Well, we got a big game tonight! Cal! UCLA! Cal is coming off of an encouraging weekend against the Washingtons. They split with a big win over WSU. Although they did lose to UW, they hope to take last Thursday's winning spirit into Pauley tonight against the UCLA Bruins.
In the mid 00s, UCLA was the class of the Pac10 and a national elite team. They have fallen off somewhat since then, but are still dangerous, especially for a young Cal team such as this. Cal will need all the luck it can get against these difficult Bruins. To get a stronger grasp of what we should expect for tonight's game, we talked shop with Ryan Rosenblatt of SBN's UCLA site, Bruins Nation, about the UCLA team. After the jump, their answers to our questions. GO BEARS!
There is definitely some warmth on Howland's seat. When you're coaching at UCLA, not making the tournament is not going to go over well. To made three straight Final Fours is an incredible accomplishment, but a down year in Westwood is not a year in which you miss the tournament. Tournament appearances at UCLA should be a given and that's without getting into the fact that last season was one of the worst in the last 60 years at UCLA. That said, when other top programs, like North Carolina, had a down year missed the tournament, they would win the NIT or something like that and bounce back with a really good year the next season. If Howland can turn this group into a tournament team and really build for 2011-2012 with a conference title contender and top four seed or so, that's fine, but another tournament miss has him with a really warm seat.
Both freshmen have had their ups and downs. Josh Smith has played really well when he's gotten the chance for the most part, but he's been hampered by foul trouble. Some of that foul trouble is caused by refs not knowing how to call a guy as big as him and some is him taking stupid reaching fouls 15 feet from the basket so there are things to be worked on there. The rest of our team's ability to forget about him and not give him touches on the post hasn't helped him out a ton either, but he's coming along and is a pretty darn good player for a freshman center, a position usually associated with slow development.
Tyler Lamb is a guy who got off to a slow start offensively, but has come on strong in the last month. He's knocking down open jumpers now and making smart plays with the basketball. This is on top of great defense, which he had from day one. Lamb is athletic with great lateral movement so he's a natural to be a good defender, but he's shown an aggressiveness and willingness to defend that has really helped him out. Probably the best thing about his game is his ability to throw an entry pass though, something he's the best on the team at.
Looking at the Bruins' talent going forward, there's some there. Lamb and Smith are both good players to build with and next season the Wear twins will be eligible. The twins aren't anything close to saviors, but some solid minutes up front are a legitimate expectation. Tyler Honeycutt may or may not be around for another year or two, but he's a top talent who needs to be developed and utilized better by the coaching staff. Malcolm Lee should be back next season and he's an elite defender who can get a handful of points as well. Norman Powell is an incredibly athletic guard who will be a freshman next season, but the real key is finding a point guard in recruiting, which the Bruins desperately need. Without one, the program will have a gigantic hole. With one, there are legitimate building blocks to be pretty damn good.
4. Who do you want to punch in the face?
I wouldn't quite put it as seriously as wanting to punch in the face, but as in the guy that pisses me off, Reeves Nelson is the obvious answer. He has some attitude issues and is easily upset. He can be a really great player, but then if he misses a couple shots, is on the wrong end of a bad call or who knows what, he begins to sulk and is a shell of the player he can be. Unfortunately, the rest of the team begins to take on his attitude sometimes too so when Reeves goes down, the team goes with him. It could just be a matter of immaturity and a need to grow up, but it's frustrating as hell.
If you want a Bear to pick, give me Gutierrez. The guy just needs to chill sometimes. Then again, if he were a Bruin, I'd love it.
5. Who is the Cal player you are most concerned about?
Sanders-Frison is a huge concern for me. We've been lazy on the boards before and I can just see him sneaking in for three or four key offensive boards for second-chance points that turn the game around. It could be Kamp who does the same, but I'll take Sanders-Frison.
7. After 3 straight trips to the Final Four, what exactly happened? We know Ben Howland didn't magically forget how to coach...
8. What's the difference between this year's team and last year?