California Preview

The UCLA Bruins face an improving California squad Saturday in what could be the young Bruins' most difficult game to date. UCLA has been focused of late, but this could be a huge test of that focus...

Bruin fans have had unfamiliar feeling since Thursday, that of UCLA not just beating Stanford, but of absolutely dominating the Cardinal.

But the feeling of semi-euphoria should be short-lived. While we thought that Cardinal would give UCLA a better game and make Bruin fans "sweat," unfortunately Bruin fans are now sweating more over injuries, again. It's certain that UCLA will be without Cedric Bozeman for at least the next several games (which will really hurt in Tuscon), but for the sake of the California game, we will assume that both Ryan Wright and Jordan Farmar will be good to go.

Cal goes with a three guard line-up. Of the three guards they start, the most important has to be PG Ayinde Ubaka (#1 6'3" 200 lb. JR). Ubaka has actually been the most consistent player for the Bears so far this season. He is averaging 13.5 PPG and, more importantly, has an almost 2-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He is playing much more under control this year and will be more of a problem defensively for the Bruins. The guess is, regardless of Jordan Farmar's health, Arron Afflalo will get this defensive assignment. Ubaka hasn't faced the type of problems that Afflalo's size and strength will cause. And Ubaka's isn't quick enough to make Afflalo pay for tight defense. In Cal's game against USC, Ubaka had fairly pedestrian numbers, but a lot of that stemmed from Cal recognizing early on that it had a real advantage in the paint and to get the ball to the post players. That may be the same philosophy for Cal against UCLA. If not, expect to see a lot of ball screens for Ubaka out of their base offense, which would have the potential of wearing Afflalo down a bit, thus affecting his offensive output. Statistics to note; Ubaka is averaging only 42% shooting from the floor, but is at 38% from beyond the arc.

The second player of Cal's three-headed guard rotation is SG Richard Midgley (#15 6'3" 195 lb. SR). Midgley's game has been to get open looks from beyond the arc, and he has been deadly from there this season, averaging 48% on his three-point shots. However, his shooting percentage drops like a stone when you make him put the ball on the floor. He is only 12 for 35 on shots inside the arc, barely 36%, so expect the Bruins to play tight, in-your-face defense on the Englishman, who is averaging 11.7 PPG. Farmar will probably get this defensive assignment and, even on a bad ankle, is still as quick as Midgley and won't have to worry about Midgley's mid-range game. This is important, because when Cal isn't setting screens on the ball for Ubaka, they'll be setting double screens for Midgley trying to free him up. Farmar's defensive job, primarily, will be to aggressively push through screens and close out on Midgley on the perimeter, something that Farmar sometimes is lax in doing. On offense, expect the Bruins to attack Midgley since he is the defensive weak link on an average defensive team.

The third cog in the three-guard wheel is redshirt sophomore Omar Wilkes (#2 6'4" 185 lb.). Wilkes is averaging 10.3 PPG, one of four Cal players averaging in double figures, but more importantly, he is shooting 48% from the floor, 55% from behind the arc. This young man will be a very difficult defensive assignment. This will be a huge challenge for Josh Shipp in his second game back. You can bet that Shipp has spent some considerable time in the trainer's room getting ice and heat since Thursday. There's a question of just how his hip – and his legs – will hold up. This is where the loss of Cedric Bozeman is directly felt, in the defensive advantage he could offer in guarding someone like Wilkes as opposed to a still-recovering Shipp. Wilkes has the potential to make the Bruins pay as much as any Cal player except for…

…sophomore Leon Powe (#44 6'8" 240 lb.). Powe is, quite simply, the best post player in the PAC-10. He is averaging a double-double, (20.7 PPG; 10.2 RPG), and he's still not completely back to 100% yet from an early season injury. Powe is a horse on the blocks, (shooting 53% from the floor), can pass the ball adequately (11 assists), and has now developed more of a mid-range game. He has only 13 turnovers for the year, and when you consider the double- and even triple-teams he faces game in and game out, that's a pretty good statistic. This will be the most difficult match-up that Luc Richard Mbah a Moute will have faced yet, and he probably won't face one more difficult than this all season. Luc and the Bruins do have some things, however, that could slow down Powe. First, Luc is very, very long, and that's something that Powe probably hasn't seen much of this year. And while not nearly as strong as Powe, Luc won't get manhandled either. Luc's quickness will bother Powe, especially when Powe is asked to guard Luc. The Bruin team can throw several bodies at Powe, including Alfred Aboya, who will probably find himself getting more minutes in this game because of this match-up, if nothing else. In terms of strength, Aboya can match up with Powe and at least give Luc a rest. But make no mistake, this is a match-up clearly in Cal's favor.

The final Cal starter will be sophomore post DeVon Hardin (#35 6'11" 235 lb.). Hardin has been the epitome of up and down for the Bears this year. He has scored 5 points on three different occasions, but has three double-doubles, including two games where he scored over 20. But tellingly, Hardin had his double-doubles against Long Beach State, Northern Colorado and Northeastern, three teams that don't exactly have imposing post defense. Against USC was probably a beter example of Hardin's game when he scored only 5 points and had only 5 boards against a pretty mediocre USC front line. The key against Hardin is to be athletic and stay active. As such, this will be the best post and collective defense Hardin will face this year. Mata and Wright must give Hardin respect, but if they do so properly, Hardin shouldn't be much of a factor.

The Cal bench goes four deep. Freshman Theo Robertson (#24 6'5" 240 lb) gives the Bears a different look. He averages starter's minutes, 6.2 PPG on 46% shooting from the floor and he will shoot the 3. He is a bit of a liability on defense. Senior Rod Benson (#0 6'10" 220 lb.) is now coming off the bench with the return of Powe. He has become a spot player for the Bears, spelling both Powe and Hardin, this after being a key for them last season. Former walk-on and senior Martin Smith (#20 6'0" 175 lb., is getting minutes specifically to give Ubaka a rest, but don't expect that to happen much. With Smith on the floor, expect the Bruins to truly go into attack mode on defense. The final bench player is freshman Jordan Wilkes (#33 6'11" 225 lb.), Omar's younger but much taller brother. Offensively he is a threat, but he reminds me of Lorenzo Mata from last season on the defensive end. He'll spell Powe and Hardin.

As for the Bruins, Darren Collison will probably get big minutes again, but this Cal team presents a defensive nightmare for him. All of the Cal guards, save Smith, are bigger and stronger than Collison. This will mean that he'll need help on screens, thus freeing up other Cal players for open looks. But offensively, Collison will give Cal fits with his quickness, much like he did against Stanford after he settled down. Janou Rubin and Mike Roll might find themselves thrust into more minutes and they must perform, especially on the defensive end. The Bruins have enough scorers to beat Cal easily. The Bruins need to make sure that they don't let Cal do the same thing.

The Bruins were well prepared for the Stanford game. While Stanford must have anticipated that Ben Howland would double the post as UCLA did, just probably not as well as they did it. It will be interesting to see any new wrinkles installed for the Bears. You probably can expect to see much the same game plan you saw against Michigan since the Wolverines are similar to Cal, except the Bear frontline is better, (because of Powe), while the Wolverine guards are better. But Michigan runs a lot of the same stuff, have guards that aren't lightning quick and they aren't a great defensive team. To try and minimize Powe, expect the Bruins to double in the post all game long, forcing Cal to both move the ball and beat the Bruins from the outside.

In terms of the mental game, tthis game is important, perhaps even moreso than the Stanford game. The Bruins are being talked about nationally again. The players know that. They just threw a huge monkey off their collective back Thursday night and they have the visit to Tuscon coming up next Thursday. This is a classic "tweener" game where the young Bruins may be caught looking ahead, so while the team has looked focused in its last two games, this will be a good test to see how focused this team truly is. Cal is coming off a hard-fought win over USC Thursday night, and they might mentally be satisfied with a split on their trip to SoCal. Cal is a much better team than Stanford, but Cal had a tougher game on Thursday and they haven't faced anyone on their schedule near the caliber of the Bruins. This game should be quite a bit tougher for UCLA than the game Thursday, and probably the biggest factor that could keep UCLA from winning is the extent of UCLA's injuries.

With a relatively healthy Jordan Farmar:

California 57

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