Portland State Game Preview

#2-ranked UCLA begins the season Friday in Pauley Pavilion against Portland State with only nine scholarship players and two key backcourt players out. UCLA should win easily, but with those players out the match-up is more interesting than it would have been...

The #2 ranked, (in both polls) UCLA Bruins open their 2007-2008 season Friday night against the Portland State Vikings at Pauley Pavilion. While the game shouldn't be all that close (is this the same kiss of death I gave the team at times last season?), there are some individual match-ups that will present certain Bruins, specifically freshman post Kevin Love, with a meaningful test.

Portland State is coming off a 19-13 season, including a fourth-place finish in the Big Sky Conference. The Vikings lost to eventual league champion Weber State in the conference semi-finals and we all know how the Bruins dismantled Weber State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last March. The assumption would naturally be, then, that a UCLA team that is arguably more balanced, if not better, should roll over PSU. Honestly, UCLA should win this game by a large margin, but because of some of the personnel that PSU will throw at the Bruins it should make for one of the more interesting of the early season UCLA games.

The Vikings are senior-dominated, which will probably help keep them from being too rattled by the Bruins and the fans at Pauley. They are also a wing-dominated team, which may give the Bruins some problems considering all of the injuries that the Bruins are trying to work through. But they do have a solid big man in senior post Scott Morrison (6'11" 250 lbs.). Morrison is primarily a defensive presence, as indicated by his Big Sky-leading 2.2 BPG, but he is an efficient scorer. He averaged 11.2 PPG last season on 57% shooting from the floor. He is also the leading returning rebounder for the Vikes at 6.5 RPG. Morrison is a decent free-throw shooter, but by no means is he automatic. His size and strength should provide a solid challenge to Love, junior Alfred Aboya and senior Lorenzo Mata-Real. Love will be playing his first "real" college game so there should be some nerves on his part, while Aboya is much smaller than Morrison and Mata-Real is still playing his way into game shape after an injury earlier in the fall. However, Morrison has not faced the athleticism that all three Bruin posts will present and it wouldn't be a surprise if, after holding his own for a while in the paint, that Morrison fouled out.

The three most potent scorers that PSU possesses are all wings, starting with leading returning scorer, senior Dupree Lucas (6'1" 170 lbs.). While Lucas may be small, he is very athletic and has superior leaping ability. That has lead Coach Ken Bone to play Lucas at the three on occasion. Lucas averaged 13.2 PPG last season and is much more of a slasher than a shooter. He is also an unselfish player, averaging 3.9 APG last season. Assuming that Darren Collison won't play, you'd have to expect Josh Shipp to get the assignment of guarding Lucas. Lucas is quicker than Shipp, but Shipp is longer and a pretty wily, experienced defender at this point. Shipp has seen quite a bit in his three years in the program, particularly tougher players to defend, and this is just Lucas' second season of D-1 ball.

Senior Deonte Huff (6'4" 195 lbs.) will start and he does many of the little things that all good teams need. He averaged 10.7 PPG and 5.6 RPG last season and shot almost 60% from the floor. He's a tough-nosed, knee-burn kind of player that will force Josh Shipp and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute to pay attention to him, especially when Huff is looking for offensive rebounds. Huff finds a way to duck in and between bigger players so being fundamentally sound when boxing him out is key. Huff is also a solid three-point shooter, hitting 42% of his attempts last season.

The final wing is newcomer junior Andre Murray, (6'2" 200 lbs.), who actually led the team in scoring along with Lucas in the exhibition win over Western Oregon. Murray may be the team's best shooter off the wing. Westbrook, Shipp or Luc, more than likely Shipp, will be detailed to guard Murray. Murray is a junior college transfer and that means he could get a bit out of control and make some questionable decisions, especially in Pauley. But he is from Los Angeles and can probably take the pressure better than most newcomers. Chances are Murray will come off the bench.

The point guard is junior Jeremiah Dominguez, (5'6" 150 lbs.), a transfer from the University of Portland. He is a true point guard in that looks to pass first and get his teammates involved, as evidenced by his 6 assists in 17 minutes in their exhibition opener.. He will shoot the three, though, so the Bruins must play him honestly. There is some concern if Russell Westbrook, while a great athlete, is quick enough to stay with Dominguez.. It's a key to the game, actually, because if Westbrook is quick enough, his size and strength are certainly going to cause havoc with Dominguez and could be instrumental in disrupting PSU's offense. If, on the other hand, Westbrook has a poor night defensively – and gets in foul trouble with really no other scholarship point guard on UCLA's roster – it could be interesting to see how UCLA's depleted back-court fares.

Sophomore forward Tyrell Mara (6'6" 235 lbs.) should be the fifth starter. He is returning after sitting out last season due to injury, but he is supposed to be the most athletic player on the team. He led the team in rebounding in the exhibition game with 6 in 22 minutes. He isn't much of a scorer but more of a support to Morrison in the post. The other "forwards" that the Vikes have are sophomore Julius Thomas (6'5" 220 lbs.), a strictly inside player, and sophomore Kyle Coston (6'8" 210 lbs.), who is almost strictly a perimeter player. Thomas and Coston also pulled down 6 boards in the Western Oregon game. Coston is dangerous from behind the arc but he is little threat putting the ball on the floor.

The long and short of this game is going to be the Bruins. The word has been that Collison won't play, which is a blow. Hey, anytime you lose the alleged #1 point guard in the country it's going to hurt you. But will it hurt them enough against Portland State? How will the first real game affect Love? Will Mata-Real be healthy enough to truly contribute? Can Westbrook run the offense for lengthy periods of time? Portland State is a good game to start the season for the Bruins so that they can begin to answer some of these questions.

The game should start off with a bang as the Vikes like to run (they were #22 in the country in scoring last season), and that may be their best chance to keep the game close; get the Bruins, especially if Collison can't play, tired. The one early season criticism of Love has been that he is tiring easily. That strategy may keep the game close for a while, but the Bruins should be up by double-digits at the half and should pull away in the second to win easily, with player like Nikola Dragovic and Chace Stanback seeing more than just mop-up minutes at the end of the game.

Portland State 67

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