There aren't too many times that a D-2 school appears on ESPN 2 to play the #2-ranked D-1 team in the country.
The Coyotes earned the right by upsetting Weber State, 71-59, a win that numbers among the program's biggest victories. Weber State went to the NCAA tournament last season and was picked to win the Big Sky Conference this year.
Head Coach Jeff Oliver said CSU San Bernardino wasn't even supposed to be in the CBE Classic, only filling in when a team dropped out last summer. They were supposed to be just a mild speed bump for Weber State.
In fact, since CSU San Bernardino is D-2, tonight's game doesn't officially count on UCLA's schedule. It's the equivalent of another exhibition game.
Senior Lance Ortiz (6-0, 185), the point guard, led the Coyotes Monday, with 16 points and three assists. He's more of a combo, being probably the best shooter on the team. Joining him in the backcourt is another combo guard, senior Marlon Pierce (6-2, 190), who looked to be more of San Bernardino's perimeter defender. They will, obviously, have problems matching up with Russell Westbrook and Josh Shipp, since Pierce will have to guard Shipp and Ortiz probably won't be able to stay with Westbrook. Both Ortiz and Pierce are pretty good outside shooters; Ortiz is shooting over 50% from three.
In the frontcourt, there is senior David Reichel (6-8, 215), who is the tallest player among their starters who really isn't a post player, but more of a face-up four. He likes to shoot threes more than anything.
Utah State transfer Michael Earl (6-8, 210) had started at center previously for the Coyotes, but slender Devon Davis (6-7, 200) started Monday. Earl gets most of the minutes at the five, but he can get into foul trouble because of San Bernardino's pressing style of defense.
Junior wing Reggie Brown (6-5, 190) started Monday, but San Bernardino could start or sub in any number of guys. There is also Renardo Bass (6-3, 200) who's pretty well-built and has also started a game this year; Steve Gaston (6-1, 185), who is pretty quick; Sacramento State transfer Jason Gilzene (6-6, 205), a former teammate of Josh Shipp's at Los Angeles Fairfax High; and Ryan Kinney (6-6, 195), along with a few others.
The Coyotes had 10 players in double-figure minutes when they beat Montana-Billings in early November. They had 12 players play more than 8 minutes.
Because the Coyotes like to press – all game long. Their objective is to wear down your ballhandlers and force you into turnovers, which they did Monday, getting Weber State to commit 20. They led the D-2 nation in steals a year ago. Then, to save energy, they'll play zone in the halfcourt. So, UCLA will have to take care of the ball and then hit its shots. For UCLA, it will be very good experience for Westbrook, having to keep himself disciplined and focus in handling and passing the ball to break the Coyotes' press.
Cal State San Bernardino is the place where wayward D-1 players go to find a home. Last year, Ivan Johnson, formerly of the Oregon Ducks, carried the Coyotes to the D-2 Final Four, where they lost to eventual champion Barton College, 80-79. A few current players on the roster are former D-1 guys.
With San Bernardino's unconventional defensive style, and how they liberally sub, and with no less talent than what UCLA has seen so far among its exhibition games and Portland State and Youngstown State, and with UCLA playing without Darren Collison and Michael Roll, the Coyotes could give UCLA its biggest challenge yet this season.
That's not to say it will be a serious challenge.
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