UCLA Preview

You've all heard the story: UCLA is in the deepest of despairing situations, with a drowning coach and declining production, despite a cast of talent better than what Stanford possesses today. But there is no ignoring that talent and the fact that the Bruins have won the last three times they bounced on the Maples hardwood. For a comprehensive look at this must-win game, read on.

UCLA @ Stanford  1/23/03
Tip-off: 7:30 pm (PST)
TV: Fox Sports Net

Sponsored by the The Cafe at the Arrillaga Alumni Center: Official Pre-Game Hangout of The Bootleg

Though people like to drum up rivalries as friendly, where guys from each team truly respect each other on and off the court, this is not such a rivalry.  UCLA players have said time and time again that they hate Stanford, and the Stanford players have built up other than a friendly set of feelings toward the Bru-crew.  Though the Card have taken nine out of the last 13 against UCLA and five straight at Pauley Pavilion, the 'Ruins have ruined many a Maples day with three straight victory's on Palo Alto pine.  Really, this is a game that sets up very well for UCLA.  They are surrounded by deafening criticism and clamor while at home (where they are 2-7 this year), but can escape while on the madness on the road (where they are 2-2 this year).  Then consider the heightened level of play they have delivered the past three years at Maples, arguably their three best games in those years.  Finally consider that the teams they knocked off at Stanford the past three times were ranked #1, #1 and #10 with more talent and depth than the current squad.  Spells doom for the home crowd in this Thursday Pac-10 affair.

But there is something seriously broken with this UCLA squad.  Their talent is a little thinner, as they failed to recruit even an ounce of talent in this past recruiting class, and their utilization of their talent is at an all-time low.  This is like the Walt Hazzard years, though with more wasted stars.  The 4-9 start to this UCLA season speaks all by itself to the apocalyptic wreckage of this team, though it bears mention the streaks that will be broken by this team, including 54 consecutive winning seasons and 14 straight NCAA tournament appearances. 

By the way, ESPN The Magazine was miserably late to the party with their very recent "Lavin Death Watch" story.  Puhleeze.  I penned the original "Lavin Watch" a full three years ago, in all its infamy.  UCLA fans at that time (and many still presently) despised the revealing look at the troubles on and off the court that were festering under Steve Lavin's reign.  But the truth of the matter is: I was right.  Lavin was way over his head in Westwood, and has brought down a (putatively) once proud program to its present placement as the butt of every basketball joke in the country.  The story is so old now that it doesn't deserve to be belabored.  If you do want a good summary of the soon-to-be-ex UCLA coach's failings, just take a trip to the BruinReportOline's message boards.  Bruin believers are up in arms there 24 hours a day.

Overall, the talent is still staggering, despite the recruiting holes and gaffes that Lavin has wrought.  They have three McDonald's All-Americans on the roster, and a handful of other top 100 talent.  Athletically, they have the talent to outshine Stanford at several positions, though recruiting gaps at point guard and center have left the Bruins with a roster full of talented wing players who can't get out of each other's way.  The poor coaching and fragile team ethic have led to an underachieving offensive collection.  UCLA runs a motion offense, but as soon as frustration kicks in (often early in a game), players will break out of the offense and just try like heck to score one-on-one against their defender.  The team is very poor at setting screens, which is a big reason their team three-point shooting (34.7%) is the lowest in years.

Defensively, Lavin has tried everything from man defense to a variety of zones.  The zone press turned on a dim light, allowing UCLA to roar back from a 20-point deficit against Arizona State (though eventually losing).  Given that success and the success of helter skelter point-of-attack pressure that UCLA has employed at Maples the past three years, look for more zone press tonight.

But the craziest thing you are likely to see from the Grand Desperation Experimentation that is this futile swansong season for Steve Lavin, will be the starting lineup and substitution.  Note I do not use the plural of substitutions because there is just one pattern UCLA has employed its last couple games.  Stealing a page from the sport of hockey, Lavin employs 'line changes' where he sends out a wave of five players to sub for his starting five.  Then the first five will on schedule replace the second five.  The pattern repeats in a mostly premeditated fashion until the final 10 minutes of the game, when Lavin supposedly puts his best five on the floor as determined by their play in the first 30 minutes.  Seriously.  I'm not making this up...

The First Wave

#10 PG Ryan Walcott So* 6-1 180 4.8 ppg 4.1 apg 36.4% 3FG
#34 SG Ray Young Sr* 6-4 210 6.8 ppg 3.7 rpg 35.2% FG
#23 SF Andre Patterson So 6-7 197 8.8 ppg 5.7 rpg 64.4% FG
#24 PF Jason Kapono Sr 6-8 215 16.7 ppg 5.5 rpg 37.3% 3FG
#43 C T.J. Cummings Jr 6-10 215 12.5 ppg 5.2 rpg 47.4% FG

Kapono was once upon a time a preeminent player with a first round NBA draft selection staring him squarely in the face, but he has been mired in four years of Lavin Hell and has thrashed around in the Westwood quicksand.  Sadly, he made the mistake of declaring for the NBA in his first season, when he was hailed as one of the most stellar pure shooters in America.  He had earned frosh All-America honors, but pulled out of the draft to increase his stock in Westwood.  NCAA rules prohibit a player from declaring and pulling back more than once, so a careful Kapono has yet to make another jump.  Now he is in his final campaign and lacks much of the luster in his early years.  He was eighth in the country his freshman year in three-point shooting (47.4%), and eighth once again his junior year (46.4%).  But thus far this year, he is firing away at an unKapono-like 37.3% from deep.  Beware the headbanded one, though, who has caught fire and hit 50% from deep over his last five games.  His outside percentages are a direct result of the lack of set screens in this every-man-for-himself offense.  Kapono is an incredible set shooter, but in four years he has still failed to show that he can create a shot.  Though mildly disappointing this year, still likely to be one of the top ten players in the conference and thus become the first ever Bruin to be first team All Pac-10 four times.

Patterson dropped below UCLA's academic minimum requirements and was declared ineligible this past September, at which time he enrolled in Santa Monica Community College.  He bolstered his credits there and rejoined the team in mid-December.  It didn't take long for him to break into the starting lineup, where he has been eight of his 10 games in powder blue.  This sophomore was somewhat disappointing last year, but his strides late in the season and when he has been able to play this year might highlight the single developmental success story at UCLA today.  Much like Josh Childress, Patterson is long and an outstanding leaper who can rebound, score and block shots like crazy.  Leads the team in shotblocking on the season, and in Pac-10 play has been the team's best rebounder.  Matchup versus Childress could be outstanding.

Young is the last remaining relic of the 1998 UCLA recruiting class that was tabbed #1 in the nation, and the best ever in Bruin history.  How far back?  That's when JaRon "Early Gold" Rush signed back with the baby blues.  Young took a voluntary redshirt season last year, but the time off and extra development haven't really developed anything.  His scoring average each of his first three years increased, but he is currently scoring less than four points per game and is on pace for the worst scoring year in his Bruin career.  Young may be the greatest poster child for Lavin's failures as a coach, with no improvement whatsoever in his game, and probably the worst offender of breaking outside the offense on this lineup.  His outside game has completely abandoned him, shooting 0-for-10 outside the arc in his five conference games and 0-for-10 overall from the field in his last two games, failing to score a single point.  Makes one wonder if Lavin will continue to start his most veteran of players on such a cold streak.  When he is effective, he hits midrange shots that he can create for himself.  A sad picture for a player rated the #1 shooting guard in America out of high school.

T.J. Cummings is the anti-team player, starting at center though he is every bit the guard trapped in a 6'10" body.  He plays soft when he does sit in the paint, and vastly prefers to camp outside and take shots in open space with defenders backed off him.  His three point attempts are thankfully down this year, but he still abhors true post play.  Additionally, he is a veritable black hole that ignores his four teammates when he gets the ball, and does not defend worth a damn.

Walcott frankly is just not very good.  He plays the least minutes of any starter, and for good reason, but Lavin has put him out on the floor for the opening tip in seven games this year.  The theory is that Walcott plays "within the system" or "gives it his all in practices," thus earning the coach's favor.  But when you can't really score, and you have created more turnovers than assists in conference play, how do you start ahead of a McDonald's All-American at UCLA?

The Second Wave

#21 PG Cedric Bozeman So 6-6 197 7.1 ppg 3.5 apg 31.8% 3FG
#5 SG Jon Crispin Jr* 6-0 195 2.5 ppg 0.4 apg 35.0% 3FG
#1 SF Dijon Thompson So 6-7 195 13.7 ppg 4.8 rpg 37.1% 3FG
#54 PF Josiah Johnson So* 6-8 233 2.8 ppg 2.2 rpg 52.2% FG
#45 C Michael Fey Fr 7-0 257 1.8 ppg 1.7 rpg 47.4% FG

Which of these five do not belong?  That would be Dijon Thompson, probably UCLA's best and most dangerous player, yet Lavin has started him just twice all year, and given him a meager average of 22.4 minutes per game in the five conference games to date.  Like Patterson, Thompson has a great all-around skill set and tremendous versatility that could allow him to play any one of three or four positions.  Yet Lavin can't find room at a single spot in the starting lineup.  Good outside shooter, but he can more importantly create his own shot almost anywhere on the floor.

Bozeman was a MickyDee's All-American, yet he sits on the bench now in this ludicrous substitution experiment of Lavin's.  Bozeman already had serious confidence problems, but starting him on the pine isn't helping matters a lick.  He is struggling to perform every aspect of his point guard role, which he no longer really even understands.  His production is declining, as is his predilection to even take shots.  He had one of his finest games of the year last year at Maples, though.

Crispin is one thing - a chucker.  He doesn't rebound, pass or defend at a level every remotely resembling Pac-10 play, but the kid can kinda shoot.  How he sees the floor with all his faults and a measly seven made treys this year is unfathomable.

Josiah Johnson is the brother of Kris and son of Marques, and the fact that he carries those bloodlines is the only rational explanation for his having been fitted for a Bruin jersey.  He has the shooting touch of his brother, but lacks the athleticism or ability to produce.  Can't defend and doesn't score.

Fey should be a sophomore, recruited with the Bozeman/Patterson/Thompson class, but he failed to gain academic eligibility (read: SAT) and took another year before arriving at Westwood.  Still, he is out of shape and deserves no label other than "project."  He garners time solely because of his size - the only player seven-footer on the roster.  Very raw, with numbers a little shy of Matt Haryasz', by comparison.

Keys

Though there are some interesting matchups in this game, including how 6-1 Julius Barnes and 6-6 Cedric Bozeman handle each others natural gifts... and how physical the Cardinal post players can rebound against the rangy cadre of 6-7 UCLA athletes... this game will come down to one dimension: how does UCLA start.  Their confidence had plummeted to levels never before seen in the last decade of Bruin hoops, and even their recent success at Maples will prove meaningless if they don't rise up to their abilities.  In each of those three upsets, UCLA came out strong, and saw their confidence rise each passing minute until they played like everyone knew they could to close out victory.  But the Bruins have scarcely mustered any resounding comeback wins this year, so if the Card can jump on top, there is great potential for a huge margin of victory.  If not, I honestly believe UCLA can pull this out.  They last time they went on the road, the swept the Washington schools by a combined margin of 25 points.  And we just last week saw how Stanford fared on those same courts.

  • Play physical inside
  • Rebound hard
  • Do not let UCLA's pace get contagious
  • Take time to get good shots
  • Don't get caught up in the return of Justin Davis, if he can even play

Please make sure you support The Cafe at the Arrillaga Alumni Center
the next time you are on campus!