It will be the final game for the Bruins before they begin Pac-12 play in the Bay Area next weekend. The Spiders will represent the toughest opposition that UCLA has faced since the Texas loss and it will be a good test for the Bruins to see if their collective and individual improvement since Reeves Nelson was dismissed is real or was simply the result of a much easier portion of their schedule.
Richmond coach Chris Mooney, at 39 years-old, is among the youngest coaches in the Division 1 ranks. Even though he was an assistant and then the head coach at Air Force, he is an East Coast guy through and through, having grown up in Philadelphia. He has led the Spiders to some very big victories since he took over, including a run to the Sweet 16 in the 2011 NCAA Tournament. However, his Richmond team from last year was one dominated by seniors and the Spiders are a far different team this season. They definitely have talent, albeit young talent, and, while they've had a couple of head-scratching losses, they do have some nice wins, namely at Wake Forest and against Rutgers (who isn't a bad team this season).
Richmond does present the Bruins with a serious test because of the nature of their personnel and offensive system. UCLA's last opponent, UC Irvine, played a similar system to Middle Tennessee State, a team that dismantled the Bruins earlier in the season, but the Anteaters didn't have the talent to stay with the Bruins like MTSU did. Richmond, like UC Irvine, plays a similar system to MTSU and has comparable personnel. The difference is that Richmond's players are as good or better than those of Middle Tennessee State. That's not to say that Richmond is better than MTSU (The Blue Hens are a far more experienced team than are the Spiders), only that Richmond is going to present the Bruins with the same issues that MTSU did.
That means there are two big questions for the Bruins to answer in this contest and they are interconnected: how will the Bruins deal with the individual personnel that Richmond puts on the floor and how will UCLA deal with an offensive system that has given them trouble in the past?
While UCLA has been playing much better man-to-man defense the past several games, the reality is that UCLA's perimeter players have not had to deal with the quickness that the Bruins will see on Friday night. Mooney starts a pretty conventional line-up but tends to give his team's minutes to a rotation that will primarily be three guards, a wing and a post.
The three-headed guard monster that Mooney employs is young, but they are quick and talented and are the three leading scorers for the Spiders: junior Darien Brothers (6'3" 200 lbs.), sophomore Cedrick Lindsay (6'1" 190 lbs.) and true freshman Kendall Anthony (5'8" 140 lbs.). Anthony doesn't start but gets starter's minutes, and leads the team in scoring at 14.2 PPG, but Lindsay and Brothers aren't far behind at 13 PPG and 12.8 PPG, respectively. Brothers is coming off a 39-point performance in Richmond's overtime win earlier this week at home against Old Dominion. All three of these players are good to great three-point shooters. Lindsay is at 36% from behind the arc, while Anthony is at 40%, and Brothers is an outstanding 52%, including going 7-11 from distance against ODU. Lindsay is the point guard of the group and has 51 assists to 33 turnovers on the year. He is also a superior defender, with 16 steals on the season. He is very good at anticipating where the ball is going and sealing off passing lanes. All three of these guards are excellent free-throw shooters, with Lindsay at 81%, Anthony at 84% and Brothers at 92%, and it's not as if these players have only taken a few free throws, either. They've combined for 153 free throw attempts on the season. While all three are athletic and quick, Brothers is definitely a step below his two teammates in terms of athleticism.
Mooney starts two forwards, Senior Francis-Cedric Martel (6'6" 205), a true wing, and sophomore Derrick Williams (6'6" 270 lbs.), who is a true low post player.
Martel will play about 27 MPG and will be used to primarily take up one of the backcourt spots so that Richmond's big three can get a rest. Like his teammates, he is a pretty good three-point threat (39%) and, also like his teammates, he is not so accurate from inside the arc.
Williams is the bruiser of this Richmond team. He has attempted 20 threes on the year, and can't be looked at as solely a low-post threat. He averages 10.3 PPG (fourth on the team) and 5.9 RPG (second on the team). He's also a pretty good free throw shooter (75%).
The final starter is senior Darrius Garrett (6'9" 210 lbs.), who doesn't score much but he does lead the team in rebounding at 6.4 RPG. Garrett's biggest contribution is his ability to block shots, essentially averaging 4 BPG, which is amazing. (In a slight aside, Garrett is what UCLA's Anthony Stover could become if he was given more playing time.) Garrett truly isn't an offensive threat. While he's very athletic, he doesn't have the greatest hands in the world and he is very raw in terms of his post moves. While he has attempted 9 threes, he pretty much cleans up garbage and gets close-in looks for his points. He will be a tough match-up when the Bruins are on offense because of his shot-blocking ability.
Mooney will play senior Josh Duinker (6'11" 230 lbs.) for post depth, and junior Greg Robbins (6'5" 220 lbs.) for more depth on the wing. However, that's about all they do, although Robbins did play 19 minutes against ODU earlier in the week.
The individual personnel of the Spiders represents serious match-up problems for the Bruins and Coach Howland. The three-guard alignment will always have someone on the floor quicker than at least one Bruin guard, namely Lazeric Jones or Jerime Anderson. Norman Powell and Tyler Lamb can stay with their respective players but Jones and Anderson may struggle. If and when Howland decides to have both Jones and Anderson on the court together that means it's likely the Bruins will be at a disadvantage defensively at two spots. Powell played quite a bit against UC Irvine and if Howland wants the Bruins to be successful in this game he's going to have to play Powell a lot again.
UCLA does have Josh Smith, who is a match-up nightmare for any team, including Richmond, when UCLA has the ball, but Smith will struggle guarding either Williams or Garrett because both of them have the capability of pulling Smith out to the perimeter. The guess is that Smith will (should) guard Garrett. He's much less of an outside threat than Williams and Garrett's slight build should be easily dominated by Smith. Further, Smith is the one Bruin starter who can legitimately deal with Garrett's length. Certainly Anthony Stover off the bench would be an option to offset Garrett, too.
Williams is another story. He's stronger and has better balance (being lower to the floor) than any of UCLA's three power forwards. They will certainly have a length advantage on Williams and it will be necessary to take advantage of that to offset Williams' girth.
In terms of offensive style, Richmond really presents a challenge to UCLA. They essentially run a modified dribble-drive motion and, quite frankly, Howland-coached Bruin teams have had as much trouble with teams that run the DDM as UCLA's football team has had defending the spread. The Spiders definitely know how to run their offense. They are going to look to spread the floor, a la Texas two weeks ago, and take their man off the dribble. Howland could, in the man, just have the Bruins guard the passing lanes rather than play high ball pressure in the halfcourt. When the Bruins have played man-to-man defense, though, they've almost universally played high ball pressure. Perhaps this is where Howland will utilize the zone defense the Bruins have been showing. The problem with the man defense against Richmond is that they'll spread you out, and the problem with the zone is Richmond is a good three-point shooting team that will get open looks. So, pick your poison.
All is not gloom and doom for the Bruins. Richmond turns the ball over an awful lot (144 TOs on the season) and they rely on getting their opponents to turn the ball over to get easy points. The Bruins have been very good about taking care of the ball the past few weeks. If they can keep that up then they can chip about 5-10 points off of what Richmond would normally score. As written earlier, Richmond is a young team, especially in the backcourt, and sometimes that tends to show up in games like these; Richmond hasn't faced a name opponent like UCLA. For Anthony, this will be his first time facing a big program, and Anthony's been regressing a bit as it is. His small stature may have something to do with that.
Richmond will look to pressure the ball and may even press but they will drop back into some sort of zone or a packed-in man defense. Mooney is a smart coach, and he'll recognize that, in spite of Garrett, he has no real answer for Smith. The Bruins will have to be patient and work the ball inside. If they can do that, keep the turnovers to a minimum and continue to improve on defense then that should be enough to get them over the top for the win. If nothing else, at least Richmond will get the Bruins ready for Stanford, who has a pretty similar personnel situation as Richmond.
Expect this one to be very close.