UCLA, of course, is coming off a significant road win against Arizona. Will the Bruins be able to keep the intensity they had on Thursday night for the Sun Devils? Will Jordan Farmar play? Ultimately, the real question is will the Bruins retain their focus or will the lessons of the Cal game still have to be learned.
The Bruins will roll into Tempe on an incredible high after the win at Arizona. Sort of reminds one of last weekend, when the Bruins were on a high after their demolition of Stanford, and then were brought back down to Earth by Cal. Yes, the Cal game still needs to be mentioned, if for nothing else than to remind the team what is necessary to be a champion and what can happen when you lose your focus for even one game as a team. But make no mistake, the Sun Devils are not Cal and an upset here would be surprising.
The Sun Devil attack is initiated by senior Tyrone Jackson (6'2" 193 lb.), a JC transfer who has stepped into the starting line-up for the Devils. He really is more of a pure point, averaging only 6.1 PPG, but having a better than 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. His shooting has been off all year, averaging only 43% from the floor and 25% from behind the arc. He is, however, a good rebounder, averaging almost 4 per game. Assuming that Jordan Farmar does not play, this will be a tough match-up for Darren Collison. Jackson is stronger than Collison, and unlike Mustafa Shakur on Thursday, Jackson knows how to utilize his strength against a defender. Hopefully Collison's quickness will be able to keep him in front of Jackson. I think a big question here is which Darren Collison will we see? He had a huge game against the Cats and now comes a game that will admittedly be tough for a freshman to get up for. Hopefully knowing that he will be playing more than 30 minutes will keep him focused.
At the SG position the Sun Devils start junior Kevin Kruger (6'2" 186 lb.). Kruger is a gunner, pure and simple. He is a heady player, as you would expect from a coach's son, but he is limited athletically. Kruger is the leading scorer for ASU, at 15.6 PPG, and most of those points come on 3s and free throws. He is shooting 40% from behind the arc, attempting more 3 pointers than the rest of the Sun Devils combined, and shoots 82% from the charity stripe. The guess is that Arron Afflalo and Josh Shipp will both be assigned Kruger. The key is to really body up to Kruger and force him to put the ball on the floor. He is a much better set shooter than shooting off the dribble.
The starting small forward is junior Bryson Krueger (6'7" 190 lb.), who really plays like a third guard. Krueger handles the ball fairly well and has the ability to see over the defense. Kruger is averaging 13.8 PPG and 3.4 RPG, but he is probably ASU's biggest offensive threat. He is multidimensional, being able to get to the hoop and shoot the 3, where he is averaging 45% for the year. In fact, Krueger is shooting better from behind the arc than he is from the two-point area. If there is a knock on Krueger it's that he's too passive. This means that both Afflalo and Shipp must be physically ready to intimidate Krueger from the opening tip. The ability to do that may negate Krueger for the game. Expect both Bruins to play intense defense knowing that they will clearly be the two leaders for a Bruin team playing without its PG.
The starting power forward is junior Serge Angounou (6'8" 230 lb.). Angounou is strictly an inside player, and he was hyped to be the eventual replacement for Ike Diogu, but Angounou just hasn't developed. He is very athletic and is built very much like Luc Mbah a Moute, who will probably be matched on him. Angounou is the second leading rebounder on the team, but averages only 4.4 RPG to go along with his 7.5 PPG. He is, however, coming off a 19 point performance against the Trojans. That is probably attributable to the fact that USC has porous post defense. Expect Angounou to revert to form, not getting good looks at the hoop against the athletic Bruin front line.
The final starter is freshman post Jeff Pendergraph (6' 10" 210 lb.), who really come on for the Sun Devils and been a nice surprise for them. Pendergraph, a high school teammate of Collison, has only started half of the Sun Devils' games, but expect him to be a fixture for the rest of the year. He is averaging 8.8 PPG and is the leading rebounder at 5.5 RPG. He also shoots about 49% from the floor, one of only three ASU players approaching 50%. He is strictly a post player, attempting only two 3s all season, and even his post moves are a bit rudimentary. If Lorenzo Mata can keep his focus from Thursday then this will be a match-up he should savor. Mata can compare athletically and is much stronger than Pendergraph. And since Pendergraph really is an easier post to defend than either Cal's Hardin or Radenovic, Mata should be able to really contribute both offensively and on the boards.
Off the bench ASU has been utilizing primarily only three players recently. The first and probably most important is sophomore guard Antwi Atuahene (6'4" 209 lb.). Atuahene, who averages only 6.2 PPG but is hitting 54% from the floor, isn't a three point threat, but he is big and strong and if Collison gets stuck on him expect the Sun Devils to isolate him on the low block. In fact, expect to see a lot of Atuahene on the floor with the other three guards and either Angounou or Pendergraph. The next man off the bench is sophomore post Craig Austin (6'10" 233 lb.), who has started about half of ASU's games, but his time is diminishing as Pendergraph is coming on. He is not a strong offensive threat, with hands that might remind you of Michael Fey, but he does rebound and play hard interior defense. The last player getting significant minutes off the bench is redshirt freshman Chad Goldstein, (6'9" 241 lb.), who is built much more like a post should be, but he is limited offensively. Basically he shoots only when inside of 10 feet, which would explain his 61% shooting percentage. He is slow and is be a detriment to the Sun devils on defense.
The real key to this game will be which UCLA team decides to show up, the one resembling the team of the past two Thursdays or the one from the Cal game. ASU really doesn't have the personnel to match up with the Bruins at any position, except maybe the point. It will be interesting to see if Coach Howland even dresses Farmar for the game, with the idea that he can play a few minutes if the Bruins need settling. The Bruins must show focus and intensity on defense. ASU truly has had to change their offense after relying on Diogu for so long. They still try to get the ball inside, but the current ASU post players don't scare you like Diogu did, and the Bruins were able to shut down Diogu last year in both games. If the Bruins play solid half-court defense and shoot even 45% from the floor, they should win fairly easily. Now, that being said, I expect the Bruins to be a bit flat and ASU to be fired up knowing that they let one get away against USC. The game will be close for a while, but ASU allows its opponents to shoot 44% from the floor for the season, and when you only look at the major conference teams that ASU has played, that number rises considerably. Expect the Bruins to regain their focus as the game wears on and as thoughts of the Cal game are drilled into their collective heads by Howland. Even though ASU is a very good free-throw shooting team, averaging 75% for the year, expect the Bruins to pull away in the second half and win fairly comfortably.
Arizona State 59