On the other hand, if the Bruins actually come out to play with fire from the opening tip, this game could be one of the most entertaining games of the year for Bruin fans. Unlike many of UCLA's opponents this season, Sacramento State wants to play full-court pressure defense and run the ball up the floor and shoot it as often as possible. They've managed to break the 100 mark twice this year and gave Nevada a pretty good game in Reno, falling 82-74. The Hornets lack size, so they try to make up for it with speed, depth and pressure. They will go 12 deep and keep men running in and out of the game to maintain fresh legs on the floor at all times. They're not the Washington Huskies by any stretch of the imagination, but this game will give the Bruins something like their first taste of what kind of challenges they will face against a team which plays this style of ball. More than 1/3 of the Hornets' shots this year have been 3s. Remember that.
The Hornets are led by DaShawn Freeman, 5-11 SR PG (14.3 ppg, 5.4 apg, 2.3 spg, 51.1% from 3), and Jason Harris, 6-4 220 SR SF (13.7 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 1.3 spg, 42.1% from 3). Freeman is jet-quick, a deadly shooter from behind the arc and an outstanding playmaker. He uses his great speed and quick hands to put great pressure on his man and disrupt passing lanes when Sac State puts the squeeze on opposing teams. Jordan Farmar will obviously have an advantage in size and strength, but will have to use all his tricks to shake Freeman loose and could have serious match-up problems at the other end of the floor. Darren Collison seems like a more obvious match up, but lacks the experience of the Hornets' guard. I believe the Bruins will need Collison to play a lot of effective minutes in this game. Collison has had a string of good games of late and because of the likely pace and match-ups this could be a chance for a real breakout game here (if the Wagner game doesn't already qualify).
Harris was the preseason pick for Big Sky Conference POY, but has struggled with his shot so far this season (just 40.6% from the field overall so far), though he's really been hitting his 3 in the last few games for the Hornets. He's a very good athlete with great strength who can hit the 3 or take it to the hole strong. He's also very effective on the defensive end of the floor. He seems to be an obvious task for Arron Afflalo to guard, but this game is likely to feature a lot of transition play and the matchups won't stick throughout the game. In a few games this season, Afflalo and Farmar have joined their teammates in a general failure to transition well from offense back to defense. If that happens in this game, against players like Freeman and Harris, the Bruins could be in trouble.
Alex Bausley, 6-6 235 JR PF (12.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 2.4 spg), is the closest thing the Hornets have to a power player. Naturally, he likes to jack up 3s even more than posting up on the offensive end of the floor, although his shooting from behind the arc has been terrible this year (30.4%). Fans of west coast basketball may remember Alex from when he played with Josh Shipp at Fairfax High. Then, Alex weighed about 280 and he still loved to shoot the 3. Now, Alex is a strong, high-energy player who can body up to opposing post players or use his quick hands to strip them of the ball. Note that he leads the team in steals from his power forward spot. He has the speed and attitude to be effective on the press. Alex is not a high flyer, and he isn't the most skilled player around, but he gives a maximum effort at all times and his weird combination of 3-point shooting and power moves around the basket could throw Luc Richard Mbah A Moute at first. But the athletic Luc has a very diverse game himself and has gained a lot of experience against all types of players this season. Luc has turned the ball over some this year, and he will have to be careful against Bausley (and the inevitable double-teams all of the Bruins could face in this game).
Haron Hargrave, 5-11 JR SG (11.0 ppg, 35.7% from 3), and Randy Adams, 6-8 SO PF (1.5 ppg, 2.6 rpg), are the other starters for the Hornets. Hargrave is a quick little gunner who can also d up. Don't look for him to pass the ball much. I assume the Bruins start Cedric Bozeman on him, then switch one of the guards on him when Collison joins Farmar and Afflalo on the floor. Like Freeman, he could present match-up problems with his quickness. Adams, at 220 pounds, is the closest thing to a true low post presence on this team. He plays solid positional defense and has the speed to transition well from offense to defense and back again. But his offensive skills are almost non-existent. UCLA might actually have an advantage in the post in this game. The Bruins have been getting some real point production in the middle their last 2 games, and the Hornets' personnel suggests they are vulnerable to attack in the post more than on the perimeter. So, the coaches face some questions: Pass the ball inside a lot to Mbah A Moute, Ryan Wright and Lorenzo Mata and see if they can finish better than usual? Send Farmar, Afflalo, Bozeman and Collison into the lane over and over again, at the risk of getting beat down the floor if the shot is missed? This game presents the coaches with more strategy calls than most of their previous games.
Loren Leath, 6-2 SO SG (9.8 ppg, 41.7% from 3), Clark Woods, 6-4 JR SG/SF (5.2 ppg, 2.9 rpg), Justin Williams, 6-6 SO SF/PF (3.9 ppg, 2.6 rpg), Chris Lange, 6-8 220 SR PF (2.2 ppg, 2.8 rpg), and Davon Roberts, 6-6 205 SO SF/PF (2.4 ppg, 2.2 rpg) all see significant minutes for Sac State off the bench. Leath is another gunner. He can either be very hot or very cold; it won't matter which, he'll still keep shooting. Woods and Williams are both very good athletes who come in to keep the defense fresh. Woods has the ability to create off the dribble or hit the mid-range shot. Williams is more of an opportunity scorer in transition or the offensive glass. Lange is a mobile banger who, like Adams, lacks offensive skills. Roberts is another good athlete with developing skills who could take on a larger role for this team as the season wears on; he has more potential than Woods or Williams.
So, the Bruin coaches face another question mark: Do they go deep into their own bench, giving Mike Roll and even Janou Rubin some real minutes, or do they rely on their main guys to play their usual share of significant minutes against a team which subs so frequently and keeps fresh legs on the floor? I think the speed of this game might be too much for Roll and Rubin to handle, so I see Howland sticking with Farmar, Afflalo, Bozeman and Collison and counting on them to bear up under the pressure.
When the Hornets are forced to play a half-court game, they can struggle to score. They rely mainly on the 3 and some inside play from Harris and Bausley, but simply lack the size and skills to really attack the basket against quality teams in a slower game. So we might see an odd situation where UCLA is the team actually looking to slow the game down at times. At least, the coaches will ask the players to come out and play with intensity on defense from the opening tip, which would be quite a change from some of the team's other games this season. If the Bruins do play with passion, and Farmar, Afflalo, Bozeman and Collison can keep their legs, the Bruins should get more easy scores in transition than in any of their prior games. Making sure they keep a balance between running down the floor and running an offense will be the challenge facing Farmar and Howland.
Predicting a game like this, especially in light of UCLA's past performances against unsung competition, is pretty much impossible. But I'll try anyway.
UCLA 82, Sacramento State 78