The Bruins have high expectations for the season, looking to better last year's 23-11 record and second-round exit from the NCAA Tournament. The Lions are simply looking to gain respectability in the always tough and deep West Coast Conference. Because LMU will be missing their best player, senior forward Drew Viney (6'8" 210 lbs.), the former Oregon Duck, to a leg injury, this game should really be about UCLA and what the Bruins can take from the game in terms of answering questions about their depth, experience, outside shooting and ability to play solid half court man-to-man defense.
UCLA technically "opened" its season this past Sunday night when they "hosted" Cal State San Bernardino in Ontario. The Bruins won the game 80-72 but not before UCLA gave its fans some anxious moments. The win over CSSB certainly showed Coach Ben Howland what kind of teams are going to give his young Bruins difficulty in terms of match-ups, at least during the early part of the season.
Tracy Pierson wrote in his postgame review of the CSSB contest that the Bruins gave good effort on the defensive end of the floor and were not bad at one-on-one defending, but that they were a mess with regard to their team defense. That's code for poor help-side defense, which was a staple of Howland's Final Four teams. That means that UCLA will struggle more against teams that have the ability to penetrate with multiple players. However, UCLA will have an advantage in virtually every game it plays this season up front because of the skill and depth of the front line. LMU is not a big team but they do have some backcourt quickness. That alone should make the game worth watching as it will be interesting to see what adjustments Howland and the squad have made since the CSSB game in terms of defensive help.
LMU is coming off its own exhibition victory, a 94-49 dismantling of Division III LaVerne. Coach Max Good's Lions had four players in double figures, had 10 players log double-digit minutes and out-rebounded LaVerne 44-27. Good probably can't be that liberal with his substitutions against the Bruins but he does have some solid players to lean on. The best of the bunch is sophomore point guard Anthony Ireland (5'10" 175 lbs.). With Viney out, Ireland is LMU's leading returning scorer and assist man. He had trouble with his shooting percentage last year, but he was very solid against LaVerne. He is quick and that alone should give the Bruins cause for concern. He is a good free-throw shooter and will get to the line quite a bit. He had 9 attempts from the charity stripe against LaVerne, hitting 6, which is a low percentage for him.
Ireland's back court mate is junior Jarred DuBois (6'3" 180 lbs.), a slasher with some ability to shoot outside. He may end up being the leading scorer for the Lions until Viney returns and he represents yet another player whose game is predicated on breaking down his defender one-on-one. UCLA's Tyler Lamb and Norman Powell will have their hands full slowing down DuBois. That's not to say they can't, but it will take some doing with improvement from what they showed against CSSB.
The backcourt depth of the Lions isn't great. Good has sophomore Ayodeji Egbeyemi (6'4" 205 lbs.) to run the point when Ireland is off the floor and freshman Bruce English (6'1" 190 lbs.) to play either guard spot, but really, the pickings are bare past the two starters. Expect the starters to play at least 30 minutes each against the Bruins barring foul trouble.
The frontcourt is where the Bruins should have a real advantage. The three starters for Good, junior Ashley Hamilton (6'7" 210 lbs.) and sophomores Quincy Lawson (6'6" 200 lbs.) and Godwin Okonji (6'8" 220 lbs.), simply can't stand up to the size and talent of the Bruins. They are fairly athletic, with Hamilton leading the group in scoring and rebounding against LaVerne, but all three of them as well as the one true post sub, sophomore Edgar Garibay (6'10" 250 lbs.), could face early foul trouble against the Bruin front line. Hamilton may be a difficult match-up when he's on the offensive end as he's quicker than UCLA's four, Reeves Nelson, and he can shoot the three-pointer, thus taking Nelson away from the hoop. The last resort for Good could be to use freshman C.J. Blackwell (6'5" 240 lbs.) for extended minutes against the Bruins. While his size will give him the ability to stay with the Bruins, his length and height, or rather the lack thereof, does not.
The last player that Good should have in his regular rotation on Friday is senior wing LaRon Armstead (6'5" 200 lbs.), who is a steadying influence on the squad. He's not great at any one thing but he does a few things pretty well. He can shoot, be active on defense and pass. He had 4 assists in 22 minutes against LaVerne. If Good feels the need to go small against the Bruins, expect Armstead to be the first off the bench.
Even with a roster that's 10 deep, Good just doesn't have the talent or the depth to stay with a Bruins squad that should play at least 9 players for significant minutes on Friday. The question is not about whether the Bruins will win, but rather how they will play. Senior point guard Jerime Anderson will be finishing his suspension for the LMU game, leaving the point guard duties to Lazeric Jones and the aforementioned Lamb. The Bruins will definitely miss the floor vision that a top-level point guard could bring them, and although Anderson has been criticized in the past for poorly running the break, he does have the best floor vision and natural feel of all the point guards.
As the Bruins get ready to play in the Maui Invitational, some questions need to be addressed beyond the issue at the point and the general lack of depth in the back court until Anderson's return, namely: How will the Bruins feed the post? How will they play defense against quicker teams, of which LMU may be one? Will Howland have the posts plug on screens like much of last year, or will the Bruins be told to hedge?
Expect the Bruins to play this one closer than expected for about a half. They are sure to be amped up but the setting, the Sports Arena, won't help. Arizona had trouble with a very average Valparaiso team on Monday night, being up by 2 until just after halftime when the Wildcats pulled away for an easier than-it-looked, 9-point win against the Crusaders. For those who care only about the Ws and the Ls, then this game should be similar.
Loyola Marymount 68