15th ranked UCLA (7-2) takes on Columbia (7-4) tonight at 7:30 in Pauley Pavilion. The game will not be televised, and I pity those who are forced to listen to the radio broadcast…
You might ask what an Ivy League school is doing way out west at the end of 2001, taking on a nationally-ranked opponent. Well, it might be because Columbia coach Armond Hill has so many California players on his roster, he thought they might enjoy a trip relatively close to home around the holidays. What a nice guy! And after UCLA, Columbia gets to play San Diego State! Season's greetings, guys!
Hill was a big-time player at Princeton way back when, playing for the legendary Pete Carril, and then Hill played in the NBA for 8 years, so this guy has some idea about how the game is played. A lot of people have talked about Carril's "backdoor offense," but very few people have talked about how well Carril's teams played defense. Hill has adopted a lot of Carril's offensive and defensive schemes. On offense, you will see a very deliberate, walk the ball up the court style. The "C" and "PF" will usually be at least 18 feet from the basket most of the time. In fact, you'll often see all five players up around the 3-point line. A lot of the plays run through the high post, as the offense incorporates a lot of high post principles, but what you'll mostly see are two guys passing it or one guy dribbling it and a post player setting a screen while the other three players either break to the basket looking for a backdoor layup or they're really faking the cut and darting out to get a quick 3. Then they do it over and over and over again as opposing teams and crowds try to stay awake. The post players do a good job of setting picks up top and then rolling to the basket, but basically this is a system designed to generate either 3s or layups while it uses up as much of the shot clock as possible to tire out the defenders until they finally lose contact with their men. Defensively, Columbia collapses on the ball whenever it enters the paint and they double-team and trap the ball against the baseline and sidelines as well. You can call it a zone with man principles or a man with zone principles, but I'm not sure anyone can really describe it except to say that it works really well and Columbia's defense is a very tough nut to crack.
Craig Austin, 6-6 210 SR SF (18.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg), is the returning Ivy League POY. He's simply a very good all-around player, a very good shooter (35.8% from 3, 81.7% FTs) and ballhandler who can score off the jumper, off the dribble or by cutting backdoor. He could easily play in the Pac-10 and start. Treg Duerkson, 6-3 200 SR SG (10.0 ppg, 40% from 3) is the team's other primary scoring threat. He's come off an ACL tear to become the Lion's mad bomber. He takes 7 treys a game. Austin takes 5. As I said, the 3-point play is the major weapon in Columbia's arsenal (3-pointers constitute 48% of the Lions' FG attempts, as compared to 28% for UCLA). Both players will turn the ball over against tough pressure. One of the Lions' two potential achilles' heels is turnovers: They average 16.5 per game, and that's been against competition much inferior to UCLA.
Chris Wiedemann, 6-10 240 JR C (8.1 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 2.0 bpg), formerly of San Ramon Valley High in Pleasanton, CA (and Nelson Washington's Bay Area Ballers AAU team), mans the middle for the Lions. He and Mike McBrien, 6-8 205 SR SG/SF/PF/C (7.8 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 2.0 apg, 35% from 3), formerly of Jesuit Carmichael High in Sacramento, CA, put the "high" in the Lions' high post variation on the backdoor offense. Chris is a terrific midrange shooter who's also 5-7 from 3 this season. He plays great help defense in Columbia's shifting zone and is a solid banger inside. He's strong and mobile and has NBA potential. Mike is another very mobile, versatile player who can hit the 3, handle the ball like a guard, make the backdoor pass and go inside and bang as well. He will play all 5 positions in some games. Joe Case, 6-8 215 SR PF (7.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg) is still another mobile player who can go inside and out, though he hasn't been as solid from 3 (28.2%) as Mike and Chris. UCLA would like to get one of Chris and Mike in foul trouble, as Columbia's offense will run less efficiently with Case in the game. Grant Clemons, 6-8 215 SO PF (1.9 ppg, 1.4 rpg) sees some action every game and will undoubtedly play a bigger role for the Lions next year.
In the backcourt, Derrick Mayo, 6-1 195 SR PG (3.3 ppg, 3.9 apg) has nabbed the starting PG spot, mainly by default, no disrespect intended. Columbia has been a team wracked by injuries for the past two seasons, and it appears that former starter Victor Munoz, 6-0 190 SR PG (2.3 ppg, 0.9 apg), who once played at Harvard-Westlake with the Collins twins, has been permanently hampered by injuries (serious knee problems, chronic tendinitis, heel, back and hamstring trouble) and just can't play at his former level any more. Mayo is very strong and physical. He's not much of a shooter and his job to get the ball past halfcourt without turning it over and then letting the offense take care of itself. He is a very good defender who really works his butt off. Victor was a terrific shooter (38.5% from 3 this year) who gave the Lions a little more creativity with his ballhandling, playmaking and penetration skills, but he doesn't play more than 10 mpg any more. Maurice Murphy, 6-0 180 SO PG (1.4 ppg, 0.6 apg), formerly of O'Dea High in Seattle, might see a little time as he waits in the wings for his turn to step into the starting lineup next season.
I mentioned that one of Columbia's weaknesses is its propensity to turn the ball over. Its other weakness is that its collapsing defense tends to concede the 3-point shot to an opponent that passes the ball well and crisply. Nearly all of Columbia's opponents have shot over 40% from 3 against them. So, that will be a key for UCLA. The Bruins were averaging 18.5 turnovers per game before Jason Kapono took over as the "point-forward". Since then, the Bruins have averaged exactly 13 turnovers per game. If the Bruins keep that up, that will set some kind of record for fewest turnovers by a Bruin team since the stats started being kept in that category. Jason (20.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 2.3 apg, 1.3 A/TO ratio) has made a grand total of 16 turnovers in 322 minutes despite being both the primary focus of opposing defenses and the Bruins' primary ballhandler and initiator. Neither Casey Jacobsen of Stanford nor Jason Gardner of Arizona remotely compare to Jason in that regard. Jason is hitting 52.2% of his FGs, 52.5% of his 3s and 90% of his FTs. Billy Knight (13.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 2.1 apg, 1.6 spg) is hitting 44.7% of his 3s and 80.4% of his FTs and has played very solid, poised ball lately. Matt Barnes (10.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 2.0 apg) is hitting 41.7% of his 3s. If the Bruins take care of the ball and make good passes, they will get a lot of looks from 3. If they hit them, Columbia could be in big trouble. Matt has been playing very well for the Bruins as well when he's healthy (he's reportedly at 100%), and he's given them a big boost with his scoring inside and out and his interior defense and passing.
Columbia hasn't played a big man like Dan Gadzuric yet. Dan (9.6 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 0.8 bpg, 55.9% from the field) certainly exploded up north and hopefully that signals that whatever was ailing him is over. Hopefully. Although he has actually developed excellent form at the FT line, it hasn't paid off yet in results (45.5%). Still, if he can get Chris Wiedeman in foul trouble, that would be like cutting off the Lions' manes. They really don't operate nearly as well when Chris is on the bench, so that's something to look for. I expect Dan to be double-teamed whenever he touches as the ball, as soon as he touches it, so he better be ready. If Columbia strips him 6 times, UCLA could look pretty bad.
I hope Andre Patterson is UCLA's first frontline player off the bench. Andre (4.4 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 0.5 bpg, 59.3% from the field) has, I think, very much outperformed TJ Cummings (10.0 ppg, 3.8 rpg) in the areas where a post player really counts. Andre plays 12 mpg and TJ plays 21.1 mpg. So, you can compare the rebound totals for yourself. Now get this: TJ has 4 assists in 190 minutes. That's less than half of what Dan has and Dan's only played 199 minutes this season. Andre has more assists than TJ in 108 minutes. TJ, at 6-9, has zero blocks in his 190 minutes. Andre, at 6-6 and ½, has 4 blocks in his 108 minutes and is really the team's only legit shotblocker besides Dan. TJ is playing a lot like Matt did when Matt was a SO: He wants to be a wing, but the team needs him to be a post. He wants to shoot it every time, and the offense comes to a dead halt whenever he touches the ball. Maybe his dad is filling his head with stories, but TJ has to sublimate his game for the good of the team. He can be a wing when he's a SR or in the NBA. UCLA needs a post player (Larry Brown had similar problems with Kenny Fields, if you old-timers out there remember). Andre clearly is a post player and he appears eager for more minutes. I hope he gets them, because no one on Columbia is quick enough to keep him off the offensive glass.
Although Dijon Thompson (6.1 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 2.3 apg, 1.4 apg, 33.3% from 3, 83.3% FTs) did not play particularly well up at Washington (only 2-9 from the field in 29 minutes, but also only 1 turnover), he nevertheless continues to give the Bruins another dangerous outside shooter who can also create off the dribble, as well as set up his teammates with some beautiful passes. He's second on the team in assists and steals while playing less than 18 mpg. Although playing FR like Dijon and Andre against a team with Columbia's bizarre and frustrating offense and defense might sound scary, both of them have played with a lot of poise at times and they have the skills to get the job done. Dijon will likely be a key player here as Lavin will definitely need fresh legs on the floor at all times. Columbia's offense really wears people out, and Lavin might try to use a lot of fullcourt press against a team like this, both to control tempo (mostly to force Columbia to eat up so much clock getting past the press that they can't run as many sets in their offense, rather than to hurry Columbia into taking quick shots) and to force turnovers from this mistake-prone team.
That means, of course, that whether BRO fans like it or not, Rico Hines will also see a generous amount of time, and Ryan Walcott will no doubt be pressed into service as well. The Bruins will need a lot of bodies, and they will need to field their quickest teams as much as possible, so these guys will both play, Rico over 20 minutes and Ryan at least 5 in the first half. Lavin seems to be using Ryan more as a first half player to keep his main guys fresh for the second half. So, the Bruins will go 9 deep in the first half, and maybe 7 deep for most of the second half. Actually, UCLA might go 10 deep in the first half and 8 deep in the second half. That's because Ced Bozeman has been cleared to play. Hip-hip-hooray!
Columbia plays so much Carril's Princeton teams that these kinds of games are very hard to predict and they can be frightening for the fans, especially if UCLA is looking ahead to 20th ranked Georgetown on Saturday afternoon. Columbia hasn't really played any really good clubs, they've mostly played the likes of Army and Navy. What have these guys got against the Armed Services? Maybe Lavin can use the patriotic angle to whip his team up for this game, and have President Bush put in a call…
Prediction: UCLA 56, Columbia 54.