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February 9, 2012
It's mid-season of the Pac-12 regular season conference race. UCLA sits at 6-5 in the conference and 13-10 overall, tied with Stanford for sixth place, dangling just above the mid-Pac line.
Home court advantage has loomed huge in the conference to this point in the season and wouldn't you know it, Thursday's opponent is one of those teams that was able to ride their home court to barely edge the Bruins earlier this season. Now comes the Bruins' chance to turn things around, take a solid hold on 6th and try to climb higher to secure better placement when it comes to the all-important (for the Bruins' post-season hopes) Pac-12 tournament.
Both Bruins' opponents this weekend come to town carrying a broom, but the Bruins will be dug in hoping to avoid being swept. First up, on Thursday, is the Stanford Cardinal.
The Cardinal built a strong pre-conference season record but Stanford has struggled a bit more of late. They arrive in town still sporting a 16-7 record overall and, like the Bruins, a 6-5 record in conference. This is a team the Bruins feel they should have beaten in Maples Pavilion.
In that game, despite a career high of 26 by Lazeric Jones, the Bruins lost by one, 60-59. UCLA coach Ben Howland having spent all his timeouts earlier in the game, the Bruins failed on the game's final possession - as they did this past week in Seattle - this time as Jones forced his way into a double team and got his final shot blocked. As was the case in Seattle, there was an open option but the Bruins couldn't find him. It goes that way sometimes, but it does so a whole lot more often on the road than at home.
The Bruins have a chance to avenge that loss Thursday February 9th with an 8:00 pm PST game time at the L.A. Sports Arena. The game will be televised live on Fox Sports Net/Prime Ticket.
Stanford is coached by Johnny Dawkins who is in his fourth season as Stanford head coach. As did the Bruins, the Cardinal also recorded a split on the road last weekend, playing in the desert at Arizona and Arizona State.
Stanford has some quality players who do match up well against the Bruins. The only player to start every game for the Cardinal is 6-8, 240 pound senior Josh Owens. Owens leads the team in scoring averaging 12.6 points, leads the team in steals with 25, is second in blocked shots with 12 and leads the team in rebounding averaging 6.2 per game. He has the highest shooting percentage at 59.7 percent from the field. That mark reflects a whole lot of close-in shots as he hasn't attempted a three all season. Owens is converting only 58.3 percent of his free throw attempts.
True freshman guard Chasson Randle (6-1, 175) is tied for second on the team in scoring at 11.9 points a game, is second on the team in steals with 24, second in assists with 47 but he also leads the team in turnovers with 54. Randle averages 3.3 rebounds a game and shoots 40.6 percent from the field and 37.2 percent from the three point line. He hits 72.5 percent of his free throws.
Aaron Bright (5-11, 177) is a quick sophomore guard. Bright averages 11.9 points (tied for second on the team), leads in assists with 76 and grabs 1.6 rebounds per game. He shoots 43.1 percent from the field, and a team leading 43 percent from three point range. Bright is also the team's best free throw shooter at 77.3 percent.
Swingman Anthony Brown (6-6, 210) averages 7.3 points and 3.6 rebounds a game. Brown has had his troubles shooting the ball and checks in at 36 percent from the field, 33 percent from beyond the three point line and 65.7 percent from the free throw line.
Josh Huestis (6-7, 225) is a sophomore forward who is averaging 6 points, is second on the team in rebounding at 5.2 per game and leads the team in blocked shots with 25. Huestis shoots 45.2 percent from the field but just 28.1 percent from the three point line. He is somewhat challenged at the free throw line as well, making only 54.3 percent of his attempts.
Dawkins goes ten deep into his bench. There are ten players averaging at least 11 minutes a game. Another player to look for is 6-4, 190 pound senior guard Jarrett Mann. Mann averages 3.6 points and 3.1 rebounds a game and has 41 assists. Also seeing playing time is 6-2, 190 pound junior guard Gabriel Harris. Harris is getting 3.6 points and 2 rebounds per game.
Stanford will run if they can and are averaging 70.6 points per game and giving up 61.9, about a three point per game edge over the Bruins to this point. The Cardinal are shooting 43.9 percent while holding opponents to 41.7 percent.
They shoot well from beyond the three point line averaging 43.2 percent from range while limiting their opponents to 27.2 percent from long distance. The Cardinals do not shoot free throws very well at 65.4 percent.
The Cardinal rebound the ball well getting an average of 5.1 more than their foe. They average 12.7 assists per game while committing 13.5 themselves. Stanford also gets an average of 6 steals and 3 blocks a game.
Two areas stand out in the stats: rebounding and three point shooting. Rebounding is an area of concern for the Bruins and gives the Cardinal opportunities to push the ball if they can establish an edge in this category.
The Bruins fell from first to third in the conference in three point shooting percentage after they ran into road effects in Washington State last week. Still, that's a good percentage. Where the Bruins have been challenged this season has been in trying to defend the three point shot.
That vulnerability is aggravated should they have to play much zone to try to protect Joshua Smith from foul trouble. The likelihood of that scenario playing out may be slightly diminished by playing in L.A., however it's aggravated again if Travis Wear can't go or at least finds himself limited by his "mild" high ankle sprain and Smith has to play more minutes than usual.
Speaking of Smith, it had to be a significant boost to Bruin fans to see the big man play well in last week's two games. It appeared he is overcoming his off-season swoon and finally rounding into something approaching game condition. He played, at least, back to the level he showed last year as a freshman.
That's not to say his game wouldn't be drastically improved by the loss of another forty pounds (at least) through a dedicated off-season conditioning program. But he seems light-years beyond what he was able to do early in the season.
Smith's improved play - assuming he's able to maintain that level from here on out - is the other factor that could be different this time around against Stanford. Smith, simply (not to mention obviously), is a game-changer.
When Smith is playing well and the Bruins' guards are getting him the ball deep inside, any opponent has to prepare for the Bruins first and foremost by focusing on him. Denying him the ball seems the best option and has been pursued most often. Denying him position down deep on the blocks is the second approach. And simply swarming all over and around him is the third.
Thing is, when opponents have to spend that much attention and energy on Smith, they have to go softer in other areas. It's one thing to dare the Bruins to shoot it from outside when they are on the road, but it hasn't proven a very successful strategy when the game is being played in Los Angeles.
If Smith is active, getting position down low, and UCLA's guards are looking to get him the ball, the Bruins play inside-out and their entire offensive effectiveness is greatly enhanced.
As previously stated, the Bruins likely should have beaten Stanford the first time around. If they come out and play with energy, keep an eye on defending the three point line and aren't completely done in by foul problems, this is a game you would expect them to win.