Preview of CSU Monterey Bay

UCLA plays its last exhibition game Thursday night before starting the regular season. The Bruins take on the Cal State Monterey Bay Otters, a team we don't know much about, but we do know that UCLA's point guard Jordan Farmar will see his first action of the season...

UCLA plays the Cal State University Monterey Bay Otters tonight in an exhibition game at Pauley Pavilion.

Actually, because they are named the "Otters," I learned from Tracy that Monterey is historically the home of a large otter population.

And that's more than I actually know about the team.

For those of you who don't know, Monterey Bay is the newest Cal State school and they haven't had a basketball program for many years. They're just starting to build up with players from JCs (a real staple of D II schools) as well as some from the high school ranks. They play in the same league as Cal State L.A. and Cal State Dominguez (who are no doubt miffed they now have to take a bus ride up to Monterey every year) and naturally information about the team and its players is rather sketchy. I'll do my best.

The Otters return two starters from last year, forward Darryl Anderson, a 6-5 SR. I assume that Anderson plays because of his defensive skills. He averaged only 7.2 ppg last season on 34.9% shooting and hit only 28% of his shots in the Otter's exhibition opener, a 73-60 victory over the Australian Institute of Sport, which actually has a number of D-1 prospects.

Two other players form the heart of the Otter's offensive attack. DeVoughn Lamont, 6-9 SR, is the team's leading returning scorer, having averaged 15.0 ppg and 5.7 rebounds per game. At 210 pounds, he doesn't seem to offer much of a domineering presence in the post; he blocked only 8 shots all of last season. He sounds like a real good match-up for the similarly non-physical Ryan Hollins. Lamont is foul prone, he showed it last year and he played only 17 minutes against the Aussies due to foul trouble, although he managed to score 14 points in the limited period of time. Look for him to try to score inside and with short- and medium-range jumpers.

Guard/forward Jay DeMaestri is nicknamed "Big Jay," but he only weighs 210 (allegedly). He sat out last year after transferring from a JC and led the team with 33 points and 9 rebounds in their exhibition opener, so maybe he deserves to be called "Big". He hit 7-9 shots from 3, so we can look for him to both jack it up and take it inside against the Bruins. Given his size and propensity for perimeter play, we will almost certainly see the Bruins' best defender, Arron Afflalo, take the lead on trying to shut Big Jay down. Ced Bozeman might also take a crack at him. Along with the Hollins-Lamont match up, the DeMaestri-Afflalo confrontation should be crucial to the game's outcome.

If Lamont and DeMaestri are the heart of the team, then surely Steve Becker is the head. I won't compare him to Steve Nash, but he is the Otters' version of Steve Nash. He racked up 13 assists in CSU-MB's exhibition win, but literally didn't attempt a single shot from the field. Obviously, disrupting this man's passing game will be another key to the game. Jordan Farmar's newfound defensive presence will be tested. Darren Collison will play a factor as well.

The other starter for the Otters if 6-6 JR F Richard Jenkins, a JC transfer. He scored 12 points in the exhibition game and for the life of me I can't tell you a thing about him (information about D II schools can be rather sketchy). Luc Mbah A Moute and Lorenzo Mata (when he plays the 4) will have a size advantage at both ends, but if Jenkins is quick and can handle the ball he could cause some problems.

The bench for the Otters is problematic. Aeshroff Dabbas (hey, I don't make up these names), 6-6 JR F, scored 10 points in 12 minutes against the Australians. None of his shots were 3s, so I assume he plays a mid-range game and might post up inside. Hasan Houston played 18 minutes and didn't score a point, although he had 4 rebounds. He's listed as a SO G/F on the CSU-MB website, but they don't list his height. Sean Tennant, 6-9 FR C and Jon Allred, 6-8 JR C, both saw a few minutes with Lamont in foul trouble but didn't contribute much besides playing time. Tennant is a young pup who played his high school ball in Washington and the Otters' coaches are high on him. One imagines that he could develop into a reliable backup C at some point in the season, but probably not by tonight. Justin Willis, a 6-2 JR G who came in from a JC, got his feet wet in the game and also didn't score. Neither did Augie Johnston, 6-3 So G, another JC transfer who sat out last season as a redshirt.

In short, the Otters look to be in trouble if they have to go into their bench past Dabbas-Dabba-Do.

UCLA welcomes the return of Jordan Farmar tonight. His injury wasn't serious and he didn't miss much practice, so he shouldn't be too rusty tonight. Many people in college basketball expect Jordan to have a big year this season. Maybe big enough to launch him into the NBA, so get a good look at him while you can. He was the Bruins' leading scorer last year at 13.2 ppg and with more screens being set for him and playing with more players who know how to pass the ball, his scoring average figures to increase by at least 3 ppg, even though he is the Bruins' PG. An excellent passer, he will no doubt rack up assists this year, although with the Bruins loaded with good passers his numbers may not shake anyone's consciousness. Up from 170 pounds to 185 pounds and a year older, he figures to cut down on his turnovers and pick up his defensive game. His defense will be a crucial issue for the Bruins this season, as their offensive game isn't so overpowering. They lack a clear go-to guy, and it isn't clear that their forwards can shoot the basketball consistently. They must score a lot off their defense this year, that much is clear already.

If Jordan has trouble containing Becker, expect Howland to give Darren Collison a generous amount of time. And we might see Jordan spending some time at the 2, sharing the backcourt with Collison. That might mean less minutes for Mike Roll, but the Bruins have a very deep backcourt this year. If you count Ced Bozeman as a backup guard, the Bruins arguably have one of the 10 best backcourts in the country this season, and it is players like Farmar, Aflalo, Collison, Roll and Bozeman who will shoulder the main brunt of getting them into the NCAA Tournament this season. Especially with Shipp and Aboya out for extended periods of time.

Of course, overall team defense is the key to this game, just as it was against Carleton and just as it will be for the rest of the season. Bozeman, Mbah A Moute and Hollins did an excellent job against the Canadians. Even Mata was adequate. They face a more serious threat tonight in Lamont, but it doesn't seem as if the Otters have the firepower to really challenge the Bruins if they play together as a unit. UCLA just has the better players. DeMaestri had a great game against the Aussies, but he wasn't going up against Aflalo and Bozeman. On the offensive end, I think we just have to accept that the Bruins will sometimes have a lot of turnovers this season. When you try to score in transition off defense and rebounds and force the break, you are going to throw the ball away. A key will be cutting down turnovers off the set offense. Part of that problem goes back to the center position, where Hollins and Mata just don't react well to the ball inside and seem to lack true ball knowledge. If Mike Fey ever returns, it isn't clear that he will solve this problem.

Although CSU-MB presents more challenges than Carleton, I don't think they will present a real challenge to the Bruins.

My prediction: UCLA 75, CSU-MB 59.

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