UCLA Hoops Preview

After a dominating 30-point win against USC on Thursday, the Devils (16-7 overall; 8-4 Pac-10) are primed for a Saturday afternoon contest against a floundering UCLA squad, in what looks to be the last trip to Tempe for Steve Lavin as head coach of the Bruins. Here's the DevilsDigest.com breakdown of the game, which will be televised on ABC at 1:30 MST.

To say that it would be impossible to scout UCLA (5-15; 2-9), may be somewhat hyperbolic, but it's that inability of opposing coaches to pin down precisely what to expect from the Bruins that sometimes confounds the antagonists of Steve Lavin. Of course even to suggest that Lavin actually has antagonists among his peers in the coaching ranks at this point is mere conjecture, and quite a humorous supposition at that. Not that the UCLA coach may even care at this point as his lot has already been cast, set in motion by a dreadful start that only got worse through Pac-10 play to the point now where the most storied men's basketball program in the nation must fight to make the Pac-10 tournament as the 8th and final seed. This is a battle in which the team is losing, and badly.

The next stage of the Lavin farewell tour is at Wells Fargo Arena, ironic perhaps in the sense that, with a pending million dollar-plus buyout, Lavin is indeed, headed to the bank, and certainly not just this one last time. Who is going to start for the Bruins? Well, besides 6'7 senior Jason Kapono, it's really anybody's guess. Fresh off a trouncing, 36 point defeat at the hands of #1 ranked Arizona and 9 straight losses in conference play, it's possible that Lavin may start anybody on the roster; including walk-ons like 6'3 sophomore guard Janou Rubin. Possible, but not likely.

Realistically, the Bruins will probably start 6'8 sophomore Andre Patterson and 6'11 freshman Ryan Hollins in the frontcourt alongside Kapono, with 6'6 Cedric Bozeman and 6'7 Dijon Thompson making for a long and athletic backcourt. Hollins and Patterson are both supremely talented athletes, but raw, and rudimentary in their play. Both players run the floor extremely well, finish the break with excitement, and rebound on the offensive end with tenacity, often throwing down huge, thunderous dunks. They are also the two best shot blockers on the team. But both are also subject to mental lapses, blown defensive assignments and are extremely rough around the edges. Neither player can step out and shoot the basketball with any regularity, but both have high field goal percentages because they rarely take shots outside of the paint. Kapono is a streak shooter, and one of the best in the nation when in a groove. Eliminating touches is the best way to keep him in check. He's also adept on the glass and has improved his ability to take the ball to the hoop off the dribble.

Thompson is the best, most versatile talent on the team. He's not as athletic as Hollins or Patterson, but he's extremely smooth, fundamentally sound and can play either wing position effectively. Thompson possesses a nice stroke from the perimeter, and can also put the ball on the floor and get to the basket. With UCLA's tall starting line-up, Thompson will be the most difficult player for ASU to defend, particularly when paired with Kapono. At 6'1 Curtis Millage is too small to be expected to guard Thompson for long stretches without getting beat. ASU coach Rob Evans may be forced to go with Jamal Hill and Donnell Knight on the floor simultaneously more than he'd like. The Devils may also elect to have Jason Braxton guard Thompson and play Millage on Bozeman.

Bozeman is a player whose game is really one-dimensional at this point. He is excellent at breaking down a solitary defender in the half court. That's all he has in his arsenal however, as he isn't a good shooter nor is he a particularly adept at creating for his teammates, or rebounding the basketball for that matter. He only averages around three rebounds per game, which is quite low for his size, especially when compared with some of the guards around the league. For a player as good as Bozeman off the dribble, and especially for someone asked to play the point guard position, that number is very low when you factor in the finishers he has on his squad like Patterson and Hollins.

When Lavin elects to go with a more traditional point guard, he usually calls on Arizona native Ryan Walcott, a cousin of former Arizona Wildcat star Mike Bibby. Walcott isn't of the caliber that the UCLA name brand deserves, but he can do a fair job of distributing the ball and knocking down open looks at times. He has more assists than Bozeman despite having played over one hundred fewer minutes. Rubin, the walk-on player mentioned previously, is a nice shooter who quite frankly is probably nearly as good as Walcott, though neither is realistically good enough to deserve minutes at a high major University like UCLA.

At the off-guard position, two players see a significant amount of playing time. Senior Ray Young, a 6'4 player coming off a redshirt season is a player who has quite a bit of starting experience in his career. He was a McDonalds All-American out of Northern California who has unfortunately never lived up to the billing. Young is fairly athletic and likes to play in transition. He also likes to shoot the three-point ball, though his 20% on the season from that distance is abysmal. 6'2 junior Jon Crispin is a player who transferred from Penn State and also sat out last season. Crispin is a long-range shooting specialist with endless range, and a seemingly no conscience.

In the frontcourt, depth is mainly provided by 6'10 junior T.J Cummings, another player who likes to shoot the ball at every available opportunity. Cummings loves facing up from mid-range and almost never passes up an open look. He's an adequate rebounder and defender, but he has a tendency to get lazy with his feet and reach in. Other bodies that may see time in the post are Mike Fey, a 6'11 freshman center, 6'7 sophomore Josiah Johnson, and 6'7 Marcedes Lewis a two-sport player who also plays tight end on the football team.

As always the Sun Devils will attempt to get the ball into Ike Diogu early and often and create foul problem for the Bruins. On Thursday, ASU procured 34 USC fouls, and saw three Trojans fouling out. The Devils are likely to see an assortment of defensive schemes designed to confound, including full court presses, traps, and half-court zones. The fact that ASU easily defeated USC's versatile defensive attack bodes well for the Devils, but in the first meeting between these two team in Westwood last month, UCLA staged a dramatic comeback due in large part to an attacking full course pressure defense. It's likely the Devils will face a similar defensive emphasis, and for even more prolonged periods this time around, against the Bruins.

It will be important for the players that handle and inbound the basketball to have strong games for the Devils. In the game last month, Donnell Knight and Jamal Hill had terribly difficult games in terms of being able to put the basketball in play after made baskets and timeouts. Jason Braxton and Kyle Dodd must continue the stellar job they've done in terms of limiting turnovers. In the full court press, UCLA is extremely susceptible to getting beat deep, and teams that have success at breaking down the attack often wind up with easy dunks and lay-ups.

Like USC, the Bruins are a team that plays best when they get out in transition and create opportunities on the defensive end. ASU needs to eliminate these opportunities and also keep the Bruins off of the offensive glass. If the Devils can protect the rock and play their favorable mid-tempo brand of basketball like the team did against USC, where turnover baskets come easy, but half-court opportunities are approached with patience and poise, it should be another big day for the Devils.

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