UCLA opens its 2002/2003 basketball season tonight at Pauley Pavilion. The Bruins' opponent, the San Diego Toreros, are picked to finish just fourth in the WCC, but if the Bruins look anything like they did in their exhibition games, San Diego could be a tough out...
After stumbling in two exhibition games, the UCLA basketball team opens regular season play tonight against the San Diego Toreros at Pauley Pavilion.
Before the season, looking at the schedule, you might have thought that this game would be just a tune-up prior to a big marquee matchup with Duke on Saturday, but it now appears that it could be a much more competitive game than anticipated. In its exhibition games, UCLA looked completely out of sync, at both ends of the court. Meanwhile, San Diego is picked to finish 4th in the West Coast Conference and they're coming off a good win over a solid Nevada team.
The two primary weapons for San Diego are Jason Keep, a 6-10 senior center who transferred in from Oklahoma St., and Jason Blair, a 6-7 senior power forward with a very nice shooting touch. Keep, in particular, could cause UCLA problems. He's very strong, and he's very tough to move once he posts up in the paint. He's also a surprisingly good passer. If the Bruins are forced to double him inside, he does have the ability to find open shooters. Keep could be the difference-maker in the game for the Toreros, since UCLA doesn't have anyone that can match up with him in the post.
In addition to Keep and Blair, the Toreros start a three-guard lineup in Travis Smith, the 6-3 freshman point guard, 6-2 senior Roy Morris and 6-2 senior Matt Delzell, Delzell plays as their small forward, so the Bruins have quite a size advantage on the perimeter. Both Delzell and Morris can hit from long range if left open, while Smith is more effective with mid-range shots.
Off the bench, the three primary guys are 6-4 freshman shooting guard Derek Stockalper, 6-3 redshirt freshman point guard Mike McGrain and 6-10 power forward Nick Lewis. A redshirt freshman, Lewis is someone who might be a hard matchup for the UCLA frontcourt. He's agile for his size, with the ability to play inside and out. Stockalper played limited minutes in the win over Nevada, but he's someone who can heat up from the three-point line if he gets open looks.
The Toreros are a mix of experience and youth, with four of their top eight players seniors, and the other four being freshmen. The inexperience with Smith at point guard is a weakness. Smith is a tough kid, but there are almost always jitters with true freshman point guards. San Diego is limited athletically, but they're well coached by former Bruin Brad Holland and they could frustrate UCLA with their patient, disciplined style of play. UCLA didn't play much defense in their two exhibition losses and they'll need to show improvement if they're going to beat San Diego. Look for Steve Lavin to try both man and zone defenses against San Diego, and maybe do some pressing as well, since Smith is playing his first college road game.
A big factor, as it will be during the course of the Bruins season, will be rebounding. One aspect of UCLA that also jumped out in its two exhibition games: The Bruins are not nearly as athletic as everyone always assumes a Bruin team is. They're still considerably more athletic than the Toreros, though. The rebounding issue should be interesting; while San Diego has a definite advantage in the middle with Keep, UCLA has a big size advantage at every other position. Nevada out-rebounded the Toreros 42-38 in Saturday's game, and you would think UCLA should be able to beat San Diego on the boards.
If UCLA doesn't play with considerably more effort than they showed against Branch West and EA Sports, San Diego will give them a game. The Toreros are the hard-nosed, disciplined kind of team – with a good presence inside – that you would think might give UCLA trouble. They are easily the best team in the powder puff category on UCLA's early non-conference schedule, being clearly better than Long Beach State, Portland or Northern Arizona (and they're probably even better than Michigan, who are 0-3 and looking pretty bad). But if UCLA turns up the intensity, and plays unselfishly, the Bruins have oodles of more talent and should be able to handle San Diego.