Cal State Los Angeles Preview

The exhibitions are intended for a coach to experiment and mix and match his pieces, but UCLA is already without a couple of pieces due to injury when it faces Cal State Los Angeles tonight...

After a comfortable victory over NAIA Westmont College last Thursday night, the UCLA Men's Basketball team returns to the court Tuesday night when the Bruins host Cal State Los Angeles at Pauley Pavilion in UCLA's final exhibition match before the real season begins on Friday, November 12.

The game will again be used by Coach Ben Howland to mix and match personnel, try different offensive sets and see who is starting to stand apart from his teammates, especially on the defensive end. For fans the game will be an opportunity to see if some of the good things that came out of the Westmont game will indeed be strengths throughout the season and to see if some of the problem areas are also going to be lingering through March. Unfortunately, Howland won't have all of his pieces to mix and match due to some injuries the team has already suffered.

As Tracy Pierson wrote in his Westmont game review, the Warriors had no one on their roster who is a Division 1 athlete. CSULA, a Division II school from the California Collegiate Athletic Association, has some D-1 level athletes and is certainly more athletic than Westmont, but best players on the Golden Eagles have only played on marginal D-1 teams (Sacramento State), played sparingly on bigger squads (USC), or didn't play at all while they were there (Montana State). CSULA was also recently picked to finish 9th in the 12-team CCAA. Not exactly a juggernaut coming to Pauley.

Serious competition isn't why these games are scheduled, though. The young Bruins are going to take some time to find themselves, and the one against CSULA is another step in the maturation process.

Howland will continue to see who is best suited to be on the floor in given situations. Tracy Pierson pointed out that the ostensible ‘second team' for the Bruins played much more fundamentally sound against Westmont, while the ‘starters' at time played street ball. Obviously players like Matt Carlino are nice to have on the team knowing they will play under control and be easily coached, but everyone, including Howland, knows that the Bruins need their best athletes to step up and play better team basketball. That means Tyler Honeycutt, he of the great vision and passing ability, needs to cut out any turnovers related to playing ‘playground' ball. Reeves Nelson, of course, will not participate in this game because of a hip flexor he experienced as a result of the Westmont game (he woke up the next morning and felt a tightness), but in terms of the season he needs to maximize his abilities and minimize his weaknesses, which means not trying to turn into a jump-shooter. Carlino also won't play, having suffered a concussion in practice Monday.

In terms of offense, it will be interesting to see if the Bruins can get up and down the floor as easily against the Golden Eagles as they could against Westmont. It seems that the Bruins will struggle a bit when forced to slow the pace and certainly don't have great outside shooting ability, so a concerted effort to get easy points will once again be critical as the Bruins prepare to open their regular season. That doesn't seem to be an issue as the Bruins have quite a few players who can perform well in break or a secondary-break offense. The key will be what the Bruins can accomplish in the half-court.

CSULA will certainly mix both man and zone defenses at the Bruins. The key will be for UCLA to utilize quick passing, be fundamental with their passes (chest passes instead of lazy one-handers), and use their screens. They were not at their collective best in those areas on Thursday.

The defense looks to be the key issue for the Bruins, though. In order for UCLA to really grow as a team the Bruins must play solid defense. It doesn't need to be spectacular, as no one really believes that UCLA will win the national title this season, but it needs to be at a level that can win the Pac-10. For that to happen the Bruin point guards, Lazeric Jones and Jerime Anderson, must force the opposing point guard out of his rhythm or at least keep that player in front of them on most occasions. CSULA will have 6'2" Franklin Session, a transfer from Weber State, and 5'11" Ryan Wetherell, a transfer from USC, starting in the backcourt. Neither is overly quick so if either Jones or Anderson has issues keeping their man in front of them then the Bruins have some serious problems on their hands in terms of the season.

The Golden Eagles do have 6'9", 270-pound post Carl Hoffman to feed the ball on offense and it will be of particular interest to see Bruin frosh Josh Smith handle Hoffman. Hoffman is poor athletically but he does know how to use his body, being a double-doublemachine for CSULA. Smith could be hindered by his thumb sprain. and it will be interesting to watch Anthony Stover and Brendan Lane go up against a significant girth disadvantage on the low block. You'd have to say, though, that they'd have some unique preparation going against the 330-pound Smith in practice.

There you have it. As fans, there are things to look for as fans in this contenst, just as Howland is using this game to get ready for the season. Obviously it's highly probable that Howland figures out very little on Tuesday and that the Bruins will be a significant work-in-progress. However, he will be looking for better man defense and better decision-making in half-court sets. Those two areas would be good places to start when looking for improvement. Howland has already clearly discovered that health might be his biggest factor this season, with already three players hurt before the season has even started.

In terms of the outcome, while CSULA probably has better athletes than Westmont, the Warriors probably have better "basketball players." The Golden Eagles already have lost an exhibition game to UC Riverside by a fairly lopsided score and the Highlanders were picked to finish ninth in the Big West Conference. If the Bruins decide to play some defense and run some good sets, this should be over by halftime.


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