Can Cal Mens Basketball claim Pauley Pavilion as Bear Territory?

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

New coach Steve Alford was supposed to be an inspired choice that unified the disgruntled Bruin fan base. Thus far, it's mission accomplished.

From his opening press conference gaffes, to wetting the bed in big games, and now a recent upset at Utah, it's positively heart-warming how UCLA alums have come together as one big, Alford-hating voice.

Good thing he's as loyal as they come because it looks like he'll be traipsing the floors at Pauley Pavilion for a long time.

On paper, UCLA has more talent than any school in the league besides Arizona. This was on full display earlier this month when the Bruins went toe to toe with the top-ranked Wildcats before slipping to a narrow loss. But the question for UCLA has never been about their players star ratings; it's whether they can play together well enough to fulfill their fans' lofty expectations.

Despite fears that Coach Alford would have the Bruins play at the more deliberate pace that he usually prefers, he's letting his thoroughbreds run. They lead the league in tempo and until their stumble in Utah, they were the top-rated team for offensive efficiency. What's equally impressive is that they rarely turn the ball over while pushing the ball at ludicrous speed.

Defense has been a bit more feast or famine. Just like last year, the Bruins aren't disciplined enough to play man all the time. Instead, they use their athletes in an aggressive zone that will press and trap. This aggression often gives up easy baskets to teams who protect the ball. On the flip side, they lead the league in forced turnovers and are also the best at denying offensive rebounds. Like many uptempo teams, UCLA thrives on turning steals and boards into transition scores. Besides having several high flyers who can take it to the rim, the Bruins are a fantastic three-point shooting team and love to spot up on the primary or secondary break.

Despite our faceplant/reality check this past week, hoop authority Reef remains hopeful:

Well, moving on, Kod, I’m feeling rather sanguine about ucla, matchups aren’t awful, I just have this vague notion that they’re going to score a million

I think advancements on our front line should be the difference, unless they score a million

Okay, I’ll bite. We win a close one at Pauley…too much inside game for them to match up with.

by Reef on Jan 22, 2014 | 9:56 PM reply rec flag actions

Arguably, this is our toughest road game to date. We're playing a fast, athletic team that shoots the ball very well. If Solomon and Kravish can bounce back from their worst outing of the year, they should eat the Wears for breakfast and still be hungry. Cobbs will have to lean on his veteran savvy against some tough match-ups. But it's our young wings who will really have their hands full. Can someone channel his inner Monty Buckley and shoot the Bears to a huge win at Pauley?

Projected Starters:

F David Wear(Sr), 6'10, 230 lbs, 7.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg
F Travis Wear(Sr), 6'10, 230 lbs, 5.7 ppg, 2.8 rpg
G Jordan Adams(So), 6'5, 200 lbs, 17.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg
G Kyle Anderson(So), 6'9, 230 lbs, 15.5 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 6.6 apg
G Norman Powell(Jr), 6'4, 215 lbs, 10.7 ppg, 2.8 rpg


G Zach LaVine(Fr), 6'5, 180 lbs, 12.6 ppg, 2.7 rpg
C Tony Parker(So), 6'9, 255 lbs, 7.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg
G Bryce Alford(Fr), 6'3, 180 lbs, 7.4 ppg, 3.0 apg

The Wear twins have been at UCLA for so long that the equipment managers are petitioning to change their jerseys to "Worn." David has some moves around the basket as well as a jumpshot. Travis "The Other" looks just like David only with less effectiveness on the court. Neither of them play heavy minutes because the Bruins' best lineup is four out and one in.

Jordan Adams was out hyped, but thoroughly out played Shabazz Muhammed last season. He's an all-court scorer who has evolved from a spot up guy to attacking the rim with a vengeance. His three ball has been a bit streaky, but he's still someone you have to guard at all times. He's also a defensive menace who leads the team with 3.2 steals per game.

Norman Powell is the embodiment of the old Barkley adage, "Runs like a deer..." Although he can jump out of the gym, his decision-making can be suspect. He's a tough defender who finishes well at the rim. After shooting a respectable 34% from three last year, he's only at 19% this year. Let's just hope he's not due.

Kyle Anderson is their best all-around player. After playing the 4 last year, he's actually running the point this year to take advantage of his unique passing skills. Unlike most of his teammates, "Slo-Mo" doesn't rely on out-running or jumping anyone. He's the embodiment of the cliched "high basketball IQ" player; great positioning, timing, instincts, and vision. Now that he's improved his shooting, it makes him an absolute match-up nightmare.

Zach LaVine is the guy who scares me. He's basically Russell Westbrook with a dead-eye jumpshot. Kind of like a shark w/ a laser on its head...and predators like that go in the lottery.

Bryce Alford put up huge numbers in high school and is known for his shooting touch.(45% 3FG) As with many young players, his defense remains inconsistent.

Tony Parker is their newly slimmed bruiser inside. (There are unconfirmed rumors that Josh Smith found all of the weight that Parker lost.) After a largely disappointing frosh campaign, he's been a steady contributor this year.

Key Matchups:

1) See the Wizard

Missing: Heart. Last seen in Haas Pavilion. Definitively AWOL at the Galen Center.

2) Transition defense and avoiding turnovers

Fortunately, Cal's players should have this well-drilled into their heads after playing Oregon, UW, and USC. The x-factor here is protecting the ball. Against a team this fast, sloppy pass won't just cost us possessions, they'll cost us points.

3) Solve Kyle Anderson

It'll be interesting to see how Monty wants to address this match-up. Utah's strategy was a bit unorthodox. Instead of trying to stop Anderson, they focused on locking down his teammates. He went off for 28, but without his play-making, the rest of his team struggled.

If we're going to try to check Anderson, Tyrone Wallace is the most likely candidate because of his length. Another possibility is some variant of a zone defense so that our bigs aren't chasing a speedy wing around the perimeter.

4) Dictate tempo and dominate the paint

This is all about playing to our strengths. We're (usually) a more efficient offensive and defensive team in the half court than they are. Utah was able to get the ball inside to their power forward, Loveridge, for easy post scores against the Bruins. We need to be patient moving the ball against the zone and let Solomon and Kravish get plenty of touches down low.

Go Bears!

Tip-Off: Sunday, January 26th, 5pm
Television: ESPNU
Radio: KGO 810 AM

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