*These programs have met only once in basketball, back in 1995 in the third round of the NCAA Tournament. Playing in Boise, the top-seeded Bruins handled Mississippi State 86-67 en route to taking the national championship. That was the most recent of UCLA's 11 national titles.
*But State has played in the Wooden Classic before, losing to Arizona 68-64 in the 2004-05 season. Two years later the Bulldogs went back to California to play in the Anaheim Classic, beating UC-Irvine and losing to Southern Illinois and Miami-Ohio.
*And MSU is 1-0 against Bruin Coach Ben Howland, after knocking off his Pitt team in a 2001 NIT road game.
*Mississippi State's last victory in a ‘classic' tournament came in 2000-01 when those Bulldogs took the Fiesta Bowl Classic, beating Louisiana-Lafayette and Arizona. State teams have won 17 pre-conference tournaments over the years. Rick Stansbury teams are 16-14 in these events including a split of games in the South Padre Invitational in November.
*UCLA's athletic director Dan Guerrero chairs the NCAA men's basketball committee for this year.
About the Bruins: The official UCLA guide praises Ben Howland's ability to rebuild programs, and that's true. Yet the former boss at Northern Arizona and Pitt isn't too shabby at maintaining, either. His last five Bruin teams have all finished in the top-three of the Pac-10, and of course the 2006, '07, and '08 squads all were league champs and reached the NCAA's final four round. Last year wasn't much of a fall-off either with a 26-9 mark and top-twenty final ranking. But now Howland is back in a real rebuild mode after graduating four starters with a couple of first-round draft picks, and the replacement parts haven't been up to program-par. Yes, these Bruins played then-#12 to a two-point game and stayed in range of #1 Kansas. But both were losses and this isn't an operation that counts close. Scoring points has been a real problem for a revamped lineup that is shooting under 43% overall and an uncomfortable 28% at the arc. Even worse is the team's startlingly bad 56% touch at the foul line…not that they have been getting to the stripe very often anyway. The lone returning starter, forward Nikola Dragovic, isn't off to a strong senior start at 29% shooting and 7-of-31 work at the arc; he was good on 44% of long shots last year but defenses can come after him now. Of course his pre-Thanksgiving arrest and two missed games hasn't helped. And now Howland has another unexpected issue as soph forward Drew Gordon, who was giving 11 points and five boards, has quit the team this week. So the coach is calling on what other returning backup experience is available as well as members of the nation's 4th-ranked recruiting class for 2009. The only all-game starters so far are the guards, senior Michael Roll and soph Malcolm Lee, who also are setting the scoring pace. Guard Jerime Anderson had started six-straight but left the tipoff team for the Kansas game as Dragovic got the job back, giving the Bruins more of the size needed given less-than-stellar rebounding as well as loss of Gordon's shot blocking. Center Reeves Nelson is steady in the middle and picks his shot well on 61% accuracy. A stronger point is backcourt defense as UCLA does force a fair share of turnovers and convert them into points. And it must be acknowledged that few teams have faced a better pre-league schedule after losing so much talent. Still it seems unlikely Howland expected struggles to this winter's extent, or that year-seven would become yet another rebuild job.
Projected Starting Lineups:
UCLA: F James Keefe, SR 6-8 235, 3.0ppg, 4.3rpg; F Nikola Dragovic, SR 6-9 225, 9.0ppg, 7.0rpg; C Reeves Nelson, FR 6-8 228, 7.6ppg, 61%FG, 5.3rpg; G Malcolm Lee, SO 6-4 190, 12.3ppg, 4.6rpg; G Michael Roll, SR 6-5 200, 13.6ppg, 16 3ptrs, 31 asts.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: F Kodi Augustus, JR 6-8 220, 11.5ppg, 5.7rpg, 8 3ptrs; C Jarvis Varnado, SR 6-9, 14.1ppg, 10.3rpg, 40 blks; G/F Ravern Johnson, JR 6-7 175, 12.6ppg, 3.3rpg, 22 3ptrs; G Barry Stewart, SR 6-3 170, 11.3ppg, 23asts, 15 3ptrs; PG Dee Bost, SO 6-2 170, 12.3ppg, 36 asts, 22 3ptrs.
Top Backups: G/F Phil Turner, JR 6-3 170, 5.6ppg, 5.9rpg; F Romero Osby, SO 6-8 230, 5.9ppg, 3.6rpg; G Riley Benock, JR 6-4 180, 2.8ppg, 6 3ptrs.
HOW THEY COMPARE:
Scoring: MSU 76.2, UCLA 64.9
Scoring Defense: MSU 59.0, UCLA 68.4
FG Shooting: MSU 45.9%, UCLA 42.5%
FG Defense: MSU 36.3%, UCLA 44.7%
3-Point Shooting: MSU 41.7%, UCLA 27.1%
3-point Attempts: MSU 199, UCLA 140
Rebounding: MSU 41.6, UCLA 35.6
Rebound Margin: MSU +9.5, UCLA -0.1
Free Throw Shooting: MSU 71.6%, UCLA 55.9%
Turnovers: MSU 13.3, UCLA 14.6
BULLDOG NOTES: It was only last year the Bulldogs set the program record for made-threes with 296. Well, that mark isn't going to last long based on early results this year. So far this squad has chunked in 83 treys. And the per-game-attempt rate of 24.9 is ahead of last year's 22.8 clip.
*State has hit for double-digit threes four times this season, including a dozen Thursday night against DePaul and a record-tying 16 before that against St. Bonaventure.
*The three Dogs who have made 10 or more treys are collectively shooting 45% at the arc.
*All five members of the current starting lineup are averaging double-figures scoring. State starters account for 77% of the team's offense.
*As usual, State is crushing pre-conference competition in shot blocking with better than a three-to-one margin, 64 to 21.
*The current team pace of 8.0 blocks is ahead of last year's 7.5 rate when State broke their own SEC record for season swats at 271.
*Bulldog defense is back with a vengeance. State's last three victims have shot 28%, 33%, and 28% respectively. And the Dogs have not just controlled the paint but put a crimp in opponents' perimeter plans, allowing just 12-of-46 shooting at the arc in those three wins.
*And the block-party just keeps rocking, as C Jarvis Varnado keeps climbing the NCAA's shot-swatting list. The senior is now up to 433 blocks to stand 10th-best in college ball history; he needs four more to catch Lorenzo Coleman (Tennessee Tech) for 9th, while the NCAA record is at 535.
*Varnado is well on-pace for that mark, too, with a per-game rate of 4.9. That is ahead of 4.7-pace of last year when he smashed the SEC season standard with 170 swats.
*Varnado has blocked a shot in 25-straight games, since being blanked in the home game with LSU last February. Before that he had blocks in 34-straight games.
*The 31st member of MSU's 1,000-Point Club, Varnado now owns 1,020 for his career and needs 22 more to catch Greg Lockhart (1986-89) for #30.
*Varnado has made major gains in his shooting, currently hitting 68.3% of his attempts compared to 55% last season. And he's having the best year of his career at the foul stripe, making 69%.
*Varnado crushed DePaul on the glass for 14 rebounds, not so far off his career-high of 17 last year against LSU. That gives him 809 boards in four seasons, and he now ranks 7th in program history.
*Thursday produced Varndo's fourth double-double of the season. He had eight as a junior and owns 19 for his career whether the combination is points, rebounds, or blocks. And Varnado is one of three Dogs in history with a triple-double to his credit.
*Varnado has double-digit career blocks against 15 programs or teams.
*His current 10.3-rebound game rate is way ahead of his junior average of 8.8 when he had the sixth-most boards ever by a Bulldog at 317.
*PG Dee Bost has taken advantage of straight-shooting teammates to pile up the assists. The soph has had four or more scoring passes in the last five games and is up to 36 for the season. That's a 4.5-game rate just ahead of the 4.3 assists averaged as a freshman, when he set a MSU-rookie record with 156 assists.
*Bost needs eight assists for 200 on his young career; only 314 assists are needed to make the MSU career top-ten.
*Of course Bost can score the ball himself. While he had an off-night against DePaul, shooting 1-of-6, he is still averaging 12.3 points. This after he scored 10.9 as a SEC All-Freshman.
*Bost has scored double-digits in six of eight games. His 25 markers against Old Dominion matched his young career-high of 25 at home against Arkansas last year.
*Bost has started all 44 of his college games, the only Dog on this roster who has never come off the bench.
*By sticking four treys Thursday, G Ravern Johnson has caught Bost for the team-lead with 22 longballs each.
*Johnson now has 122 threeballs in his three State seasons, just two short of catching Antonio Jackson (2000-01) for 10th place on the career list.
*Johnson is scorching at the arc this fall semester, hitting 46% through eight games. That gives him a career-accuracy of 39.7% which would rank fourth-best in program history.
*But the junior defines ‘spot shooter' as he has been to the foul line only once all this season. He made the shot, as he has did in 85% of his chances as a sophomore.
*Johnson has never fouled out of a college game.
*He has now played an official, exact 1,500 career minutes.
*Senior G Barry Stewart meanwhile has put in 3,463 career minutes, 800 more than anyone else on the MSU roster. The career record of 3,851 belongs to all-time scoring leader Jeff Malone (1980-83).
*Stewart has scored double-digits in the last seven games, and has topped ten points 71 times in his career.
*And with 1,268 career points he now stands 15th in program history
*Stewart popped a pair of treys against DePaul, giving him 217 for his career. He is chasing the program record of 258 set by Darryl Wilson (1995-96).
*With 124 steals, Stewart is now 10th on the MSU career list.
*Stewart is getting close to top-ten career status in made free throws. He has 289 and needs 297 to tie Jerry Jenkins (1973-75) for 10th place.
*Since returning to active status, F Kodi Augustus has put up four-straight double-digit scoring games.
*In his last two outings Augustus has shot a combined 8-of-10, raising his season accuracy to an even 50%.
*And in those two games Augustus is 5-of-7 on three-pointers.
*Folk already knew Augustus could make free throws, with a 79% accuracy last winter. But since suspension he has been brilliant at the stripe going 25-of-27.
*G/F Phil Turner has always surprised bigger foes on the boards. He's better than ever this junior season with a 5.9 rebound rate through seven games, compared to 5.5 for all last season.
*G Riley Benock was 1-of-10 at the arc through six games as he comes back from a leg injury. Now in two games he is 5-of-9 on long shots.
*F Romero Osby has had a quiet start to his sophomore season. But he came to the fore Thursday night for 13 points, his first double-digit game this year. Osby had 17 total points in the previous four games. The seven rebounds against DePaul was also a season-high.