Now the Bruins return home for two critical games culminating in the Saturday contest against Arizona at Pauley Pavilion. Before UCLA can think about the Wildcats, however, there is the Thursday game against the Arizona State Sun Devils who currently sit in last place in the PAC-10 Conference with a record of 0-6 (6-10 overall). This may be a more difficult game for the Bruins than at first glance because of the slower style that ASU employs and because the Bruins could very well be looking ahead to the match-up with Arizona.
It's no mistake that Arizona State is in last place in the conference. The Sun Devils lost their two best players, Kevin Kruger, who transferred to UNLV in order to play with his father, and Bryson Krueger, who was kicked off the team by new coach Herb Sendek. Those losses left ASU without much talent, and Sendek wasn't able to land any highly-ranked recruits (unless you count Eric Boateng, the Duke transfer won't be eligible until next season) that could have made a big impact this season. In fact, with the loss this past weekend at home to Oregon State and an earlier home loss against California, Arizona State is looking at the very real possibility that they could go winless in the conference this season. Only Washington is left on their home schedule as a team you could see ASU possibly defeating (who would have thought that at the beginning of the season?). Sendek is using the slow-down, Princeton-type offense he ran at North Carolina State, at least somewhat at ASU. The problem is that the Sun Devils don't really have the personnel to run that kind of a patient, cerebral offense, although they have gotten better as of late. The OSU loss notwithstanding, ASU lost by 11 on the road at Washington and only lost by 5 against Oregon last Thursday. So the Sun Devils, if taken too lightly, can be dangerous.
The best returning player on Sendek's roster is sophomore post Jeff Pendergraph (6'9" 210 lbs.), a high school teammate of UCLA's Darren Collison. Pendergraph is leading the Sun Devils in scoring at 13.4 PPG and rebounding at 9.3 RPG. He's shooting a fantastic 61% from the field and a solid 72% from the free throw line. Pendergraph is a back-to-the-basket type of post, but he has developed a solid mid-range jumper. His troubles are with turnovers, where he averages about 3 per game. On defense he is the team's leading shot blocker with 10, and he does have 11 steals. As good as Pendergraph is, and he would see time with the Bruins, he is definitely a step down from what Lorenzo Mata, Alfred Aboya, Ryan Wright and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute faced this past Saturday against USC's Taj Gibson. Look for Mata to start the game on Pendergraph and he should be able to at least contest his shots. It will be considered a positional victory for the Bruins if Mata, et al, can win the rebounding battle with Pendergraph.
The starting forward is senior Serge Angounou (6'7, 230 lbs.), another PAC-10 player who seems like he's been at his school longer than his five seasons. Angounou came to ASU with a pretty good reputation and there were many who thought he would turn into an all PAC-10 caliber player, but it hasn't panned out for Angounou. He is tied for third on the team in scoring at 8.4 PPG and is second on the team in rebounding at 8.1 RPG. The problem with Angounou is that he essentially never grew up. He still makes major mental errors at both ends of the floor that would be more indicative of a freshman. Further, he is still a very emotional player who, more often than not, lets his emotions get the best of him. He complains to officials, gets down on himself and can't let go of previous plays, thus causing a lapse in concentration as the present play is unfolding. He is definitely the three-point threat of the two ASU posts, and he's averaging a solid 41% from behind the arc. As much as Angounou hasn't really blossomed, he is still capable of a huge game, like the one he had last year against the Bruins in Tempe and, to a lesser extent, like the one he played last season in Pauley. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute should be matched-up on him as Angounou will drift out to the three-point line and Mata doesn't do as well defensively on players like that. Angounou leads ASU with 23 steals on the year. Angounou gives UCLA his best game since he's also from Cameroon and really gets up for playing against Mbah a Moute and Aboya.
The point guard in Sendek's three-guard offense is freshman Daniel Glasser (6'1" 180 lbs.), who leads the team in assists at 3.4 APG. Strikingly, he has taken more shots than anyone else on the team over the past four games. Problem is, he is hitting a horrible 30% from the floor and 26% from behind the arc. Glasser was taken as a late add-on when he was content on walking on at USC, and it's believed ASU took him to help get his high school teammate at Artesia, James Harden, who will probably be an McDonald's All-American this year. It's questionable whether Glasser can play at the PAC-10 level and many scouts feel that ASU just recruited over him in getting a signed National Letter of Intent from high school senior Jamelle McMillan from Seattle O'Dea, who is a top 100 national player. Glasser is clearly in over his head. He isn't very quick, has trouble getting to the basket, is apt to make poor decisions when under pressure and struggles to stay in front of quick point guards on defense. Glasser, in conference play, has been a bit better in limiting his turnovers, but he now goes on the road against UCLA and USC, two of the best on-ball defensive teams around. The match-up for UCLA's point guards, Collison and Russell Westbrook, could be the most one-sided against any point guard this season, with the Bruins almost certainly able to disrupt Glasser with their quickness. If Collison plays Thursday like he did in the second half of the USC game, then Glasser is in for a long, frustrating night.
The ‘2' guard, who is really like having another point guard on the floor, is junior Antwi Atuahene (6'3" 205 lbs.), the third leading scorer on ASU at 8.4 PPG. He's actually the second best shooter on the team right now, averaging 45% from the floor. That number would pick up considerably if Atuahene could shoot better than the 26% he currently averages from behind the arc. Atuahene is a decent player who gave the Bruins fits last year in Tempe with his ability to drive and get to the basket. He would be averaging more points this season if he could shoot higher than the 55% he averages from the charity stripe. He is second on the team with 3.3 APG, but he also has the highest number of turnovers of all the guards, with 39. Atuahene's ability to give UCLA a hard time last season had partially to do with the fact that he was playing the point, thus he was matched-up against Jordan Farmar. Farmar's defense at that time of the season was so-so. Now it's likely that Atuahene will see Afflalo, and that's a significant difference.
The third starting guard is freshman Christian Polk (6'3" 175 lbs.) a streaky shooter from Glendale, Arizona. Polk is second on the team in scoring at 12.9 PPG, and he does have 39 assists. But it's his shooting ability that gets him his minutes. He has made 37 three-pointers this season but is only averaging 32% from the arc, mainly because his shot selection is so poor. Polk is a gunner, having taken twice as many shots (211) as any of his teammates, save Pendergraph. Polk has some quickness, at least enough to get himself some nice pull-up jumpers, but he is the master of taking out-of-control shots that are as good as turnovers. Polk does hit 79% from the free-throw line. Assuming that Josh Shipp doesn't play again because of his injured hamstring, expect to see Mike Roll and Westbrook guarding Polk. Roll is quick enough to stay with Polk and he is a lot stronger.
Sendek also relies on another backcourt freshman, Jerren Shipp (6'3, 200 lbs.), who is Josh Shipp's younger brother. Shipp provides the only real backcourt depth that Sendek has and is, in fact, averaging 27 MPG. Shipp is averaging 7.5 PPG, but he's doing it on less than 40% shooting from the floor and 30% from behind the arc. He is averaging 3.4 RPG and is generally a heady player, much like his brother. Shipp has started 11 games this season for ASU. He is a shorter, slower and less athletic version of Josh, which raises the question whether the PAC-10 is the right level for him.
Sendek has given these three freshmen -- Glasser, Polk and Shipp – a great deal of playing time, merely because he has no other options. You'd have to think, too, that it won't last more than this season with Harden and McMillan coming in next year. So, Sendek's trying to limp through this season with a backcourt that probably isn't PAC-10 worthy, waiting for next year.
Besides Shipp, Sendek really only counts on one other player off the bench, senior Allen Morrill (6'6" 232 lbs.). Morrill is the only post bench player that Sendek seems to trust. Sophomore Sylvester Seay (6'9" 205 lbs.) was supposed to be a big part of this team this year but he hasn't played in the past three games. There have been no reports of an injury to Seay, which leaves you to wonder whether Seay is in Sendek's doghouse. Morrill is more of a player in the mold of Pendergraph than Angounou. He averages about 10 MPG, enough to spell the two starting post players.
UCLA is better across the board than Arizona State, but Sendek is a good coach and it's pretty certain he'll have a solid game plan. Look for ASU to slow down the game, even more than normal, trying to frustrate UCLA. This has worked against UCLA for other teams who don't have the talent the Bruins do, like Washington State, and several of the lesser non-conference foes. Sendek must have been paying attention to the last two Bruin games, against Oregon and USC, who essentially played four guards/wings with one post, and it seemed in both games it took the Bruins a while to defend this properly. Expect to see a lot of Shipp on the floor as the fourth guard/wing, with Pendergraph being the sole post threat. The problem with this for ASU, though, is that Oregon had Aaron Brooks, Bryce Taylor and Tajuan Porter as three of their guards with Maarty Leunen in the post, and USC had Gabe Pruitt, Lodrick Stewart and Nick Young with Taj Gibson in the post. While an argument can be made that Pendergraph can at least be talked about in the same sentence as Leunen and Gibson, the Sun Devil guards/wings are nowhere near the talent or experience level of the players from Oregon or USC.
Oregon and USC were able to hit enough three-point shots that UCLA couldn't sag at all defensively and it spread them out in both games. ASU doesn't have those kinds of shooters. In fact, Arizona State is averaging only 43% from the floor and 31 % from behind the arc as a team, and considering some of the lightweights that ASU had on their non-conference schedule, both of those percentages are really poor.
ASU will undoubtedly utilize its 2-3 zone, in the hopes of slowing down UCLA on the offensive side. You can probably expect UCLA, who has looked uncomfortable against the zone so far this season, to attack ASU's, particularly with dribble penetration from Collison and Westbrook.
So, ASU will try to slow it down, disorient UCLA with its zone and then hope that UCLA is looking ahead to the match-up with Arizona two days later. The Bruins have shown a lack of intensity from time to time this season and the Sun Devils will need it if it hopes to threaten the Bruins at all. If UCLA shows up intense and ready to play then we may finally see the 30 + point win that we've predicted before. Even with one eye on the Wildcats, expect the Bruins to cruise in this one, since ASU is so out-manned. The Bruins will probably pull away methodically for a comfortable win, setting up the huge clash on Saturday.
Arizona State 53