What Have You Been Up To?: UCLA Bruins

Kevin "Kevo" Danna provides the faithful with his preview of the UCLA Bruins, including a look at their season since facing Stanford in January, who has been hot and not so hot for UCLA, and the keys to a Stanford victory as they look to get their first road win of the year at Pauley Pavilion this evening.

Halfway through the Pac-10 slate, your Farm Boys are right in the thick of the race, just two games behind leaders Cal and Arizona.  If the Cardinal want to inch closer to the top, however, they must win on the road in the second half of conference play, and it must start against the UCLA Bruins.  Here is a quick look at what the Bruins have done since they lost to Stanford 70-59 at Maples on January 9:

Since the last encounter:

After the 11-point loss to Stanford nearly four weeks ago, the Bru Cru has hung very tough in the conference standings, going 3-2 over their last five contests and standing at 5-4 in Pac-10 play, 10-11 overall.  They first returned home to get murdered by down South rival USC 67-46, a game which made me think that the Bruins' respectable conference start was just a hoax.  Nevertheless, the Bruins worked their magic like only they can against the Huskies, using a buzzer-beater from infrequently-used walk-on Mustafa Abdul-Hamid to knock off Washington 62-61.  They backed that up with a convincing win over Washington State and a decent split on the road up in Oregon.  In the Eugene game, Michael Roll hit a ridiculous three-pointer to send the game into overtime before the Bruins ran out of gas in the extra five-minute period.  They rebounded nicely on Saturday with a solid 62-52 win over the Beavers in a game that was really close for about the first 33 minutes.

How have they been able to stay afloat in conference?  Defense.  An inexperienced team that looked unable to execute Howland's game plan in Palo Alto is really starting to turn the corner and play smarter on the less-glamorous end of the court.  In their past four games (3-1), UCLA has held their opponents to under 40% shooting (86-217, 39.6%) and haven't given up more than 62 points in regulation (they held Oregon to 55 over the first 40 minutes before allowing 16 in OT).  They have also forced 13.5 turnovers per game against teams that are pretty steady with the basketball, yet another sign that they are starting to better adhere to the Howland defensive philosophy.

Who's Been Hot

• Nikola Dragovic - it seems as if that early-season slump is behind him for good now.  After his 0-6 performance against the Trojans, Dragovic has averaged over 15 points per contest over his last four and is shooting 48.9% (22-45) from the field, including 9-22 from his favorite place on the court in the last three games.   He also picked up his first double-double of the season against Oregon with a 19-point, ten-rebound performance on Mac Court.

• Tyler Honeycutt - the highly-touted freshman out of Los Angeles is starting to pick up the pace.  Like Dragovic, Tyler recorded his first double-double this year against Oregon by dropping in 13 and pulling down ten.  And also like Dragovic, his touch is improving, converting on 14 of his last 24 shot attempts.  He even had his first multiple-3FGM day of his collegiate career by shooting  a perfect 2-2 from beyond the arc in that one-point win over Washington.  If he keeps this up, he will be on the Pac-10 All-Frosh team without a question.

Who's Been Not

• James Keefe - He has never been a prolific scorer, but as an elder statesmen on a depleted team, you would have expected more from him.  His 2.1 ppg average might not be anything to talk about over dinner, but his 0.9 rebounds per contest looks worse for a 6-8, 235-lb Senior that is averaging about 16 minutes per game.  He is shooting well enough from the field on the rare occasion that he does attempt a shot (2-3 FGs combined over the last four games), it is just that he really isn't being productive in other areas on the floor either.  I know you'd like to have your big men play down low, but Keefe can really stroke it from long range when he gets free - maybe feed him the ball around the perimeter a little more.

Kevo's Keys to a Cardinal Triumph on Thursday Night

• Will a third scorer please stand up? - In conference play, Stanford is 4-2 when three or more players score in double figures.  When there are only two who reach the ten-point plateau, Stanford is 0-3.  The evidence is pretty clear - Stanford NEEDS a third scoring option in order to win.  Landry and Jeremy can be world beaters all they want, but a Jack, Jarrett, or Drew is going to have to cash in as well.  When Fields and Green had their best combined scoring output of the season (56 points against Arizona), the Cardinal lost by eight.  Why?  The other players only combined for 12 points.

• Good Start Central - In Stanford's two close road conference defeats (Washington State, Arizona), they got out to an early lead (yes, the Cougars were up 20 at half, but Stanford got out to 10-2 and 16-13 advantages).  The first five minutes will be huge for the Farm Boys on Thursday night.  If they can whether the opening storm, they have a very good chance to hang around for the whole game and try to take it at the end.  If not, things could snowball in the wrong direction.

• Get that "swag" - Stanford has already handled this team once, so why should it be any different on another court?  This is the mentality that the Cardinal need to have.  Plus, for as storied an iconic as Pauley Pavilion is, it is one of the weakest home court advantages in the Pac-10.  The fans are so far removed away from the court for collegiate standards that you really don't feel the fans breathing down your neck at all.

Can the Cardinal get it done for the first time on the road and get back to .500 on Thursday night against UCLA.  Make sure to watch the game on CSN or head down to Pauley for a 7:30pm tip-off, and then log on to TheBootleg.com afterwards for another fantastic game narrative by Boom Boom Salloom!

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