The Big Sky-member Hornets com into Monday's contest with a record of 1-1, having beaten UC Santa Cruz handily in their opener and then losing at Cal State Bakersfield. The Banana Slugs are an NCAA Division III school while Bakersfield is, at best, a mediocre mid-major team. To put it in perspective, the Oakland Grizzlies are probably 10-15 points better than Bakersfield on a neutral court. Coach Brian Katz's Hornets are simply not a very good team. Now, Oakland is better than what it showed at Pauley last week, having almost taken down Cal in Berkeley, (although that may say as much about the Golden Bears as it does the Grizzlies), but the Grizzlies will still be one of the easier teams the Bruins will face this season.
This is another in a string of games where, really, the fans won't be able to learn much about the Bruins. Certainly people can determine effort and intensity, especially on the defensive end of the floor, but the reality is that the Bruins will win the game even if they play poorly. UCLA's first opponent, Drexel, is actually a pretty good mid-major and, as written in the preview of the Drexel game, may be UCLA's toughest opponent in terms of talent and athleticism until the game at Missouri.
Talent and athleticism are precisely the two factors that Hornets don't have on their roster. In fact, it can be easily argued that there isn't a single player on Sacramento State's roster that would see anything other than spot duty if they were on UCLA. Using UCLA's Bryce Alford as an example, the Bruin frosh would be the star of the Hornets if he were on that squad.
To make matters worse for the Hornets, in order to beat the Bruins, they would have to have some size and athleticism up front, where the Bruins have shallow depth because of the injuries to both freshman Wanaah Bail and senior Travis Wear. Wear may return for this game. However, the strength of the Hornets is their back court and their weakness is clearly in the frontcourt.
Katz's two most important players are his starting guard tandem of juniors Dylan Garrity (6'2" 175 lbs.) and Mikh McKinney (6'1" 165 lbs.). The bigger of the two, Garrity, is the point guard and McKinney mans the two. However, because the Hornets rely so clearly on these two, McKinney generally runs the point when Garrity needs a rest. The Bruins shouldn't be surprised if the Hornets play offensively with what is essentially two point guards on the floor, with whoever brings up the ball being the point guard on that particular play.
The two guards lead the team in scoring, with Garrity putting up 16.5 PPG and McKinney scoring 12.5 PPG. McKinney's contributions are a bit blunted because he was in foul trouble at Bakersfield. Garrity is the better shooter of the two while McKinney does a better job of slashing to the hoop. For the Bruins, the game is simple; shut down one of these two players and UCLA could find itself winning by 50.
The only other guard who plays significant minutes is fellow starter, sophomore Cody Demps (6'4" 200 lbs.). He doesn't score much but he will play over 23 MPG. That's because he is the one Hornet with a knack for rebounding, averaging 7 RPG. Demps is often in the bottom of whichever zone Katz chooses to run and has found himself on the weakside when opponents shoot. He is active but will struggle athletically against the Bruins.
The frontcourt starters are junior Alex Tiffin (6'9" 235 lbs.) and senior Joel Quigley (6'8" 210 lbs.). Tiffin is the more effective of the two, being a true low-post player and averaging 7.5 PPG. His lack of athleticism hampers his board work, though, and he is only pulling down 2.5 RPG. Quigley plays more for his experience than anything else, but to give an idea of how much Sacramento State struggles down low, both players average less than 20 MPG.
If the Hornets have any real post presence, it has been provided by the active play of true freshmen Eric Stuteville (6'11" 240 lbs.) and Nick Hornsby (6'7" 200 lbs.). Stuteville averages a little over 20 MPG and is second on the squad at 4.5 RPG. Hornsby is an improvement athletically to Quigley and is more of an offensive threat, although none of the frontcourt players are top offensive options.
The Bruins should expect the Hornets to show them a great deal of zone throughout the game. In fact, the over/under on how much the Hornets play man defense should be in the 10-possession range. Katz will vary the zones and the Bruins shouldn't be surprised if Sacramento State tries to trap them in the half court from time-to-time.
Offensively, the Hornets will be somewhat methodical. Their lack of athleticism will dictate trying to slow the pace and work the clock. This is where the Bruins should be able to prosper by speeding up tempo with a man-to-man defensive scheme. If Alford expects the Bruins to be successful at any time this season when playing man defense then they need to start with a dominating effort against the Hornets. There is no reason other than disinterest for the Bruins to not be able to shut down the Hornets.
In fact, Alford should demand man defense for much of the game, and not the sagging-into-the-lane style the Bruins played in their first two contests. The Bruins should be athletically dominant at every position on the floor. If UCLA is to start gaining any comfort and/or confidence in its man defense, it needs to start Monday night.
The other area the Bruins should dominate is on the boards. Tony Parker had a field day against Oakland and should find the going at least as easy as it was against the Grizzlies. If Parker, and to a lesser extent the Wears (if Travis plays), decide to play with focus and purpose, they could have career days, especially Parker.
The early season schedule for the Bruins is pretty light and Sacramento State may represent the lightest of those "cupcake" opponents. Things will become marginally tougher against Morehead State and Chattanooga in the two games before UCLA travels to Las Vegas. Still, these are the kinds of games where good teams build momentum and an expectation of intensity. If the Bruins develop a tendency of playing up or down to their competition then there will be games where the Bruins simply can't flip the switch. Tracy Pierson has written often in the past that even when the Bruins didn't play well on the offensive end, their defense could, if played with focus and desire, keep them in almost any game. This is where that kind of identity needs to start.
Sacramento State 55