Duke Preview

The UCLA basketball team, in recent years, has always answered an underachieving effort against an inferior opponent with a big effort against a highly ranked team. Will this year's team have that same bounce-back ability against Duke on Saturday?

The UCLA Bruins (0-1) face the #6 Duke Blue Devils (2-0) in the Wooden Tradition event in Indianapolis today at 10:00 a.m. PST.


UCLA comes into this game needing a good showing after losing its two exhibition games and its first regular season game against San Diego on Tuesday.


Even though Duke is rated as a top ten team, it would still be considered somewhat of a rebuilding year for the Blue Devils.  Duke lost its three best players from last year to the NBA – Jason Williams, Mike Dunleavy and Carlos Boozer.   Many expected Duke to suffer some growing pains this season as it broke in a new flock of highly-touted freshmen.


But the Duke freshmen have been impressive in their two victories.  Shavlik Randolph, a wide-shouldered 6-10 center with very good skills has stepped right in and picked up the slack. In his first two college games he's averaging nearly 21 points a game and 9.5 rebounds.  Also starting for the Blue Devils is big, athletic 6-9 freshman power forward Shelden Williams, who has averaged 9 points and 5.5 boards.


Duke's starting five is rounded out by 6-6 senior swingman Dahntay Jones, and its two guards, junior Chris Duhon and sophomore Daniel Ewing. 


Duhon has been tapped as the pre-season ACC player of the year. In Duke's 15-point win over Davidson last week, Duhon had 20 points, 8 rebounds, and 10 assists with only one turnover.  Duhon and Ewing, who is averaging 10 points in two games, are both combo guards who can shoot from the outside very well, have good quickness and ability to take defenders off the dribble.


Jones is very athletic with pretty raw skills. He gets out on a break really well, and he is good at posting up his defender, but has an inconsistent jumper and tends to turn the ball over quite a bit when he tries to put it on the floor. 


Coming off the bench is another wave of some very serious Duke talent.  The scariest, in terms of the matchup with UCLA, is probably 6-2 freshman  shooting guard J.J. Redick. He came into college touted as probably the best prep outside shooter in the nation, and he's shown why in his first two games. He's averaging 14.5 points and three 3s in his first two games, in an average of 25 minutes.


Duke also has some large subs that come off the bench so there's no dropoff in size,  in 6-10 senior Casey Sanders and 6-9 freshman Michael Thompson.


So, Duke has a frontcourt rotation of 6-10 Randolph, 6-9 Williams, 6-10 Sanders and 6-9 Thompson.  Williams and Thompson both weigh about 250 pounds.


The matchup problems for UCLA are pretty obvious. Showing it was pretty vulnerable to a strong inside game when San Diego's Jason Keep owned the Bruins on Tuesday, you would assume that the Bruins would have problems with Duke's big, deep frontline.  UCLA was out-rebounded by San Diego 49-31, and it's going to be at least as challenging to rebound against Duke today.


Duke also, as always, loves to extend defenses and shoot from long distance, which also opens up the middle for its big men.  Duhon will pull up from anywhere within 25 feet, and Reddick is one of those scary automatic type shooters, and Ewing is good from long distance, too.  The combination of a strong inside presence and a good outside shooting ability looks to be tough for UCLA to defend, something we've seen before. Perhaps what we haven't seen before with this UCLA team is trying to defend against quick guards who can penetrate. It's another added problem that UCLA will have to contend with.


There are some chinks in Duke's armor. It's the first college road game of the year for Duke, and the first ever for Duke's freshmen, which could lead to some jitters and some awkwardness, at least early.  Duke didn't exactly dominate a scrappy Davidson team, and while they play the same speed, penetrate-and-kick game they always have, they didn't execute it as well as they have in the past.  But if you give Duke, even a young Duke team, enough chances, they'll put the ball in the basket, and UCLA gave up 21 offensive rebounds to San Diego.


UCLA, in recent years, has had a tendency to lose, or come close to losing, to teams you naturally think they should beat, like San Diego. But they also, in recent years, have bounced back to beat the likes of Kansas, Stanf

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