UC Santa Barbara Preview

UCSB isn't a cupcake by any means and easily presents UCLA's biggest challenge so far in the non-conference schedule...

When the UCLA men's basketball team returns to the court on Tuesday night they will finally face an opponent that doesn't fall in the ‘cupcake' category. The Bruins host the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos at Pauley Pavilion with an 8 PM PST tip-off scheduled and the game televised by the Pac 12 Network.

The Gauchos come into the game with a record of 3-2, but don't let that fool you; the Gauchos' two losses came on the road to a solid Utah State squad and a good Colorado team. Both were good games and, most importantly, the Gauchos were missing their best player, junior post Alan Williams (6'7" 275 lbs.), who is averaging 29 PPG in the three games he's played. He will be on the court on Tuesday.

Williams represents part of the recipe for what could cause the Bruins real problems, the threat of a potent inside game. The other part of the recipe is outside shooting, and Coach Bob Williams' Gauchos have four players averaging over 40% from behind the arc. The Gauchos are shooting 43% from three as a team. For a team that has shown little interest in defense, like the Bruins have, UCSB represents a real threat. Remember that Tracy Pierson predicted the Bruins to lose this game in preseason game selections. There may be something to Tracy's thinking.

The key to this game is clearly going to be UCLA's defense. The Bruins will be facing a two-headed monster of good outside shooting and a good low post player. UCLA hasn't had to face that combination yet this season. In Williams, the Gauchos have a potentially dominating player who is a far better athlete than Morehead State's Chad Posthumus. Posthumus, you may remember, dominated UCLA's post players down low two weeks ago. As much as Posthumus' 21 points were damaging, it was his rebounding that really caused UCLA's Tony Parker headaches. Well, Williams is a better rebounder than Posthumus, averaging 9 RPG, and is particularly adept at getting offensive boards. His footwork is very good and he will potentially get any of the Bruin bigs in foul trouble. This may be the case where Coach Steve Alford has to look at Parker, the Wear brothers and Wanaah Bail and know that he has 20 fouls between them to lay on Williams and, if Williams has one weakness, it's his foul shooting.

It isn't all doom and gloom, though. Travis Wear defended better post players last year and although he isn't a physical player, he was able to hold his own against some of the Pac-12's better bigs. All of UCLA's post players will have a length advantage against Williams and the Bruins will hope that will force Williams into some difficult shots. Because of his length, don't be surprised to see Kyle Anderson on Williams for a few possessions. This also may be the kind of game where using Bail may prove fortuitous because of his athleticism, his willingness to be a team player and, most importantly, while he's raw, he at least appears to want to play defense.

The easy solution to limiting Williams would be for UCLA to go to a zone defense. The problem is that UCLA has shown that its zone isn't exactly air tight, particularly when it comes to defending the baseline three-point shot, and UCSB is replete with very good shooters. The first one the Bruins must be wary of is senior guard Kyle Boswell (6'2" 180 lbs.), who is strictly a gunner, but tends to be very good at it. He is averaging only 9.5 PPG and is actually shooting better from outside the arc than inside, 40.9% to 40% from the field. Boswell is not a threat to drive to the hoop, but rather uses screens to set himself up for a catch and shoot, or, he finds spaces in zones where he can receive a kick-out to shoot.

Boswell, however, hasn't been the only outside threat. Sophomore guard Michael Bryson (6'4" 201 lbs.) and sophomore forward Taran Brown (6'8" 200 lbs.) have proved to be, at least so far, more dangerous than Boswell. Brown has proved to be the find of the season so far for Coach Williams, and outside of Williams the center Brown has been the best player on the Gauchos. Brown doesn't start but he is third on the team in scoring at 11 PPG and second in rebounding at 6.2 RPG. Brown is a bit of an anachronism in that he is almost strictly a perimeter player on offense, but is pretty ferocious in the low block on defense. Brown is 10-17 on the season from distance and his length has allowed him to shoot over opponents. It is going to be difficult for anyone guarding Brown to leave him and give help or Brown can really hurt the Bruins from outside.

Bryson is a very solid shooting guard who can also light it up from outside (43% from beyond the arc). Still, he is very much like Boswell in that he would much rather sit outside and look for a shot than get into the paint. Bryson is solid but not spectacular on the defensive end.

If that weren't enough, the Gauchos have two effective point guards on their roster in junior Zalmico Harmon (6'0" 185 lbs.) and freshman Eric Childress (6'0" 175 lbs.). Harmon, a junior college transfer, is the starter and second on the team in assists with over 4 APG. He also does a good job of taking care of the ball, averaging less than a single turnover per game. Childress averages a team-leading 5.2 APG but he also averages almost 2 TPG, which is basically a wash of Harmon's numbers. Harmon is a bit more of a scorer, averaging over 8 PPG versus Childress' 6.5 PPG, while Childress is a bit better on the defensive end. Coach Williams will employ both of these guards on the court at the same time and that's because the one thing they both do well is shoot. Childress is pretty average, at 33% from behind the three-point line, but Harmon sits at 40%.

The Gauchos bench runs four-deep (including one of Childress and Harmon), with three forwards making up the rest of the deep, nine-man rotation. Senior Shawn Moore (6'5" 210 lbs.) has started every game but quickly makes way for Brown. Sophomores Sam Beeler (6'10" 210 lbs.) and Mitch Brewe (6'8" 242 lbs.) provide inside depth, but the reality is that both of these players only see the floor in order to give Williams a breather. Both of them have seen their MPG inflate disproportionately because Williams sat out two games. Now that he's back, expect both to have limited minutes. As an example of this, in the last game against South Dakota State, Beeler and Brewe combined for 15 minutes.

It's pretty clear that UCSB has some offensive firepower, especially the kind that can give the Bruins trouble considering UCLA is playing with little effort on defense. However, the Gauchos also have some issues on the defensive end of the floor. They don't force many turnovers (12.5 TPG forced) and they have been consistently outrebounded as a team (30 RPG versus 32 RPG). Further, although their team field goal percentage defense is strong, at 41%, they actually are not so solid defending the arc and that could spell trouble against a UCLA team that is coming off of a 13-17 performance from three-point land.

Coach Williams will probably try and mix up zone and man but the probability is that he'll go with more man simply because the Gauchos are more comfortable in a man defense. The problem with that is that Jordan Adams, Zach LaVine and Norman Powell are better than their counterparts on UCSB, especially on offense. There is every reason to believe that UCSB could be facing early foul trouble trying to guard these three Bruins, among others. That doesn't bode well if it happens for a team with depth issues past their first six players.

However, the game is going to come down to what kind of effort the Bruins bring to the defensive end of the floor and to rebounding. Tracy Pierson has also written in the past few game reviews that it's tough to tell right now if the Bruins are not giving effort because of the lack of ability on the roster, because it hasn't been emphasized by Alford or because they just haven't cared, knowing that they had the offensive firepower to simply overwhelm the opposition. Like most things in life, it's probably a combination of the three. Alford can certainly demand more effort, but that will take a few games at minimum to take root. The ability issue is something the Bruins can't control. They are either athletic or they are not. However, they can control the effort immediately and with effect. The Gauchos are much too talented to not take advantage of weak defensive efforts. Unlike Drexel, they shoot well enough to truly make the Bruins pay if they don't start playing with defensive urgency.

UCLA has the personnel to make a zone work well, but the lack of effort will probably still show up on Tuesday. The Gauchos shoot entirely too well from beyond the arc not to take advantage of holes in the Bruin zone, especially on the baseline. That will probably force the Bruins into man defense. That is where the specter of Williams comes in to play. A man defense will offer very little resistance to the UCSB big man. So, really, Alford will have to pick his poison defensively. The guess is that he will go, ultimately, with a defense that will allow his offense to get out in transition. There is the idea that UCLA can be so deadly on offense that other teams simply tighten up on offense and begin to make mistakes they wouldn't normally make because of the feeling that perfection was necessary to stay with the Bruins.

UCSB certainly won't be intimidated by the atmosphere of Pauley Pavilion, as they are used to more hostile road environments than the Gauchos will probably see on Tuesday. They lost the two close ones in Boulder and Logan, UT, and won in Las Vegas in a laugher against the Runnin' Rebels. However, on closer inspection, only the USU game was played well by the home side. Colorado was poor shooting the ball and still won while UNLV was downright awful (and have proven to be so through the first six games of the season). The point is that UCSB has, thus far, proven to be statistically better at home than on the road, and not by just a bit, either.

This game will might come down to the final minutes as UCLA will probably be good for one very good run. The question is whether UCLA can hold on enough to make that run stand up, or if they play any sort of urgent defense. This game is a close call and is very difficult to predict. The Bruins could very easily lose this game.

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