Scouting the Bruins

UCLA comes into McKale Center having narrowly escaped the asylum up in Tempe from both flying slices of pizza and raining coins from the "42 & 2" fans inside Wells Fargo Arena. On a sidenote, UCLA also survived the actual Sun Devil basketball team with an 82-79 win and face Arizona on Saturday looking for a weekend sweep in the desert.

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The Bruins are one of the nation's hottest teams right now, having won 11 of their past 12 games including a relatively easy 10-point win over the No. 1-ranked Kansas Jayhawks last Saturday. During that stretch, UCLA has received phenomenal play from forward Matt Barnes, who has made himself into an all-conference-caliber player with his inside game and improved outside shot.

Barnes has scored 80 points over the last three games for the Bruins (26.6 ppg) and has outplayed preseason All-Americans Sam Clancy of USC and Drew Gooden of Kansas during that time.

Yet it's been the play of another one of the Bruins' supporting cast that has been even more of a key to this great run they are on. That player is shooting guard Billy Knight.

The 6-5 senior lefthander has been deadly as of late with his shooting and has put up some very impressive numbers as well. Since posting a career-high 32-point outburst against Washington State on January 6th, Knight has averaged an even 23 points over his last four games and is now at 15.9 points per game on the season. Not bad for a guy who was supposed to be a compliment to Jason Kapono and Dan Gadzuric.

Those were the two Bruin players that were supposed to present the biggest matchup problems for everyone this year. And while both have played well, especially Kapono, the reason UCLA is on this roll is because of Barnes and Knight's emergence as primary options for the Bruins.

To the matchups:

PG-Jason Gardner (5-10, 185 Jr.) vs. Cedric Bozeman (6-6, 180 Fr.)
*Gardner is the prototype for "guards UCLA has trouble defending". The Wildcat jet is capable of giving the Bruins serious fits with his speed, outside shot, ball-handling and overall role as the Wildcats' floor general. Bozeman is much taller and will most likely look to post Gardner up at times but Bozeman isn't someone that most teams fear offensively. He's not quick, hence his nickname of "Slowzeman", and he isn't a good shooter either. Ball State's Petey Jackson absolutely dominated Ced the Slow in the Cardinal's blowout win over UCLA in Maui and, this just in: Petey Jackson "ain't no Jason Gardner."
-EDGE: Gardner (Arizona).

SG-Salim Stoudamire (6-1, 180 Fr.) vs. Billy Knight (6-5, 185 Sr.)
*Both of these guards are left-handed and both can seriously stroke the ball from anywhere on the court. Stoudamire is quicker and more active defensively, while Knight is more experienced and has a size advantage. However, since Arizona will most likely deploy its ultra-successful 3-2 matchup zone against the taller Bruins, size on the perimeter pretty much becomes obsolete. In this case, Knight has a slight advantage over the ever-improving Wildcat freshman because Knight has proven many times that he plays his best in big games. See both Stanford games in Palo Alto the last two years as examples.
-EDGE: Knight (UCLA) slightly.

SF-Luke Walton (6-8, 235 Jr.) vs. Jason Kapono (6-7, 225 Jr.)
*This is the matchup of the night. Watch for Walton to continue his mastery as the Wildcats' playmaker with his creative genius on offense and watch for Kapono to avenge his woeful performance against Richard Jefferson last year at McKale. Walton had a triple-double Thursday against USC and is playing like a conference Player of the Year candidate and he could be America's most underrated player. Kapono is always near the top of any Player of the Year list and is consistent every game with his 18-20 points, six or seven rebounds and his 50% shooting from inside and outside the arc. Off the subject, it's too bad Luke Recker had to transfer to Arizona at all because the Wildcats might have had Kapono for the past three seasons had Recker chosen to play somewhere else after leaving Indiana.
-EDGE: Push.

PF-Rick Anderson (6-9, 220 Jr.) vs. Matt Barnes (6-7, 225 Sr.)
*Perhaps no player in the Pac-10 conference is as hot as Matt Barnes is right now. Since that is the case, Arizona will have to hope he cools off on Saturday afternoon, especially if the Cats go with the 3-2 zone that allows shots from the perimeter. The funny thing about Barnes is that coming into the season he was only a 19% three-point shooter (12% last year) and now he's above 50% on the year (?). Barnes is also good with his penetration off of spin moves and has great scoring ability around the rim, similar to that of Rick Anderson for Arizona. Anderson is a better rebounder overall than Barnes is and can also shoot from outside; although, he prefers to stay within the arc for most of his offense, which comes primarily off of passes from Walton (whose doesn't?) or on offensive put-backs. If Arizona went straight man-to-man, Barnes would be a nightmare for the slower Anderson and this would be a glaring disadvantage for the Wildcats. But as it is, the zone is in place and this becomes another very even matchup.
-EDGE: Barnes (UCLA) slightly.

C-Channing Frye (6-11, 225 Fr.) vs. Dan Gadzuric (6-11, 240 Sr.)
*For someone as gifted as UCLA's Gadzuric, it never ceases to amaze me that he isn't averaging around 25 points and 15 rebounds per game. It's even more amazing and surprising that he's actually averaging about 10 points and six rebounds per contest. Watching Gadzuric in the McDonald's All-American game four years ago, this writer thought that the Pac-10 was about to enter the Dan Gadzuric era as soon as he stepped foot on the Westwood campus. It turns out that he's been brilliant at times (usually against Arizona at Pauley Pavilion) and very average at others. Most of the inconsistency can be directly attributed to nagging knee problems that have plagued the native Dutchman. Arizona's Frye, however, is experiencing nothing but growth and improvement each game the Wildcat freshman plays. Easily the conference's top big man freshman, Frye has shown he can bang with the big boys and play with the skilled boys as well down low in the post. Since the start of Pac-10 play, Frye is averaging 12.8 points and 8.9 rebounds over his last nine games and is shooting an incredible 65% from the field (86% at the free throw line). Sure, Gadzuric is physically superior to Frye—for now at least—and has the experience over him as well, but as long as both avoid foul trouble, this should be a great matchup.
-EDGE: Gadzuric (UCLA)

What to expect on Saturday afternoon:
*Arizona uses its 3-2 matchup zone defense to offset the Bruins size advantage at nearly every position, including off the bench. It will force UCLA to shoot well from the perimeter and that is something the Bruins are very capable of doing. Barnes is over 50%, Kapono is very close to that number and so is Knight. Stopping that trio from getting hot is priority number one for Arizona.

*Continued improvement and better-shot selection from Arizona freshman guard Will Bynum. Bynum had his official coming-out party Thursday night against USC when he scored a career-high 17 points on 4-4 three-point shooting. To anyone who saw Will "The Thrill" in preseason scrimmages, you know what he is capable of when he gets hot and when he feels comfortable with the ball. That time appears to finally be here and that's bad news for potential defenders of Bynum because no one is more explosive or is better at creating his own shot than Bynum is.

*Jason Gardner to really come out smoking from the field. He only scored eight points against the Trojans on 2-8 shooting and the law of averages alone dictates that the 22-point per game scorer will comeback with a big game offensively against the Bruins. He has the speed to get into the lane whenever he chooses (although UCLA will also likely use some zone) and the range to shoot over the taller Bruin perimeter defenders. Jason Gardner gave Luke Walton the spotlight against USC but this is UCLA (read: the REAL important game) and this is his time to shine. No one is better in the spotlight than Gardner has been this year so far. Expect nothing less against the ninth-ranked Bruins.

Prediction: Arizona 86, UCLA 81.

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