The Eagles present the Bruins with just the kind of line-up that has given Coach Ben Howland's UCLA team fits this season, namely a quick, athletic one. In many ways, Coach Jim Hayford's Eagles are very similar to Loyola Marymount, a team that UCLA lost to by 11 in the season opener. The Bruins, however, will be playing their second game since the dismissal of Reeves Nelson, which has had a stabilizing influence and, with its new zone defense, it could make UCLA a very different squad from the one that lost to LMU on opening night.
Eastern Washington is probably the same level of mid-major as Penn. The differences between the two, though, could very well see the Eagles walk out of the Sports Arena with a victory. The Eagles aren't as disciplined as the Ivy Leaguers in terms of shot selection and game situations, but they average only 11 turnovers per game. EWU is also a lot more athletic than the Quakers, and that alone could determine the outcome of Wednesday's game.
Hayford starts four JUCO transfers and, while they all suffer from a bit of a learning curve from time to time, all four are athletic and can play. The key player is junior swingman Collin Chiverton (6'6" 200 lbs.). He is the Eagles' leading scorer at 17.4 PPG and has taken over 70 shots from beyond the arc where he's hitting at a 43% clip. He shoots 86% from the free-throw line and he's been to the charity stripe 21 times. He has an Achilles Heel, though, namely his inability to rebound well for his size. His athleticism and quickness should be good enough for him to average more than his 2.1 RPG. He tends to float a bit around the perimeter, especially on the offensive end, and this pulls him away from the basket in critical situations. His three-point shooting is a concern, not just because he shoots it well but because the Bruins have had a propensity this season to give up a high shooting percentage from the arc. If Howland chooses to play man defense then he won't be able to play David Wear at the three and expect good results. Chiverton is simply too quick for Wear.
Senior Cliff Colimon (6'0" 170 lbs.) is EWU's point guard and he's pretty good. He isn't lightning-quick but he is quick enough to cause damage to the Bruins. In many ways he is very much like UCLA's Lazeric Jones, both in size and in style of play. Colimon doesn't have a great feel for the point guard position and is more of scoring point guard or a lead guard. He averages 13.9 PPG, including 40% from the arc, 83% on his free throws and leads the team with 5.6 APG. He doesn't turn over the ball much, with only 23 on the season (making for an exact 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio) but he can be prone to ill-advised shots. He is shooting only 37% from the floor for the season. In fact, both he and Chiverton have a better shooting percentage from the three-point line than they do overall.
The inside game is built around seniors Laron Griffon (6'8" 220 lbs.) and Cliff Ederaine (6'7" 205 lbs.). Griffon is the banger of the two, having yet to attempt a three-point shot on the season. Ederaine is the kind of long and rangy four that has quickness and can give the Bruin frontline problems. He averages only 14% from beyond the arc, but he's shooting 51% from the floor overall and 10.9 PPG. What makes him dangerous is that he averages 7.7 RPG and is particularly difficult to keep off the offensive glass because of his quickness. Conversely, he has a great deal of trouble matching up with any sort of physical post presence. It would greatly enhance UCLA's chances of winning the game if the Bruins start from the opening tip trying to get the ball inside. While neither Wear brother nor Brendan Lane can match players like Ederaine in terms of athleticism, they are bigger and stronger and should be able to push Ederaine around on the low block and back him down. Interestingly, Ederaine leads the Eagles in turnovers with 32. That's quite a few for the player who is ostensibly a team's power forward.
Griffon is having a very good year shooting from the floor, at 61%, but there is no reason why a combination of Josh Smith and Anthony Stover shouldn't have their collective way with him, even though to really have an impact Smith would have to be in the game, as would Stover. Smith is simply too big for Griffon or his back-ups, and Stover can match Griffon's athleticism, being longer and with a better feel, at least on defense. Griffon is very different from his teammates in that he is a poor free-throw shooter (less than 50%) on a team that averages over 73% from the free throw line.
The final starter is junior guard Jeffrey Forbes (5'10" 170 lbs.). While Forbes is certainly the shortest player on the Eagles' roster, he doesn't have that "jitterbug" quickness that seems to bother UCLA. While Forbes can penetrate, he is much more of an outside threat, where he's hitting at 45%. He's taken 42 of his 62 shot attempts on the season from beyond the three-point line. He and Colimon play over 30 MPG, with Forbes seeing 34 MPG. Forbes runs the point when Colimon gets the occasional rest.
Senior Tremayne Johnson (6'7" 200 lbs.) and juniors Kevin Winford (5'11" 170 lbs.) and Jordan Hickert (6'9" 225 lbs.) are the only bench players to get significant minutes. Johnson has a nice return of 4 RPG in his 18+ minutes, but Winford and Hickert play simply to give the starters at guard and in the post a bit of a rest. Johnson is a player whose skill set is very similar to his teammate Ederaine, only not as polished.
It has become pretty obvious that UCLA will struggle much more against athletic teams, ala LMU, rather than ones that have size but have proven to be less mobile, ala Penn. Certainly talent comes into play, but in reality, not as much as one may think. The Bruins continue to play below the level of talent that individual players have shown in the past and they haven't been able to take advantage of their few clear advantages, namely the talent they have on the low block. Eastern Washington is closer to the athleticism of LMU than Penn, however, the Eagles are not as athletic as the Lions and they certainly don't have anyone as talented or proven as Penn's Zack Rosen or Tyler Bernardini, although Chiverton does have the ability to fill it up from the outside.
Hayford will almost certainly employ some sort of zone defense against the Bruins so as to force UCLA to take more outside shots. It's a question of whether UCLA can consistently shoot as well from the outside as they did against Penn, so it's vital the Bruins get more in the habit of getting the ball into the post. It would help UCLA's cause considerably if Josh Smith would play more like he did in the exhibition against CSSB than he has in the regular season. He has to gain confidence in order to become the dominant player he is capable of becoming (forget the getting in shape thing…that will be for the offseason).
Eastern Washington was soundly defeated in its last game at Cal State Fullerton by 15. That's the same CSUF team that UCLA defeated in a closed scrimmage back in October. While the Eagles gave Oregon as well as Gonzaga some trouble, both the Ducks and the Zags were almost as overrated as the Bruins coming into the season. A telling point is that, in EWU's last game against Pac-12 competition, they were destroyed by Washington State, 75-49.
The scary part about this game is that EWU will pressure the ball and they take good care of it themselves. They have forced 50 more turnovers as a team than they've committed. The Eagles' 101 combined turnovers averages out to around 11 per game, which is very good. If UCLA can't take care of the ball and EWU gets hot from the arc, then UCLA is in for a long night, like they were against LMU.
What could keep this game close is EWU's ability to shoot from three, averaging 36% from three for the season, with their three primary three-point shooters – Chiverton, Colimon and Forbes – hitting 42% from behind the line. Because of that, Howland might not be able to utilize his zone much, which relegates UCLA to its man D, and that makes EWU's athleticism more of a problem, especially if David Wear has to do time at small forward. It also exploits UCLA's limited rotation and contributes to the Bruins getting fatigued.
UCLA, though, appeared much more composed in their win over Penn (although free-throw shooting continues to be a real concern). This game will be close; closer than most fans would like, but at this point, a win is a win.
Eastern Washington 65