In his preseason prediction of how the Bruins would do in the 2010-2011 season game by game, Tracy Pierson predicted that UCLA would lose to Montana. That prediction may come to fruition as the Bruins are facing a fairly talented mid-major team just after losing an emotional game against a big-time opponent. The big question is how will the Bruins respond to the setback at Kansas, with fire and anger or will they collectively now believe they are simply good enough to show up and win? Or will the emotional drain of the Kansas loss be too much to overcome for a young team? In many ways this is a very critical game for the Bruins. Win and they are back on track for a good season, but lose and things become exponentially more difficult as UCLA moves forward.
Coach Wayne Tinkle's Montana squad comes into the UCLA game with a record of 3-3. They have no ‘big' wins (their best victory coming against Cal State Fullerton) and no ‘bad' losses, having barely lost to a good Portland squad by four at home last week. That is something to keep in mind; Montana's victories have all come at home while they have lost both road contests, to Nevada and Utah respectively. While it's difficult to use games once-removed against common opponents in order to gauge the potential outcome of any game, Nevada was defeated at home by Pacific, a squad UCLA essentially dominated, while soundly beating Montana by 15. Arguably that means that UCLA should have little trouble with the Grizzlies tonight. However, there are several variables at work in this game that really make any comparison with regard to common opponents a moot point.
Montana is a good mid-major team. They are certainly better than Cal State Northridge and Pepperdine but are probably a step below Pacific. They do have some talent, though, specifically at the point and in the post.
The Grizzly point guard is sophomore Will Cherry (6'1" 177 lbs.) and he will be a difficult match-up for Lazeric Jones and Jerime Anderson. While Cherry is an outside threat, having attempted 19 three-pointers on the season, his real strength is getting to the rim. He leads the team in scoring at 16.8 PPG and has an astounding 46 free-throw attempts on the year. That's almost 8 free throws per game. Luckily for Montana's opponents Cherry has only connected on 65% of his charity shots this year. Still, Cherry's strength is his quickness and guarding quickness at the point tends to be a weakness for the Bruins. It is worth noting that Jones and Anderson did a relatively good job at keeping Kansas point guards out of the paint last Thursday.
In the post the Grizzlies have senior Brian Qvale (6'11" 260 lbs.). Qvale averages 14.8 PPG on 66% shooting from the floor and a team-leading 7.7 RPG. He is strictly an inside scorer and has some nice back-to-the-basket moves. However, he isn't overly athletic and he certainly isn't at the level of Morris brothers from Kansas. This is critical because UCLA's Josh Smith simply outplayed the entire Kansas front line. Smith will be a match-up nightmare for Qvale. He is used to having his way with opposing post players and that simply won't happen when he plays defense on Smith. Smith may be two inches shorter than Qvale but he outweighs him by at least 75 pounds. When Sith goes to the bench UCLA Coach Ben Howland can turn to Brendan Lane, who is a smart player and should be able to at least defend Qvale, or Anthony Stover, who is longer and much more athletic than Qvale. Qvale may get his points but it wouldn't be a surprise if he gets into foul trouble against Smith and company.
The other post player is skinny junior Derek Selvig (7' 230 lbs.). Selvig is a big more in the vein of a European ‘4' in that he looks to shoot from the outside much more than work in the paint. That doesn't mean he's strictly a three-point shooter but he is a face-the-basket player who may be a difficult match-up for Reeves Nelson because he has the length to shoot over the Bruins. Selvig isn't a threat to put the ball on the floor but he is a skilled passer. He has 18 assists on the year, which is only one behind team leader Cherry. Selvig does try to be too flashy at times and that's why he has a team-leading 18 turnovers. Selvig averages just under 10 PPG and 5.2 RPG.
The other backcourt starter is junior Jordan Wood (6'3" 200 lbs.). He is strictly a ‘glue guy'. He averages on 4.5 PPG but he does a lot of little things that helps a team be successful. He is a much more disciplined defensive player than is Cherry and while he doesn't come close to Cherry's team-leading 22 steals, he also gets beat far fewer times in a game because of his discipline. Like Cherry, Wood has attempted 19 ‘3's on the year but has only hit 3. That 15% average is pretty poor and he doesn't really try to get into the lane as evidenced by his 9 total free throw attempts this season.
The wing starter is freshman Kareem Jamar (6'5" 210 lbs.). He is active and athletic and does a good job of guarding opposing wings. However, he will be stepping way up in class tonight when he tries to defend Tyler Honeycutt. UCLA's ‘3' has a 3 inch height advantage and is stronger than Jamar. Further, after torching Kansas for 33 points on Thursday it figures that if Honeycutt plays even relatively close to what he did on Thursday then his match-up with Jamar should be a tremendous advantage for the Bruins.
The only three bench players who average over 10 MPG are junior Art Steward (6'4" 210 lbs.) and sophomores Mathias Ward (6'7" 236 lbs.) and Shawn Stockton (6'1" 195 lbs.). Steward sees the floor more than any other sub at 19.3 MPG. He is a general backcourt sub but he is much like Cherry in that he would much rather post up inside or slash to the basket. He has been to the line 25 times this year while only attempting two ‘3's. Ward is the only post option off the bench for the Grizzlies and there is a significant drop off when he has to come in for Qvale. Tinkle will sub Steward in for Selvig more often than Ward as Ward is too similar to Qvale. If Ward and Qvale are on the floor at the same time up front then Montana will be much easier to guard, as both players will be strictly post players. Stockton is the back-up point guard and will spell Cherry and move Cherry to the ‘2' when both are on the floor. Statistically he's the best outside shooter on the squad but he's only attempted 5 three pointers this season. Sophomore guard Chase Adams (6'3" 185 lbs.) is the shooter off the bench for Tinkle having attempted 13 of his 16 total shots from behind the arc.
This game really comes down to how intense the Bruins are when the game tips off. That tends to be the story very time I write a preview but it's more pronounced coming into this game because of the nature of the loss on Thursday. If the Bruins play with any real focus and attention to defense then this will be a blow out along the lines of the Northridge victory. Montana will struggle inside against the Bruin front line and their outside shooting, which could open up the Bruin interior defense just isn't that good. The Grizzlies are averaging 26% as a team from long distance this season. About the only hope that Montana has is if the Bruins are flat and a player like Selvig has the kind of outside shooting performance that will burn the Bruins if they are slow on their close-outs and rotations.
The schedule makers set this game up perfectly for the Bruins, considering the Kansas game. The Bruins won't play again until next weekend and even then it won't be a ‘primetime' opponent. There is no excuse for the Bruins to be looking ahead or any reason not to play angry and with focus. The Bruins will probably be a bit flat but expect them to really try and put the hammer down on the Grizzlies over the course of the game. After all, that's what a young team that is showing growth from game to game should be expected to do.
Finally, it is imperative that the Bruins now run the table in the rest of their non-conference games. There are seven non-conference games left and five of them are against mid-majors. Montana is one of them. Expect the Bruins to take care of business.