February 5, 2010

Bruins battle Bears for first place

The UCLA Bruins (11-11, 6-4) will face the California Bears (14-8, 6-4) at 1:00 Saturday at Pauley Pavilion. The Bruins defeated Stanford 77-73 Thursday night in an exciting game while the Bears fell to USC 66-63 in another very tough game.

The Bears and the Bruins are tied for first place with Arizona State and Arizona and the winner of this game will continue to share at least a portion of the conference lead.

In the previous game between the two teams on January 6 the Bruins defeated Cal 75-74 in overtime. That was the game where Michael Roll picked up a loose ball from about 13 feet out and nailed a shot with under two seconds left to win the game for the Bruins. That game was one of the Bruin’s best offensive games of the year as they shot nearly 50 percent overall and 45 percent from the three point line.

Cal is an experienced team that is very talented from the perimeter. Point guard Jerome Randle is one of the best players in the conference and is also one of the top four scorers in the conference, averaging about 19 points per game (ppg). In the first game, Randle had a sub-par performance. He was 1-8 from the three point line and overall shot 5-16. You can bet that this won’t happen again. Randle scored 29 points Thursday night against USC and went 6 of 12 from the three point line. Randle cannot only nail deep threes, but is also very adept at driving the lane.

Cal’s other perimeter players are a challenge also. Senior Theo Robertson (6-6) is shooting around 50 percent for the season and is averaging about 14 ppg. Robertson has been playing particularly well over the last few weeks. Also, 6-5 senior Patrick Christopher is averaging 16.4 ppg. The front court starters for Cal are still 6-8 senior Jamal Boykin and 6-7 junior Markhuri Sanders-Frison. Boykin is now playing very well recently and has upped his average to over 11 ppg.

Cal’s perimeter shooting capability is going to present a challenge for the Bruin’s zone. It will be important to extend the zone to prevent the Bears from having a dominating shooting game from the outside. It may also be necessary to switch to man to man, as Coach Ben Howland did against Stanford, to attempt to contain Randle, Christopher and Robertson.

Rebounding will also be critical. Tyler Honeycutt and Reeves Nelson should be able to outrebound the Cal front line as they did in the first game. As in most every game this year, UCLA’s fortune may rest on the shooting of Nikola Dragovic. Say what you want about his overall performance, but when Dragovic is hitting some treys the Bruins usually play well and win. In any event, the Bruin’s overall shooting and reduction of turnovers will be key factors in the outcome of this contest.

This game could go either way. A Cal victory could easily occur. However, if the Bruins can keep Randle under 25 points, avoid turnovers, and shoot the ball reasonably well, this game should result in another victory for this Bruin team that is significantly improved since their first victory over Cal.

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