I was right about the UCLA-Missouri game last Saturday in that the game came down to rebounding and turnovers and which team could maximize its strengths and minimize its weaknesses. In the first half, the Bruins were fairly dominant mainly because the Tigers were passive and the Bruins were forcing turnovers. The second half was a role-reversal as the Tigers became very aggressive, crashed the boards and forced the Bruins to run contested half-court offensive sets. Rebounding (and physicality) won the day and Missouri won the game. Coach Steve Alford will certainly have recognized the reasons for his team's first defeat of the season, and a good coach will certainly work on those areas of weakness, especially with almost two weeks between big games.
The Bruins return to the friendly confines of Pauley Pavilion on Saturday night when they host the Prairie View A&M Panthers. The game tips at 5:00 PM PST and will be televised by the Pac 12 Network. There is little draw to this game and the crowd can be expected to be in the area of 4,000, if that. However, this is a very big game for the Bruins because now, after their first loss, Alford, the team and the fans can get an idea of whether UCLA is going to be, to paraphrase Greg Hicks, a Jim Harrick-type team (Hicks was referring to Harrick's early tenure in Westwood when his teams could score in bunches, had talent but generally wilted against physical or strong defensive squads), or one that will show significant growth over the course of the remainder of the season.
This preview isn't going to be typical in that I am not going to spend much time trying to break down the Panthers. Suffice to say that Coach Byron Rimm's squad is not very good, so the Bruins are returning to their diet of cupcakes. In fact, Prairie View is arguably going to be the weakest team on UCLA's schedule. The title of softest cupcake will go to either Sacramento State or PVAM.
This preview is going to focus more on what Bruin fans (and Alford) should look for in order to begin to determine whether the Bruins learned any lessons from their defeat in Columbia.
PVAM simply doesn't have the kind of talent to stay with the Bruins. Realistically the Panthers have one player who would even get off the bench for UCLA, junior Montrael Scott (6'3" 195 lbs.). I actually like Scott because he can shoot (52% from the field and 51% from behind the arc) and is versatile, leading the team in rebounding as well as scoring. He is a solid though not spectacular athlete and defender. He is going to have his hands full trying to stay with any of the Bruin wings when UCLA has the ball (assuming PVAM will play some man defense).
Beyond Scott, though, there just isn't much for UCLA to fear. New junior college transfer Tre Hagood (6'2" 180 lbs.) has some really nice stats for a point guard, like 44 assists to only 17 turnovers, but much of that comes from the fact that Prairie View has played some middling programs, such as Bethune-Cookman, Northern Colorado and Sam Houston State. He also has 13 steals.
Another JC transfer, John Brisco (5'11" 172 lbs.), is the second-leading scorer on the squad but he doesn't shoot well, especially from outside. He is generally at a disadvantage because he is a shooting guard in a point guard's body. He doesn't do well when faced with high-major level competition.
The Panthers seriously lack size, with only senior Jules Montgomery (6'11" 220 lbs.) and sophomore Karim York (6'8" 225 lbs.) providing any sort of length, and these two only play about 15 MPG. Rimm plays nine players for double-digit minutes, but that seems to have been often because he was trying to find the right combination when the Panthers were behind, more than anything else.
PVAM actually has solid offensive statistics. The Panthers shoot pretty well, averaging 46% from the floor and 36% from behind the three-point line as a team, they get to the foul line and make their free throws at a 72% team clip, and they have a solid team assist-to-turnover ratio.
Prairie View's problems are on the other end of the floor. They allow opponents to shoot almost 50% from the field and have allowed 115 trips to the free throw line. Remember, this is all against mid-major-quality competition. However, the real detriment for the Panthers is that they simply are decimated on the boards. They are outrebounded as a team by 6 RPG on average. With UCLA's offense probably going on close to all cylinders, it's easy to see the Panthers giving up over 100 points on Saturday night.
UCLA showed, or rather Missouri showed the Bruins, that this young team from the West Coast has some maturing to do, specifically in responding to opponents when they challenge them physically. This was clearly seen in the way the Tigers simply destroyed the Bruins on the boards in the second half and the way in which the Tigers played defense well enough to force the Bruins into going more than 8 minutes without as field goal. Missouri came out of halftime swinging and UCLA wilted.
There are ways to tell if the Bruins have begun to learn from what happened in the Midwest. First, UCLA could give a greater commitment, as a team, to defensive intensity and effort. Forgetting the missed rotations or the poor footwork, it would be no small achievement to see the Bruins care about the defensive side of the ball as much or close to as much as they care about the offensive end. My guess is that I am not the only fan that would rather the Bruins held PVAM to less than 50 points and 40% shooting rather than have the Bruins score 120 points in spectacular fashion. While it's true that this should be a cakewalk regardless of how the Bruins play on defense, it would be highly encouraging to see the Bruins focused defensively against even poor competition.
Next, UCLA has got to hit the boards like the Bruins are the proverbial starving man and the rebound is a steak. This is again a question of intensity and desire. In fact, of all the areas of basketball where even the most nuanced of fundamentals can pay a huge dividend, rebounding is not one of them. Rebounding is all about desire. Certainly I can, at 6'0", desire a rebound all I want against Bill Russell in his prime, and I won't get even one, but with all other things being relatively equal, desire and intensity win the battle of the glass. UCLA should dominate the glass as Prairie View won't give many minutes to anyone taller than 6'7". Think about that; the Bruins will more than likely have at least three players on the floor bigger than anyone on the PVAM roster at any given time.
One of the areas where we probably won't see much development is in shot selection. The Bruins clearly panicked a bit at the end of the Missouri game and took some very questionable shots. Because PVAM won't offer much stiff competition, Alford and the Bruins will probably have to look to the Duke game in a week to see if the Bruins have grown in this area.
The Panthers' tend to also turn the ball over in bunches. If you watched the Missouri game's first half, the frequency and manner in which the Tigers turned the ball over should be the norm throughout the game for Prairie View on Saturday.
The game actually comes at a good time for the Bruins as they are in the midst of finals this week. The best time to eat cupcakes is during finals.
Predicting the victory or the score is almost fruitless, even if it is fun, simply because of the competition level. UCLA defeated Sacramento State by about 50 and should be able to approach that on Saturday. The keys to look for, though, are not the victory, but rather the means and areas the Bruins improve upon to attain the victory. If UCLA at least shows some desire, intensity and a bit of a mean streak, then perhaps they have learned some things from the Missouri game.
Prairie View 55