UC Davis Preview

The UC Davis Aggies come to Pauley Pavilion Saturday, and they're probably not the fluffiest of non-conference cupcakes. The biggest challenge, though, for UCLA, is if they can show a killer instinct with the beginning of the Pac-10 looming next week...

We've been trying to find UCLA's worst opponent this season. The contenders have been Idaho State, Youngstown State and probably Yale.

Cal State San Bernardino, Western Illinois and Portland State were clearly a higher caliber of cupcake.

UCLA faces UC Davis on Saturday at Pauley Pavilion, and the Aggies probably fall more into the higher caliber of cupcake rather than the completely soft and fluffy kind.

Davis, in fact, beat Portland State, 76-68. You definitely have elevated yourself in UCLA's eyes if you've actually beaten another cupcake on UCLA's roster in the same season.

Thankfully, this is #5-ranked UCLA's last non-conference game, and the real season begins next Thursday, January 3rd, when UCLA travels to Palo Alto to take on #22 Stanford.

The Aggies are currently 5-6. Their big wins so far this season came against PSU and Nicholls State, the team that stayed within ten of North Carolina. It can't go unmentioned that UC Davis did beat a team called the Presbyterian Blue Hose.

Among their defeats were losses to Texas by 31, Oregon State by 14, and Jackson State a week ago by 24. Jackson State is 2-10.

It's the first year that Davis is a full-fledged member of the Big West, meaning this is the first year they'll be allowed to play in the conference tournament, after the last three years transitioning into Division 1.

UC Davis's head man, Gary Stewart, is trying to make that transition by emphasizing defense, but he just doesn't have the horses to pull it off. The Aggies allowed Jackson State to shoot 55% from the field.

The main guy for Davis is junior guard Vince Oliver (6-3, 185), who is their leading scorer at 13 points per game. Oliver is a slasher type, who has a pretty good first step and tries to get most of his points off the dribble. He does, though, think he can shoot the three, which is good for UCLA since he's only making 29% from behind the arc. Oliver will try to draw contact and get to the free-throw line, where he's shooting 81%. Russell Westbrook's athleticism has shut down far better players than Oliver so far this season and the fact that Oliver doesn't shoot well from the outside will allow Westbrook to give him a little more space and not allow him to turn the corner.

The other guard position is shared by two guys, one of them being Darren Collison's high school teammate, junior David Carter (6-1, 180). Carter is a well-built but a bit stiff guy who is a decent defender. Remember how we've always said that Collison played off the ball in high school? Well, Carter was the guy who played the point. Davis uses him more as their defensive stopper, and he'll get the assignment of guarding his high school teammate. The only advantage Carter might have is that he knows Collison and his tendencies well, and he's stronger, but Collison should be too quick for Carter – that is, if Collison plays with intensity.

The other guard is freshman Ryan Silva (5-10, 175), who has been a relatively pleasant surprise for the Aggies. Silva would be in the game more if he was a better defender, because he gives Davis an outside shooter at the guard position, making a team-leading 47% from three. He's also a turnover machine, leading the team at 2.9 turnovers per game while playing just 18 minutes per game.

Davis then has three forwards that start for them that could make UCLA go to a smaller line-up for some of this game. The one guy that plays mostly in the post is junior Kyle Brucculeri (6-8, 200), but he isn't a back-the-basket guy by any means. Brucculeri likes to catch and shoot, and he's shooting 41% from three while averaging 10 points per game. He's also a good passer, finding cutters off screens as Davis spreads its offense and tries to find shooters open from the 10 to 22 foot range. He is probably Davis' best rebounder, and leads the team by averaging just 4.3 per game. Sophomore Shane Hanson (6-7, 230) has more bulk but he actually plays even more on the perimeter. He also shoots well from the outside, making 44% from three and averages 11.4 points a game. Hanson, however, isn't very quick, and he'll be considerably challenged defensively by two guys who are just as big physically as he is but much quicker in Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Alfred Aboya. The third forward type that starts is redshirt freshman Mark Payne (6-7, 190) who many Davis fans believe, with his feel for the game, is the closest Davis has to a point guard. He is definitely a pass-first player, leading the team in assists (3.1 per game).

Davis' offense tries to separate shooters from their defenders and then take quick shots since they don't have practically any inside game to speak of. Probably what hurts them the most is their poor rebounding, especially on the offensive end. It's unusual for Davis to get off more than one shot in a possession.

Stewart has tried to hone an eight-man rotation in the last few games. Also coming off the bench besides Silva is junior guard Nathan Clark (6-4, 180), who gives them another decent ballhandler and a good-sized defender on the perimeter but not much offense. Sophomore C.J. Portz (6-7, 190) provides breathers for Davis' trio of forwards, and he's very similar to the other three, mostly a face-up guy who likes to spot up and shoot.

While UCLA might have to go smaller sometimes to match up defensively, they'll be a bitch for Davis on the offensive side if the Bruins stay big. There is no one among Davis' top eight players that can match up against Kevin Love inside. Or even Lorenzo Mata-Real or Mbah a Moute. Stewart does have a couple of bulky guys on his bench, juniors Jesse Lopez-Low (6-9, 230) and Michael Boone (7-2, 285). Both are used sparingly, with Lopez-Low getting 12 minutes a game – when he actually plays. Davis was hopeful that sophomore Dominic Calegari (6-9, 220) would step in and be a big contributor after a promising freshman year, but he re-aggravated a knee injury earlier this month and is still out. You could see Davis using a zone frequently to try to collapse a few guys down on Love.

The Bruins' defense and rebounding should be able to smother the Aggies and not allow them to get off more than one shot per possession, and they'll be lucky if that's a good look. The problem with Davis having so many forwards who like to step out is that there isn't anyone down low that that would, theoretically, be creating room for. Oliver's poor outside shooting, also, makes him a far easier match-up for UCLA's perimeter guys than the types of perimeter talent UCLA has seen so far this season.

The big question for UCLA is whether they'll show a killer instinct in this game and play hard throughout. So far this season it's been spotty, and you might think it could be even spottier in this game when the Bruins could be looking past it to the start of Pac-10 play next week.

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