Long gone are the days of the gritty Ben-ball warriors and in their place are the much beloved runnin' Alfords. Although Coach Steve Alford's inaugural season resulted in a Sweet Sixteen run, he's had to replace four starters including three early defections to the NBA.
The re-load took a turn for the re-build as they started conference play with a 8-5 mark; their signature win being a hard-fought victory over Coastal Carolina while their signature loss was a 83-44 drubbing at the hands of Kentucky. In fairness, their early slate was relatively brutal with games against heavyweights Oklahoma, North Carolina, Gonzaga, and the aforementioned Wildcats.
They didn't fare any better once conference play tipped as they were swept on what might be the hardest road series in the Pac-12, at Colorado and at Utah. At least they did mankind a favor and rebounded with a home win over Stanford.(sic)
However inconsistent their on-the-court performances have been to date, UCLA is always stocked with dangerous athletes. They like to push the pace and are a top-25 squad nationally with regards to tempo. Although they have shooters, slashers, and big bodies in the paint, the sum of their parts is still coming together. Their size does make them dangerous on the offensive glass. Because they don't have a lot of firepower or experience off the bench, they tend to lean heavily on their starters for big minutes.
Defensively, they mix up man and zone looks. Despite their preference for uptempo ball, they don't do a lot of pressing and trapping on defense, likely due to their lack of depth. Again, their size makes them solid on the boards while providing some protection at the rim.
As will be the case in most games, the numbers say they have the superior offensive squad while we've got the edge on the defense. From a pure physicality standpoint, most of the match ups are distinctly unfavorable; they are simply a bigger, more athletic squad. However, it remains to be seen which team is tougher. It's never easy to pull off the road upset, but few victories are sweeter than those stolen from Pauley Pavilion.
G Bryce Alford(So), 6'3, 180 lbs, 17.5 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 6.1 apg
G Norman Powell(Sr), 6'4, 215 lbs, 14.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 2.0 apg
G Isaac Hamilton(So), 6'4, 185 lbs, 12.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 2.3 apg
F Kevon Looney(Fr), 6'9, 220 lbs, 12.8 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 1.6 bpg
C Tony Parker(Jr), 6'9, 260 lbs, 10.2 ppg, 7.6 rpg
C Thomas Welsh(Fr), 7'0, 245 lbs
G Noah Allen(So), 6'6, 215 lbs
F Wanaah Bail(So), 6'9, 215 lbs
Fan favorite Bryce Alford leads the team in scoring. He's won't blow you away athletically, but he's crafty with the ball and will hurt you off the bounce as well as with his jumpshot. Norman Powell, on the other hand, can jump out of the gym and is a terror attacking the rim. He's cooled off a bit after a hot start, but is still dangerous from three. Isaac Hamilton prefers to shoot jumpers, but can hit from anywhere. He's a combo guard who can slide over to run the point as needed. Youngter Kevon Looney is one of the Pac-12 rebounding leaders. He's very active inside and might be their best NBA prospect. Big Tony Parker is finally rounding into form after struggling with consistency and conditioning. He's also not allowed to eat walk-ons any more. Allegedly. Top reserve Thomas Welsh was a high school All-American that we desperately wanted. As with most young bigs, he's been up and down.
Keys to the Game:
1) Battle in the Paint
As road dogs against a bigger team, we've need to counter their physicality with energy and hustle. However, we also have to play smart and stay out of foul trouble. Our front court depth could be a serious issue if we let their bigs dominate the paint. Their transition game and ability to hit the offensive glass will put our posts under a lot of pressure. This is not a game where we can get away with Tarwater or Moute a Bidias as viable options at the 4 for anything other than spot duty. We'll likely need to front Parker because no one on the roster has the strength or bulk to keep him out of the paint. Although Monty used to use a "Monster" big on big double, we're more likely to play Parker straight up because Looney will be a tougher cover.
2) Send it home, Tyrone.
Sure, it would be nice to have balanced scoring. And yes, our team likely won't reach it's potential unless a number of guys step up and start shooting with more confidence. But it's pretty clear that we don't pull this upset or any others in conference play without letting our big dog hunt.
3) Establish Kravish in the high post
Let's face it - if we can't dominate (or hold our own) inside against the bigs we've faced throughout the pre-conference schedule, it's unlikely to magically happen here. However, UCLA's big guys also might not be as comfortable checking Kravish outside the paint. Parker, in particular, isn't known for agility. Although Kravish has been uneven the past several weeks, he had one of his best performances as a shooter and facilitator from the high post against Syracuse' zone.
4) Protect the ball and force mid-range jumpers
The Bruins want to get out and run. Although they don't go out of their way to attack with their defense, they're long and athletic enough to force their share of steals. Although they have a number of guys who can hit from deep and their two bigs shoot a good percentage from the paint, good defense can bait them into poor shot selection. (Remember where they go to school, after all.) If we can't be sure of our ability to score, we certainly can't give them anything easy.
5) Channel the Buckley
Fellow Old Blues can reminisce with me over a long-ago upset win at Pauley. With Kidd and Lamond taking their talents to the league, swingman Monty Buckley was left to carry a depleted team. Having lost to the Bears at home in both '93 and '94, the '95 Bruins were desperate for revenge. So desperate, in fact, that they tried to play mind games by walking through Cal's practice. Cal senior Monty Buckley took that disrespect personally and came out on fire including hitting a three halfway between the line and half court. How's that for making some shots?
Tip-off: Sunday, January 11 at 4:30 pm
Radio: KGO 810