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
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
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.
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
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
As of yesterday, at Stanford's practice, it was still uncertain whether
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
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
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.