While it's just an exhibition game, there are so many reasons why this game holds quite a bit of interest.
First, it's the first game of the Ben Howland era. It's the first time Howland will take the Pauley Pavilion floor as UCLA's head coach. While he's playing it down publicly, you can bet it's a big thing for the coach.
And it's just as huge for UCLA fans. It will be a refreshing sight to see a new head coach on the sidelines for the first time in 8 years.
It's also going to be our first look at a Howland-coached UCLA team. Much has been made that the program wasn't left with much after its historically poor season last year, and that's generally true. But there's so much to be said for how much good coaching can impact a program. While UCLA teams in the past several years have always looked better on paper than they did in actual games, we anticipate that this team will look better on the court than it does on paper. And it has to do with coaching.
UCLA loses three of its top five scorers from last season. And one other starter, T.J. Cummings, is academically ineligible until the end of the first quarter, which is in December.
Also, scholarship reserve forward Matt McKinney is out with a fractured foot for probably a couple of months.
Howland currently has nine scholarship players and among those, probably only six or so that you would consider impact, starter-caliber players.
So, it's definitely true that he wasn't left with much.
But just seeing anyone in a UCLA uniform running a Howland-schemed motion offense and playing an aggressive, Howland-type of defense will be a breath of fresh air.
So, a great deal of the attraction in tonight's game is to get our first look at how a Howland-coached UCLA team looks, how aggressive they are, how hard they play, and if they play defense.
It will also be interesting to see how far along the players are in learning Howland's offensive and defensive schemes and philosophies.
The returning leading scorer is Dijon Thompson, the junior 6-7 small forward, and he looks to take over much of the scoring responsibilities this season.
After Thompson, UCLA's starting five doesn't have a great deal of starting experience. The next most experienced player would be junior point guard Cedric Bozeman. It will be interesting to see Bozeman tonight, it being the first time he's played since mid-season last year, when he went out due to a shoulder injury that required off-season surgery. Bozeman, also, came into UCLA a very heralded recruit and, after starting at point guard for most of the last two years, is looking to live up to those lofty expectations.
The transfer from North Carolina who sat out last season, junior Brian Morrison, will start at the shooting guard spot. Morrison is a springy athlete with a very nice outside jumper who needs to learn to play more under control.
At the five position will be 6-11 sophomore center Michael Fey. Fey, despite not playing much last season, dedicated himself in the off-season and has improved. At 260-ish pounds, he brings the most bulk and muscle to the team.
Starting at the power forward position with Cummings ineligible is 197-pound freshman Trevor Ariza. Ariza, at 6-7 and athletic, will be a tough matchup offensively. The question will be how that young, skinny body will hold up defensively. Ariza is still somewhat raw, but very talented.
The first player off the bench will probably be Ryan Hollins, the 7-foot sophomore center. Hollins started some games last season, and has improved much like Fey. He's also put on some weight, up to 225, and is still an incredible athlete.
Backing up Bozeman at the point will be junior Ryan Walcott, whose shot has improved from last season. Janou Rubin, a walk-on who has been granted a scholarship for the year, will be the first back-up option on the wing. Rubin has been the third best rebounder in practice, which is good and bad, depending on how you look at it. Senior guard Jon Crispin will also try to get time on the perimeter. Because of a lack of depth, 6-7 junior forward Josiah Johnson will also get back-up minutes.
We should see some pretty liberal substitutions in the EA exhibition game, with Howland mixing things up to get a chance to evaluate his players in a game situation.
Another attraction for the game tonight are the three ex-Bruins who will suit up for EA Sports: former Bruin National Player of the Year Ed O'Bannon, forward Matt Barnes, and guard Ray Young. O'Bannon has not returned to the Pauley floor since he literally kissed it goodbye in his last home game of the 1995 championship season.
Also, former Arizona player Ricky Anderson, who is from Long Beach, will play for EA Sports.
So, between those four players who have some motivation to play their best in Pauley tonight, UCLA no doubt will get a competitive game.
Also on the EA Sports roster is 6-10 Woni Mohammed, formerly of Clemson; 6-7 Noel Bloom, formerly of UNLV; 6-2 guard Shannon Taylor, formerly of Eastern Washington, and a few others.
EA Sports is 1-5 in their exhibition season, beating Colorado State Monday night on a shot at the buzzer. They've lost to Pepperdine (107-77), UC Santa Barbara (91-62), BYU (75-72), Wyoming (91-81), and Air Force (85-75). They've been playing well in their last few games, getting more familiar with each other.
First and foremost: Its the first night of a new era.