The Bruins should be looking to not just clinch a share of the title in this game, but to send a message to the rest of the conference. About a month ago the Bruins went into Maples Pavilion at Stanford and came out of the gate on fire. With about 5 minutes of so left in the first half, most observers felt the game was over. The Bruins were up by close to 20 points and had completely stifled the Cardinal on the offensive end of the floor. Then the bottom dropped out and UCLA, who led by 12 at the half, lost by 7. The score did not indicate how badly the Bruins collapsed against the Cardinal. It was probably the worst 20 + minutes of basketball in the Ben Howland era.
As I said, Stanford comes into the game a bit short-handed. Second leading scorer and outside threat Anthony Goods (6'4" 204 lbs.), a sophomore guard who was part of the one-two punch that buried the Bruins in the second half in Palo Alto, is out with a badly sprained ankle. The injury is so bad that there are indications that Goods may not play until the Pac-10 Tournament in two weeks. Losing Goods, especially against UCLA, is potentially devastating to the Cardinal's chances of upsetting the Bruins.
It's not as if Stanford doesn't have other weapons, though. In fact, outside of Washington State, Stanford might present the Bruins with their most difficult opponent in terms of match-ups. All of this comes down to the fact that Stanford has, arguably, the best inside/low post game in the conference.
The focus of Stanford's opponents has certainly been freshmen posts Brook Lopez (7' 255 lbs.) and Robin Lopez (7' 253 lbs.). Robin has been one of the constants for Coach Trent Johnson and the Cardinal this season, having started every game and becoming a defensive force with his shot blocking (2.4 BPG). His rebounding has gone down since the return of his brother but he takes up space. His is very consistent on the low block but has trouble with shots outside of 5 or 6 feet. He is also a mediocre free throw shooter, averaging 57%. Brook, on the other hand, missed much of the beginning of the season due to injury. Now that he has been rounding into form he has really begun to impose himself on opponents. He is the more offensively gifted of the brothers, averaging 12.2 PPG, and having some touch from behind the three-point line. He is also averaging 2 BPG on the defensive end. Between the two brothers, they are averaging almost 12 RPG. The Bruins will have difficulty guarding these two behemoths as both of them, particularly Brook, are relatively athletic. Lorenzo Mata will have the task of shutting down Robin, which he actually did in the game in Palo Alto. The good news for the Bruins is that Mata has become much more of an offensive force since that first game. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute will be given the task of shutting down Brook. Defensively, this will be a real chore as Luc will have to utilize his quickness to neutralize Brook's obvious size advantage. On offense, Luc must be able to knock down the mid-range jumper because Brook is going to lay off of him so that he can't drive by him. Alfred Aboya, James Keefe and Ryan Wright will all probably see time in the low post to try and give help to the Bruin starters.
Sophomore Lawrence Hill (6'8" 215 lbs.) will start at the small forward position. Hill is the leading scorer (16.3 PPG) and rebounder (6.7 RPG) of the Cardinal. As the first meeting between the two teams showed, Hill is a threat to hit the outside shot and drive to the basket, while shooting 41% from behind the arc. It will take a real defensive effort to disrupt Hill, that's why I foresee Howland putting Arron Afflalo on Hill. Afflalo is quick enough and strong enough to stay with Hill and Afflalo is good about getting into the heads of his opponents. Hill is susceptible to being thrown off his game. If Afflalo can shut down Hill then it's game over, lights out, start the bus. Stanford has already lost Goods, and losing Hill as a scorer would easily be too much to overcome.
The point guard is sophomore Mitch Johnson (6'1" 185 lbs.), who played a good game the last time these two teams met, but he has been very up and down all season. Before Goods' injury, Johnson had been relegated to coming off the bench. He is second on the team in assists at 3.5 APG and he does have the best assist-to-turnover ratio on the team, and he's also the best free throw shooter on the team (82%), so he can shoot. The problem with Johnson is a lack of athleticism, and when confronted with strong, athletic defenses, he gets confused. He probably won't be scared this time against UCLA because the ball can really only go to Hill or down to the post. Johnson's role will be to simply get the ball into those positions. Darren Collison and, to a lesser extent, Russell Westbrook will have the task of making Johnson's decisions harder. But without Goods, it puts a huge burden on Johnson, and UCLA will benefit by turning up the heat on him.
The off guard will be senior Fred Washington (6'5" 215 lbs.), who is strictly an inside player, having only attempted one three-pointer this season, while averaging 8 PPG and shooting 53% from the floor. He is the team leader, being the only senior getting serious minutes. Because of his one-dimensional offensive game, expect Josh Shipp to start out on him. The way Shipp has played the past two games you'd like to think he can duplicate the effort and effectiveness again, but I need to see one more superior performance to be convinced that he's out of his earlier slump.
Freshman guard Landry Fields (6'6" 190 lbs.) and junior posts Taj Finger (6'9" 205 lbs.), and Peter Prowitt (6'10" 250 lbs) are the players getting the primary minutes off the bench. Fields is almost strictly an outside shooter, having taken well over half of his shots from outside the three-point line. Finger and Prowitt are both low-block players, and while Finger was completely overmatched in the first game with the Bruins, Prowitt provided the Cardinal with several good minutes when Robin Lopez got into early foul trouble. The trouble for the Cardinal is that they are getting little production from their bench with Goods out. Against USC they only received two points from the bench even though Fields, Finger and Prowitt combined for 34 minutes played.
Stanford would be smart to employ some sort of zone and then switch defenses to try and throw the Bruins off their offensive game. Darren Collison has got to be more effective for the Bruins than he was on Thursday against Cal. However, since my prediction of how the game would go against Cal (slow start with a comfortable lead by the 10 minute mark of the second half), proved so prophetic, I will now offer this:
The Bruins are going to be up for this game. They are flat-out angry at what happened in Palo Alto. It really doesn't matter what defense Stanford runs, the game will come down to UCLA's defensive intensity. It was there that the Bruins blew the game in the Bay Area. If the Bruins bring intense defense for close to 40 minutes then this will be a tough game for the Cardinal. The motivating factors of winning the conference and gaining a measure of revenge coupled with Goods being out is too much for Stanford to overcome. If the Bruins bring the intensity, they may win this game in a blow out.