This is now a critical game for the Bruins and, unlike most previews I have written, this one will focus on where UCLA is and where they are possibly going and how the CSUB game is another step in the process of improvement.
As virtually every reader of BRO now knows, UCLA was simply horrible on offense on Monday night. They shot 5-29 from behind the three-point line, 8-17 from the foul line and 31% from the floor for the game. On top of that, the Bruins made numerous misreads on passes, looked stagnant on offense against a 1-2-2 zone when the game was on the line and, to steal a bit from Coach John Wooden, they weren't quick but they sure did hurry.
UCLA's collective psyche took a hit Monday night and it's good that the young Bruins are facing a team like CSUB after the CSUF loss, and not a team like Kansas. The Bruins have to learn from their mistakes, both individually and as a team, especially on the offensive end of the floor. That is going to mean slowing down, both physically and mentally, valuing each possession like it was their last and shooting with proper form and technique.
CSUB will give the Bruins plenty of options to shoot from the outside as they will start no one over 6'6" and only have three players taller than that on their roster, and two of them don't play much. Coach Keith Brown, who is leading CSUB into Division 1 basketball after being a Division II power for years, still doesn't have a roster that can match up with a solid mid-major, let alone a powerful BCS conference team. That's not to say that the Road Runners don't have any skill; they do, just not enough, and what they do have is small, albeit athletic.
The best player on CSUB is senior "forward" Trent Blakley (6'4", 220 lbs.). He is leading the team in scoring at 19 PPG and is second in rebounding at 7 RPG. He is almost strictly a jump shooter; 16 of his 32 total shots this year have been from behind the arc, where he has made 5. He's only been to the line 2 times, so whichever Bruin is guarding him should close him out and force him to put the ball on the floor. The Bruins generally played good help defense on Monday so Blakley getting into the paint shouldn't be a huge concern.
If Blakley isn't CSUB's best player then senior forward Santwon Latunde (6'6" 262 lbs.), is. As his weight would indicate, he is a load. He is the second-leading scorer for the Road Runners at 18 PPG and is far and away the leading rebounder at 12 RPG. He is most certainly a back-to-the-basket player who knows his limitations (not a good shooter outside of eight feet), and his strengths (he gets to the line a lot). Latunde has been to the line 21 times already this season and has made 16. He will be difficult to handle for any of the Bruin post players simply because of his low center of gravity and his girth. Expect Coach Ben Howland to liberally use double-teams against Latunde because the Bruin "bigs" have a significant height advantage on him and it will be hard for Latunde to see through the double-teams. The most intriguing player on CSUB has got to be freshman point guard Stephon Carter (6'3", 180 lbs.), who has the size and quickness to cause match-up problems. Quite frankly, the Bruins might be better off having Malcolm Lee guard Carter, especially because Jerime Anderson was having trouble against the Fullerton guards and their penetration on Monday. Carter is averaging 10.5 PPG, 4 RPG and 3 APG. He does have 8 turnovers, but the way Brown's offense works, there really isn't a true "point guard," so the assist-to-turnover ratio is probably meaningless. As I stated, Carter is quick and he makes things happen. When things break down on offense for the Road Runners, Carter generally can get his own shot off. He's been to the line 10 times so far this season and hit 9 of the charity shots. The Bruins don't want to sleep on Carter.
CSUB will play three "wings" who are carbon copies of each other. Sophomore Bryan Emanuel (6'2", 200 lbs.) and juniors Donovan Bragg (6'3", 196 lbs.) and George DeLeon, (6'4" 200 lbs.) all average around 4 RPG. Bragg averages 8 PPG, while Emanuel and DeLeon average 4 PPG and 5.5 PPG, respectively. They have all taken roughly the same amount of shots and all three have been pretty poor from the field. They are all shooting below 32% from the floor. They are all threats to shoot the deep ball, but they haven't been good at it yet this season. Bragg and Emanuel start while DeLeon spells both of them.
The final player in CSUB's rotation is their one "tall" player, sophomore Donald Johnson (6'8, 215 lbs.). Johnson is more of a true ‘3' in that he can play on the perimeter and inside. He is being played out of position, however, as the main sub for Latunde and to a certain extent Blakley. Johnson is averaging 4 PPG and 3 RPG, which are pretty good numbers considering he's only playing 13 MPG. Any of the Bruin forwards should be able to match up with him.
It's a good bet that Brown is going to use a zone virtually the entire game against the Bruins. He has a very short team, both in height and length, and he certainly saw the tape of the Bruins' stagnant offense from Monday night. Even if they face a zone, Howland must insist that UCLA pounds the ball inside. There was a play Monday night where Jerime Anderson received a pass on the baseline and then made a left-handed pass into the post for an assist to Drew Gordon. The Bruins must do more of that and not settle for outside shots and hope that they'll fall.
CSUB can play at a faster pace, as evidenced by their 84-81 loss to Santa Clara, but they have also played at a snail's pace, beating Utah Valley 58-51. Pace of the game shouldn't be an issue and with Brown not having a deep rotation (its less deep than the Bruins), I can't see the Road Runners pressing on defense for any length of time. If anything, CSUB should remind people of the Humboldt State game, although they are better than Humboldt. That's because CSUB has serious height issues.
Although UCLA looked more active on offense on Monday than most of last season, they still "brain-cramped" during crunch time, and there is no Darren Collison to bail them out. That's another question that the Bruins must answer and in a hurry; This is the first time since Howland became the coach that UCLA doesn't have a go-to-guy. Even in his first season, when the Bruins finished well below .500, they had Dijon Thompson. Perhaps that player is currently in street clothes (Tyler Honeycutt), or perhaps it will be Lee, but the bottom line is that UCLA has to find someone to rely on and not just as an outside shooter (apologies to Mike Roll).
As Tracy Pierson has written several times, this will be a season of highs and lows for UCLA and its fans. Each game must be considered for what potential improvement it offers the Bruins and what they can gain in experience from each contest. Even Coach Howland may be learning some new things. In his press conference after the Monday night loss he stated that he didn't play the bench enough and that it caused fatigue in his starters by the time the second overtime rolled around. He stated that he would change in that regard (although he stated this several times last season, too, and things really didn't change much). The Bruins should be looking to win, obviously, against CSUB, but they should also be looking to make strides on defense, look to dominate the boards, run a more efficient offense with better shot selection and flow. The Bruins should win and CSUB may very well be the worst team on UCLA's schedule. Howland and the players should look for improvement in this game, and that should be almost as important as getting the victory.