Who Are You: UCLA Bruins

Kevin "Kevo" Danna provides the faithful with his preview of the UCLA Bruins, including a look at their current season, the players to watch out for this evening, and the keys to a Stanford victory as they look to sweep their home Pac-10 opening duo of games versus their rivals from Southern California.

After a thrilling victory on Wednesday night over the USC Trojans, the Farm Boys must now get ready to take on that other team from Southern California on Saturday afternoon.  This is a HUGE game for both teams.  A win for the Bruins puts them at 3-1 with a sweep of one of the tougher road trips in conference and also gets them back to .500 on the season.  A win for Stanford improves the Card's conference and overall record alike to one game above .500.  More than ever, I think .500 is going to be a huge mark for a lot of teams in the Pac this year.  While the conference will probably only get two or three bids to the NCAA Tournament come March, the Pac-10 will certainly get a lot of looks in the NIT and perhaps one or two spots in the CBI.  A .500 record at least is necessary to be selected to a post-season tournament.  So, can the Cardinal climb back on the right side of this mark?  Here's a look at the Bruins and what Stanford needs to do to be successful:

2009-2010 Season - 7-8 (2-1 Pac-10, 1-5 away from home)

The season sure got off to an auspicious start for Ben Howland's side.  In one of the ugliest games ever played, the Bru Cru dropped an overtime decision to Cal-State Fullerton as part of the 24-hour around the clock special of non-stop college basketball on ESPN.  After a closer-than-it-should-have-been victory over Bakersfield and a 19-point defeat of Pepperdine, the Bruins went on a five-game slide to get to 2-6.  Inclusive in this slide were a 27-point loss to Portland, an 11-point defeat at the hands of Long Beach State, and an 18-point L against Mississippi State in Anaheim.  In the midst of all this losing, San Jose product and Mitty HS graduate Drew Gordon decides to leave the team, citing personality and stylistic differences with Coach Howland.  Furthermore, Nikola Dragovic butted heads with the law for the second consecutive year, this time slapped with an assault charge after trying to help defend his friend in a fight after a concert and was suspended for two games (for what it's worth, I am a Dragovic supporter and wish him the best of luck with his legal issue).

Since then, however, the Bruins look like they have grown up on the court a bit.  They have won five of their last seven, including two impressive wins in conference play.  The first one was a 72-70 victory over Arizona State, a game in which Dragovic broke out of his season-long shooting slump and scored 23 points on 7-11 shooting, but also had an unthinkable behind-the-back pass in the final seconds to Reeves Nelson as they were trying to ice the game.  The defensive effort for the Bruins was fantastic in this game and would have held the Sun Devils in the low-60s if it wasn't for that flurry of buckets at the end of the game.  Arizona State had a chance to tie the game up after two missed free throws from Nelson, but the Devils were never able to get a clean look, opting to hold for a last-second shot when they had around 15 ticks left on the clock when the possession started.  Credit Jerime Anderson with making a big block on a three-point shot attempt as time expired to seal the deal. 

And then there was last night.  I obviously didn't watch the game since I was at Maples, but it seemed like one of those vintage 2007-2008 victories for the Bruins as they knocked off Cal 76-75 in overtime.  They trailed for pretty much the whole game in regulation, down 12 at one point in the second half at 42-30.  However, in typical Ben Howland fashion, UCLA grinded out possessions and eventually worked their way into overtime, where Michael Roll pulled a Robert Horry on a Vlade Divac-esque tip out right to him and connected on a 13-footer to put UCLA up one with 1.3 seconds remaining.  Their lone conference loss on the season was a pretty embarrassing 77-63 defeat at the hands of Arizona.  After a close few first minutes of action, the Cats took charge and never let the lead get closer than nine or 11 in the second half.

Players to Watch

•     Reeves Nelson (6'8, 228-lb Freshman Forward from Modesto) - When they played Fullerton in the season opener, my first reaction to Reeves was "who the hell is this guy?"  That's the last time I ever had that thought.  In that game, he was the Bruins' only reliable scorer and serious low-post threat, and he has continued that throughout the season.  Reeves is one of the hardest working kids on the floor and will out-hustle offending posts for offensive rebounds.  He also has a very nice touch around the basket and is perfect for Howland's system.  He is averaging 10.4 ppg (3rd on the team), and leads the team with 5.8 rebounds per contest.
•     Michael Roll (6'5, 200-lb Senior Guard from Aliso Viejo, CA) - Whenever you need to hit a big perimeter shot, Michael Roll is your man.  He has placed numerous daggers in the hearts of many an opponent.  He is also a very tough perimeter defender and really likes to get after it.  He leads the Bruins with a 44.7% clip from behind the arc and is second on the team in scoring at 13.6 ppg.  He also has 13 steals in 15 games, good for fourth on the team.
•     Malcolm Lee (6'4, 191-lb Sophomore Guard from Moreno Valley, CA) - The Bruins' best playmaker on offense, Lee leads the team in scoring at 14.1 ppg and is second behind Jerime Anderson with 3.8 assists per contest.  He started the season as an off-guard, but has played some point, a position which I think suits him very well.
•     Nikola Dragovic (6'9, 225-lb Senior Forward from Belgrade, Serbia) - This is another guy who can fill it up from downtown, but has had some shooting troubles this season.  Perhaps he woke up with that Arizona State game, we'll see.  Though he is primarily known for his long-distance connections, I have seen him put it on the floor with success and he's a very solid ball-handler for someone his size.  He is not the best defender, but he has certainly improved in that category over the years.

Kevo's Keys to Cardinal Success contra the SoCal Bru Cru:

•     Pacing, spacing, no racing - If the Cardinal play at the tempo they did on Wednesday night against USC, they will have a very good chance to win.  UCLA is another team that likes to grind out games, and Stanford has to be prepared for that - running and gunning is not going to work for 40 minutes.  In spots? Certainly, but not the whole game.  Thus, Stanford must be patient on offense and spacing on the floor will be important as the shot clock winds down, which it will on many occasions Saturday afternoon.
•     Free throws - Guys have to hit freebies down the stretch.  2-7 in the final two minutes will not cut it most nights.  Andrew Zimmermann and Jarrett Mann are going to get fouled in crunch time and will be counted on to knock down some clutch throws.  Both of these guys can do it, and Jarrett showed it Wednesday night.  Andrew will on Saturday.
•     Shill Pill - UCLA has Michael Roll; Stanford has Drew Shiller.  The 5th-year senior from Burlingame has been deadly off the bench all season long, and the Cardinal are going to need some big shots from him again come Saturday.  He is 52% from beyond the arc - to quote Eminem- "Wowsers, I just made a mess in my trousers!"

The crowd was FANTASTIC on Wednesday night.  I was so happy to see a full 6th-Man section and very few empty seats (just up in the nosebleeds really).  The Card are going to need that kind of support again Saturday afternoon against UCLA, so come on out and log on to TheBootleg.com afterwards to get your "Boom Boom" Salloom fix!

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