The Bruins currently sit with a record of 4-7 and will be looking to the Delaware State game as a springboard to a potentially successful Pac-10 Conference season.
UCLA is coming off a win against Colorado State in a game where the Bruins played poorly for much of the contest but then closed out the game with perhaps their best eleven-minute stretch of the year. Delaware State is 4-5 on the season but is winless in their last four, all of which have been on the road. Three of those games have come against major conference teams Arkansas, Arizona State and Ohio State. The games against the Razorbacks and the Sun Devils were blowouts but the game against the Buckeyes was closer than the final 16-point spread would indicate. Ohio State was, of course, missing their best player, Evan Turner, and they are definitely a weaker team without him. The fourth loss in this latest stretch for the Hornets was at Maryland-Eastern Shore.
As is the case with the Bruins in every game, the question being asked in this game is about the Bruins' effort. That question was true against Colorado State and the Bruins appeared ready to answer the effort question with a resounding thud until the final eleven minutes. UCLA has the Arizona schools coming to Los Angeles this coming weekend so it's important that the Bruins gain some momentum going into Thursday night's game against Arizona State.
Coach Greg Jackson has had a fine career at DSU, having the Hornets consistently in the mix for the MEAC title. The trouble for Jackson is, like most MEAC or SWAC teams, the Hornets don't have much size. However, the Hornets do have some talent, mainly in the form of seniors Marcus Neal (6'5" 220 lbs.) and Frisco Sandidge (6'6' 210 lbs.). Neal is the primary outside threat for the Hornets while Sandidge does his damage down on the low block. Neal leads the team in scoring at 13.2 PPG and is second in rebounding at 3.9 RPG while Sandidge is second in scoring at 12.4 PPG and leads the Hornets in rebounding at 6.4 RPG. They both are above average free-throw shooters and they have combined to shoot almost half of Delaware State's total shots from the floor. However, they are very different players. Neal has taken more than half of the team's total of 125 three-point shots this season while Sandidge has only attempted 2 total shots from beyond the arc, missing both. On the other hand, Neal doesn't get to the free-throw line, having only 14 free throw attempts this season while Sandidge leads the team with 42 free-throw attempts.
The key to beating DSU and winning a blow-out is shutting down one or both of these seniors. Based on UCLA's preferred line-up and DSU's other starters, it appears that Malcolm Lee will be given the assignment of stopping Neal. While Lee is playing with more confidence, he is clearly becoming Coach Ben Howland's best defensive player and shut down Colorado State's Dorian Green last Tuesday. Green is a more complete player than Neal although Neal is a bigger threat from beyond the arc. The key for Lee will be getting through the screens that DSU will set to get Neal some open looks. It would benefit Lee immeasurably to force Neal to put the ball on the floor. One point about Lee is that even with the team's uneven start and Lee's own personal offensive struggles from time to time, his defense has gotten better as the season has gone on. That has always been the sign of a good Howland-coached team, one that plays good defense regardless of what happens at the other end of the floor. Perhaps the other Bruins will consistently do the same thing as the Bruins enter conference play.
Sandidge presents a different challenge altogether. He is stronger than he looks and is quite quick. He actually gave Ohio State fits in their last game and the Bruins appear to be at a disadvantage when trying to find someone to guard him. Mike Roll certainly gives the effort and is savvy, but he isn't quick enough to stay with Sandidge when he faces the basket on the low block. Nikola Dragovic definitely has the size and strength to bother Sandidge but Sandidge owns a huge quickness advantage against the him. It appears the only Bruin that has the combination of size and quickness that would really bother Sandidge is Tyler Honeycutt. Because of this, while Howland has yet to play Honeycutt big minutes yet this season, this might be the game best suited to do it.
Jackson actually plays eleven of his players at least five minutes per game, but really looks to only four other players beyond his two seniors. Of those four, two of them provide the only bulk that Jackson has on his roster. Senior Greg Smith (6'7" 245 lbs.) and sophomore James Marcellus (6'8" 230 lbs.) provide the only real "beef" on the low block. They combine for over 25 MPG but statistically they only provide 6 PPG and 3 RPG in their combined floor time. Don't be surprised if Reeves Nelson gets a lot of touches in this game and has his first 20-point game of his young UCLA career. He is simply better and more relentless than the Hornets he'll be matched up against.
The final two players for the Bruins to worry about are sophomore point guard Jay Threatt (5'11" 170 lbs.) and freshman Alibaba Odd (6'3" 200 lbs.). Threatt plays more minutes than any other Hornet and has a nice 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He is very quick and that's the kind of guard that has given the Bruins fits this season. However, unlike some of the other jitterbugs the Bruins have faced, Threatt is a horrible outside shooter. Jerime Anderson should be told to play off of Threatt and force him to shoot from the outside. With Derek Glasser of ASU on deck on Thursday it's time for Anderson to now step up his game on the defensive end like he did with his offensive game in the last part of the Colorado State game. Anderson really is the key to the season; when he plays with confidence, as he did in the last part of Tuesday's game, then the Bruins are capable of being one of the top three teams in the Pac-10. We've all seen what the Bruins are capable of when he doesn't play with confidence.
True freshman Odd may be the most naturally gifted Hornet. He's third on the team in scoring at 8.1 PPG and he's the only Hornet shooting better than 50% from the floor. He can hit from both inside and out and he's quick enough and strong enough to get to the rack. He comes from renowned Simon Gratz High School in Philadelphia so he's used to playing in high-pressure situations. The problem with Odd is that he is a turnover machine. His assist-to-turnover ratio is almost the direct opposite of Threatt's. Still, he is the one player on DSU who is capable of "going off" because of his athleticism.
Jackson will almost certainly use a variety of zone defenses to slow down the Bruins and he will pressure as the Bruins bring the ball up the floor. The Hornets run an unusual system in that they will put ball pressure on the opposition in the backcourt but then drop into a solid zone defense when the opposition gets into the offensive half of the court. They try and cause turnovers but then force you to really run your offense in order to get good shots. Offensively the Hornets look to use the shot clock to shorten games against better opposition. Jackson generally knows what he's going to get from his team on the offensive end regardless of who the opponent is so it has been the defense that has dictated DSU's success or lack thereof. In all of DSU's losses, especially the blowouts, the opposition has been able to shoot well from the outside, thus pulling the Hornets out of their preferred zone defenses. The Bruins will get good outside looks and it will be up to them to make DSU pay for their lack of size and length. In particular, watch and see if Dragovic can put up two straight solid scoring games in a row.
Delaware State 49