Preview of UC Riverside

#1-ranked UCLA doesn't face any real test today when it takes on a 3-4 UC Riverside team at Pauley Pavilion, a team that is small, short-handed and even without its head coach. It will, however, be a barometer for how UCLA will be when faced with lower level competition...

The Bruins got a wake-up call in their last contest against Long Beach State this past week and it came in the form of Coach Ben Howland. Now UCLA faces another seemingly overmatched mid-major in California-Riverside. The Sunday game should be a good barometer of how the Bruins will collectively play against lower level competition the remainder of the season.

UCR currently stands at 3-4. However, two of the Highlanders' wins have come against non-D-1 competition. The best win of the season for UCR thus far has been against Eastern Illinois. To top it off, UCR comes in VERY shorthanded. Head Coach Dave Spencer is currently absent from the squad because of a medical leave, so Associate Head Coach Von Webb will be running the team. The Highlanders don't have a great deal of size to begin with and now they have even less as sophomore forward Benoit Bekeno and junior forward B.J. Visman are both out for the year with leg injuries.

So, a UCR squad that wasn't considered to be very good to begin with is now without their 3rd leading scorer and leading rebounder, (Visman), and another solid contributor in Bekeno. What UCR does have is a plethora of guards, and they will start at least three on Sunday.

Senior Justin Bell, (5'10" 165 lbs.), is the leading scorer and assist man for the Highlanders. Bell averages 13.7 PPG and about 4APG. He is a 3 point threat, having made almost half of the team's 47 3's for the season. Bell handles the ball quite a bit for the Highlanders, so it's no wonder he has 22 turnovers on the season. However, in spite of the fact that he does see the ball so much and defenses tend to key on him, he still has a 1.2 assist to turnover ratio. Bell is the kind of player that Darren Collison can dominate at both ends of the floor. Collison is both quicker and stronger than Bell.

Junior Larry Cunningham, (6'2" 190 lbs.), is the only other Highlander that will be playing on Sunday that averages in double digits. His 13.1 PPG, like Bell, comes from shooting a lot of 3's, but he has been to the line 20 times, (hitting 90%), which is indicative of his ability to get into the lane. His penchant for trying to drive to the hoop is the probable reason he leads the Highlanders in turnovers with 23. Cunningham also is 2nd on the team in rebounds with 7.6 RPG. Arron Afflalo will more than likely be asked to shut Cunningham down.

The third starting guard spot has gone to junior Justin Lott, (6'0" 190 lbs.), but he is only averaging 8 MPG and barely even registers on the scoring chart. More than likely, the Bruins, and Josh Shipp, will see freshman Charles Jim-George, (6'4" 200 lbs.), but he, too, only averages about 8 MPG. Jim-George played a great deal in UCR's recent loss to SE Missouri State, but that seemed to be because sophomore forward Christian Soto, (6'8" 220 lbs.), didn't play. Soto had been averaging about 15 MPG and figures to pick up the minutes left when Visman shut it down for the season. Whether he can play or not is still up in the air. When he was healthy, Soto averaged 2.9 PPG and 2.5 RPG. If Soto plays, expect Luc Mbah a Moute to be matched up with him, while Shipp handles Danish freshman Henrik Thomsen, (6'8" 200 lbs.). Thomsen is almost strictly a jump shooter, and while he averages 6.8 PPG, he is averaging less than 2 RPG.

Freshman Sean Anderson, (6'10" 230 lbs.), provides about the only other size left on the UCR roster. He played 20 minutes in a blow out loss to San Diego State, but then didn't play against SE Missouri, although that probably had more to do with the fact that SEMO was short and quick. If ever there was a game the Bruins should be looking to pound the ball inside and work on post offense, this is it. Lorenzo Mata, Alfred Aboya, Ryan Wright and Luc should be able to easily have their way with the Highlander post players.

The UCR bench is made up of almost entirely guards. Of the remaining players, only junior Marcel Montalvan, (6'6" 200 lbs.), is over 6'3", and he has only played one minute in the past three games and that was in a blow out of tiny Hope International University.

This game has blow out written all over it. In fact, there is no one on the UCR roster, (maybe Cunningham), who would play ahead of some of the Bruin walk-ons. The real question for this game is whether or not Coach Howland has to speak "nicely" to the team again at the half. As I said before, this is the perfect game to work on post offense. If the Bruins truly concentrate on that aspect of their game, there isn't any reason that the 4 main post players for the Bruins can't account for 40 points and 20 rebounds. But that is, of course, assuming that the Bruins will come out and take care of business right away.

Freshmen Russell Westbrook and James Keefe should finally get to see close to 20 minutes of floor time each as they will be key as the season progresses, especially Westbrook. Don't be surprised to see Howland throw out a line-up of Collison, Afflalo, Westbrook, Shipp and post du jour, just to see how a small line-up works.

In many ways this game is like the Chaminade game. The Bruins, (and their fans), know that they'll win. In fact, because of the injuries, Chaminade might be a better team right now than UCR. The Highlanders could very well be the worst team on the Bruins' schedule this season. These are the kinds of games that Howland and the coaching staff need in order to work on some things under game conditions and give certain players more floor time.

The Bruins should see a lot of zone defense, and, if Webb throws out the book and tries to get UCR to do something drastic and unexpected, a great deal of full and three-quarter court pressure. After all, UCR has plenty of guards to run around for 40 minutes and it's not like he or the Highlanders have anything to lose. Still, the Bruins are #1 in the country for a reason, (and should be in both polls this week), and UCR will be lucky to stay out of the Big West basement. With all this in mind, a score prediction is kind of moot. If the Bruins and Howland really try to work on things, especially on offense, then the score won't be all that bad. But the Bruins could hit 100 this game…and hold UCR under 50. Let's use that for the scoring benchmark.

UC-Riverside 52

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