Stanford Preview

There are many things that point to a UCLA victory tonight against Stanford, a decimated team playing above its capability. But it's near-impossible to predict how the state of the program will continue to affect the Bruins' performance...

 

UCLA travels to Stanford in a very interesting matchup.  It's interesting since UCLA is a team with some good talent that is playing far below its capability. Stanford, on the other hand, has had its talent coffers raided, but have been successful this season by playing at their utmost capability.

 

The biggest factor in this game – or any UCLA game for the remainder of the season – is how the distractions and state of the UCLA program will affect the team's play.  It's impossible to predict game by game.  Actually, though, as the year rolls on, it's getting more predictable. In recent years, it was tough to predict since the roller coaster definitely had its extreme peaks and valley. Now, this year, it seems the rollercoaster is riding along in the valleys.

 

But still, who knows with this team?  If you were going to pick a game coming up on UCLA's schedule that you would foresee as one where they might play up to their capability, play well and win, the Stanford game might be it.

 

The environment will be an improvement.  This UCLA team has to relish getting back on the road. Their last wins were on the road, blowouts against the Washington schools.  They hear boos on the road, but road boos are easier to take than Pauley Pavilion boos. 

 

UCLA, also, has in recent years saved many of its best-played games for Stanford's Maples Pavilion. Last year they upset then-#10 Stanford there.  The year before it upset then #1-ranked Stanford there. The year before that it also upset then #1-ranked Stanford in overtime.

 

Those wins in the last three years have been considerable season boosters, coming at a time UCLA needed a win the most, such as it does right now, having lost four in a row and coming off the worst loss in Pauley Pavilion history against Arizona.

 

Stanford, too, has a roster that's been decimated this year for various reasons, and, as a result, it could be the least-talented team UCLA has faced since the Washington road trip, and very well could be the least talented team they'll see the rest of the season.  Stanford lost two players to the NBA early, Curtis Borchardt and Casey Jacobsen.  They lost a key component of their team, sophomore forward Teyo Johnson, to NFL draft preparation. They lost their starting point guard, sophomore Chris Hernandez, who's out for the season with a broken foot.  And recently they lost perhaps one of the best emerging players in the conference, junior forward Justin Davis, who has been sidelined now for three weeks with an MCL injury in his knee. This has left Stanford with just 9 scholarship players, many playing out of position, and little or no bench.

 

How this team has put together a 12-5 record and has beaten teams like Gonzaga, Florida and Oregon is truly a testament to how good a coach Stanford's Mike Montgomery is.

He's been doing it by utilizing his schemes to maximize the talent he has left on the team, while also getting the Cardinal to play very hard.

 

Without Davis, Stanford has turned to other players to carry the load, particularly 6-7 sophomore small forward Josh Childress and 6-2 senior guard Julius Barnes. 

 

Childress is having a very good sophomore campaign, averaging almost 14 points and 8 rebounds a game. He is perhaps the best rebounding small forward in the Pac-10. The knock on Childress coming out of high school was his toughness, but playing for Montgomery has toughened him up.  He can score in a variety of ways, off the dribble, slashing to the basket, getting putbacks or hitting the three.  His athleticism has continued to improve and he's even more explosive off the floor than he was as a freshman.  A great matchup will be Childress against UCLA's Dijon Thompson, two players who know each other very well and have been somewhat rivals since high school, and whose talents have constantly been compared. 

 

Julius Barnes is a bit of an enigma. He leads the team in scoring, averaging 14.1 points a game, but he can hurt Stanford sometimes just as much as he helps them.  He's very quick and very athletic, with some stupendous hops for a 6-2ish guard.  He also uses his quickness to blow by defenders and break them down in the half court.  When his three-point shot is going down, it makes him hard to defend.  He, though, is best suited as an off guard, but has been forced to play the point because of the loss of Hernandez.  This has put the ball in Barnes's hands a little too much at times, and he has a tendency to make mistakes and bad decisions. When he goes on a string where he makes the right decisions, Barnes is talented enough to single-handedly beat his opponent. When he makes mistakes, he can hamper Stanford considerably.  

 

Moving Barnes to the point has then put backup shooting guard, junior Matt Lottich, in the starting five, and he's taken advantage of his opportunity.  Lottich has stepped up admirably, averaging about 10 points a game and being the first option on the Cardinal team from behind the three point line, shooting 42% from three.  He started out the season inconsistent offensively, but looks to have settled down. He's hit 17 of 30 threes in his past four games.  Lottich also provides quite a bit of fire and hustle.

 

Starting inside at center is 6-9 sophomore Rob Little, who has vastly improved from his freshman year. In just 22 minutes a game, he's averaging 9 points and 6 rebounds. He's a big body, not particularly athletic, but is good at using that body for positioning and defense.  He could be tough for a UCLA team that has struggled against big bodies this year.

 

Stepping into the starting role to replace Davis is 6-6 sophomore wing Nick Robinson. Robinson is considered an old man on this team, being 23, having completed his two-year Mormon mission before returning to Stanford. He's out of position playing power forward, at just 200 pounds, but he is a scrapper on defense, and offensively he's getting more comfortable in the paint, getting a double-double against Oregon recently. 

 

As of yesterday, at Stanford's practice, it was still uncertain whether Davis would play Thursday. He did practice, but in a limited capacity.  The Stanford doctor will check Davis' knee for soreness and mobility today to see if he can play.  Even if he does, you wouldn't expect him to start, and it would be surprising if he played significant minutes. Davis, before the injury, was evolving in his junior year into one of the best up-and-coming players in the conference. He's always been athletic, and a good rebounder, but this season his offense had made some considerable progress, particularly in his post moves.  But you can't expect much from him Thursday, if at all.

 

That leaves very little on Stanford's bench. Junior Joe Kirchofer is a big body that comes in to give some fouls.  Then Stanford is forced to utilize its three freshmen.  Center Matt Haryasz is talented, and a good shot blocker, but needs to develop and get stronger physically.  Guards Jason Haas and Dan Grunfeld provide very limited minutes. Grunfeld is good for maybe a three off the bench.

 

Stanford tripped up last Saturday when they lost to Washington on the road, 73-69. Washington pushed the tempo, got many points in transition, and wore down the thin Cardinal. Barnes made a bad decision in the last few seconds of that game that contributed to the loss.

 

But even though Stanford is without a great deal of the talent it might have had, they still have talent, and they play sound basketball and play hard.  It was good enough to throttle then #10-ranked Oregon at Maples by 24 points a couple of weeks ago, and that was without Davis.  They did it by playing strong defense and some of their players, namely Barnes and Lottich, getting hot. 

 

It will probably come down to the same thing Thursday. If Stanford plays sound defense, which you can expect, and then gets hot offensively, the Cardinal could be too much for a demoralized Bruin team.  But, like we've said at least a few times this year, this is a game that, in recent years, UCLA would come in and win.  But again, this might be a different year.


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