal's three conference losses can mostly be attributed to three teams shooting incredibly well from the field. Some of that is random variation, but a lot of it is the quality of Cal's defense on any given night. Force bad shots, win the game.
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