Because of the cupcake nature of UCLA's non-conference schedule, the losses to Missouri and Duke will leave the Bruins without any sort of marquee non-conference win as they begin the Pac 12 Conference schedule in two weeks. In fact, with two games remaining on the non-conference slate, the Bruins can only hope their RPI doesn't take a further hit. The reality is the Bruins are in a no-win situation with regard to raising their RPI as two wins really won't help and a loss (or two) could be catastrophic to the Bruins' NCAA hopes. As of today, UCLA's best non-conference win is the home victory over UC Santa Barbara. The Drexel win, which looked very good just a few days ago, took a major blow when the Dragons were beaten soundly by St. Joseph's. Missouri fell to Illinois on Saturday and Prairie View lost by 40 to another low-major team. The bottom line is that UCLA needs to hold serve in the last two non-conference games and hope to win a couple of RPI-aiding games in the Pac 12.
The first of the remaining non-conference games is Sunday afternoon at Pauley Pavilion when Weber State comes to Los Angeles (4 PM PST tip, televised on the Pac-12 Network). Coach Randy Rahe's Wildcats come into the game with a record of 2-4, with one of those victories coming against non-Division 1 opponent, St. Katherine's. The other win came against a bad San Jose State squad. Weber State lost a fairly close game at BYU, but has lost at Colorado State badly, at home to Utah State and suffered a very bad lost to Utah Valley State. While Weber State has a pretty good basketball reputation for a mid-major, this year's version of the Wildcats simply isn't that good. Still, Tracy Pierson predicted that UCLA would suffer a bad loss to a mid-major in his preseason prediction, and Weber State represents the last opportunity for that to happen…and the Wildcats have some players that could hurt the Bruins. However, there are some real match-up advantages that point in favor of UCLA.
UCLA has shown a weakness in defending in general, but particularly in dealing with real size in the paint. Weber State has a solid post presence in senior Kyle Tresnak (6'10" 240 lbs.), who is averaging 11.5 PPG and 5.8 RPG. He is a traditional back-to-the-basket post and a hard worker. He is precisely the kind of player that has given UCLA's bigs trouble in the paint. On the flip side, he is a mediocre athlete and if the Bruin posts show up with any intensity, they should be able to take advantage of that.
The Wildcats have another solid player in sophomore forward Joel Bolomboy (6'9" 225 lbs.). Bolomboy is raw on offense, but he has a high motor and has found a way to average 8.8 PPG and, more importantly for the Wildcats, average 9 RPG. He is a good athlete and will be difficult to keep off the boards if UCLA's recent history is any indication.
Another area where UCLA has shown a particular defensive weakness is in closing out on outside shooters. Weber State has two good wings in senior Davion Berry (6'4" 185 lbs.) and true freshman Jeremy Senglin (6'2" 185 lbs.). Both are fairly athletic and, like their low post teammates, will work very hard. However, neither has been a good outside shooter this season. Berry is Weber State's best player, leading the team in many categories, including scoring (18.7 PPG), assists (24), turnovers (11) and free throw shooting (over 82%). He is, however, only averaging 33% from beyond the arc. In fact, teams have backed off of Berry as the year has progressed, keeping him from getting into the lane and challenging him to hit from deep.
Senglin has been a nice revelation as a true frosh, averaging 12.7 PPG and being solid with the ball. He is also shooting more that 40% from behind the arc, but that is a bit of a mirage as Senglin was able to light up St. Katherine's from the outside.
The third guard on the starting line-up is senior point guard Jordan Richardson (6'1" 180 lbs.). Richardson does a nice job of getting the ball to where it needs to be on offense, but that's about all he does. He only averages 5.7 PPG and is shooting less that 26% from the three-point line. Richardson's shooting percentage from beyond the arc highlights the fact that Weber State simply doesn't shoot well from outside, which meansUCLA's poor close-outs and defensive rotations should be less of a negative than it's been in other games this season. It should also allow the Bruins to continue to pack in their zone and man defenses, thus helping on Tresnak in the paint.
Weber State isn't very deep and the Wildcats get almost no scoring help from the bench. Rahe has consistently gone with a nine-man rotation, but there is a pretty significant drop-off from the starters to the bench players.
BRO's Greg Hicks and Tracy Pierson have often written to "not be a stat scout," and Weber State is a perfect example why. While Hicks and Pierson were referring to recruiting, the premise that numbers can't give the whole story is easily applicable when looking at a team. The Wildcats actually have some decent statistics, but they are terribly misleading. Weber State appears to have a strong field goal percentage defense, allowing opponents to shoot only 39% from the floor. However, when the two wins are removed (remembering that one of the wins was against a very poor non-Division 1 school when Weber State was able to score a school-record 107 points), the Wildcats are actually allowing opponents to shoot 47% from the field, and none of Weber State's previous opponents have the offense that UCLA is capable of producing.
There are some statistics that do show why Weber State is sitting on that 2-4 record. The Wildcats are averaging about the same amount of rebounds per game and turnovers per game as their opponents. This is not very good when considering the you accumulate those stats against teams like SJSU and St. Katherine's. UCLA should be able to win the rebounding battle and force far more turnovers then the Bruins themselves commit.
There are some factors that may play into this game being closer than it should. Bruin coach Steve Alford has yet to show an ability to out-adjust the opposition's coach going back to before the Missouri game. As more tape of the Bruins becomes available to UCLA's opponents, it's possible that UCLA is becoming more vulnerable in the second half.
UCLA clearly gave up at the end of the Duke game. That is a harsh statement, but it makes it no less true. The Bruins left the court with a vibe, however, that seemed like the Duke loss hurt more than the game against Missouri. If true, perhaps the hangover will manifest itself in one of three ways: the Bruins will step up and play with a fire yet seen this season in Pauley, they'll have a letdown game, or they'll pretty much be status quo as we've seen against cupcakes so far this season – good enough to win but not show any real improvement, namely intensity on defense. To this point the team has shown more of a propensity for the latter two, so body language, etc., will bear watching.
Weber State is not as bad an opponent as some of UCLA's earlier competition. Berry and Trasnak alone mean that Weber State has at least a puncher's chance in this game. UCLA should win, but this game might be closer than it should be. Until the Bruins prove that they can mount option #1 above, the smart assumption is that it will be status quo.
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