If there's a weak spot in the Bruin lineup, it's not apparent. The 2006-07 version of the UCLA squad reminds of some of the great John Wooden teams. Excellent passers, sticky defenders, good shooters and fundamentally sound.
It starts in the backcourt, where Darren Collison (So., 6-0, 165 lbs.) directs the attack. He has an eye-popping 131 assists, shoots 53.1% from the field (including 49.3% from long range, and has 51 steals to lead the team. His 13.0 points per game, coupled with excellent floor leadership, makes him one of the most underrated points in the country. Collison injured a shoulder against USC, and if he can't go, backup Russell Westbrook (Fr., 6-3, 185 lbs.) will likely step in. He has averaged 3.9 points in just under ten minutes per game this year.
Aaron Afflalo (Jr., 6-5, 215 lbs.) had a bad outing in West Virginia's win at Pauley Pavilion last year, and will likely have a bit of extra motivation this time out. He will be a handful for Alex Ruoff to guard when WVU goes man, and will likely try to go inside when the Mountaineers are in that set. Although he has launched 61 more threes than anyone else on the team (making 39.2% of them), he also has the ability to score off the dribble. His 17.0 points per game leads the team.
Swingman Josh Shipp is another player who will present problems for West Virginia on the defensive end. His 13.2 points per game are weighted toward an inside game, as just 72 of his 290 points have come from long range. He gets to the basket well, and drops in 80% of his free throw tries. The third Bruin averaging in double figures, Shipp (So., 6-5, 220 lbs.) will be a player the Mountaineers will have to check off the boards on both ends.
On the front line, Lorenzo Mata and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute form an imposing tandem. Mata (Jr., 6-9, 240 lbs.) averages 6.3 points and 5.3 rebounds per game, and leads the team with 26 blocks from his center spot. Forward Mbah a Moute (Sp., 6-8, 230 lbs.) scores 9.2 points and rips down eight rebounds per contest. The pair is a perfect complement to the UCLA backcourt, as they excel on the offensive boards with an array of impressive physical skills (not that the Bruins miss all that much from the outside), and provide a defensive backstop in the lane.
One final note about the starters: they combine to shoot 51.1% from the field.
Off the bench, Michael Roll (So., 6-5, 200 lbs.) and Alfred Aboya (So., 6-8, 235 lbs.) get the most minutes. Roll, a swingman, combines with Shipp to play at either the guard or forward spots, and contributes 5.3 points per outing. He is also third on the team in three-point attempts. Aboya contributes 3.8 points and 4.3 rebounds in relief of the M and M guys, and there's not much drop-off when he is on the floor.
If there was any doubt about shooting being the key for West Virginia, it was certainly dispelled in Wednesday night's loss to Pitt.
|Sat Feb 10|
WVU 18-5, 7-4
UCLA 21-2, 10-2
|Sirius Channel: 123|
WVU - 45
UCLA - 1
On the flip side, WVU has some impressive numbers upon which to hang it collective hats, earmuffs and scarves when it shoots well. The Mountaineers are 44-13 under John Beilein when hitting 10 or more 3-point field goals in a game. They have reached that level 13 times this year, and as a result have 18 wins to show for it. It doesn't really matter if WVU gets outrebounded, gives up more free throws or has fewer steals than its foes. If it shoots well, it's going to be in the game, and have a chance to win it. That's the key in most games, and it will certainly be so against the Bruins, who typically light up the nets in their own right.
One other stat to watch is the total number of shots taken. Typically, WVU gets a few more shots away than its foes, even with the number of offensive rebounds it gives up. That's because the Mountaineers, as we have detailed here before, make up that difference with fewer turnovers, and thus get more chances on the offensive end. That will have to be the case against the Bruins, who will certainly be burning for a bit of revenge after giving up an unexpected home loss to the Mountaineers last year.
If you are looking to track this stat, grab a pad of paper and a pen before the game. Put down on mark for each possession each team gets. Then circle the ones where the team doesn't get a shot off (turnovers, offensive fouls, etc.). If WVU can come out with an advantage of, say, 6-8 possessions where it gets shots away, and gets at least that many more shots than UCLA, it will have a reasonable chance of winning the game. But if, and only if, it shoots the ball well.
WVU: Joe Mazzulla (Thigh) Doubtful, Devan Bawinkel (Hand) Out
UCLA: Darren Collison (Shoulder) Questionable
One line of thinking has it that UCLA will be bothered by the early start (early, at least, as defined by their body clocks) at West Virginia. The game tips at 1:00 p.m. Eastern, but that is 10:00 a.m. by West Coast standards. However, this isn't the first time the Bruins will get an early start, as they are 3-1 this season in games that tip-off prior to noon. The Bruins handed then sixth-ranked Texas A&M a 65-62 loss in an 11:30 a.m. tip-off at Honda Center in the John R. Wooden Classic on Dec. 9. UCLA later crushed Michigan 92-55 with an 11:00 a.m. tip in Pauley Pavilion on Dec. 23. Then the Bruins lost an 11:00 a.m. game 68-66 at 16th-ranked Oregon on Jan. 6. But the Bruins won their last morning game, a 65-64 win at USC in an 11:30 a.m. tip-off at Galen Center on Jan. 13. UCLA will also face Arizona in a 10:00 a.m. (PST) clash at Arizona on CBS (Feb. 17).
* * *
This is UCLA's first visit to the Coliseum, but head coach Ben Howland has trekked to West Virginia before as the head coach of the Pitt Panthers. Howland is 5-3 all-time against the Mountaineers.
UCLA is the first Pac-10 team to visit the WVU Coliseum since the Mountaineers played California and Oregon State on back-to-back nights in the Mountaineer Classic in 1973. WVU won both of those games.
WVU is also the last team to defeat UCLA in Pauley Pavilion. The Bruins have won 17 in a row at home since that contest.
* * *
For the first time in his career at West Virginia, John Beilein is facing an injury bug. With two guards sidelined, Beilein has been forced to steal minutes by playing a small lanner (other factors are involved there as well), and by playing walk-on guard Ted Talkington for brief stretches. While those moves have been successful, they also limit some of the tactics Beilein would like to employ, especially with Joe Mazzulla, whose feisty and aggressive nature allow the Mountaineers to play a more aggressive man-to-man. While WVU is not using those injuries as an excuse, there is no doubt that they are having an effect on the team's performance. Getting Mazzulla healthy and back into the rotation will be a big factor in West Virginia's drive for an NCAA bid.
* * *
Frank Young is likely to move up in several season and career rankings against UCLA. The senior forward needs just two three-pointers to pass Steve Berger and move into sixth place on the career longball list. Young has 144 threes in his Mountaineer career. When he makes that second three, he will also pass Mike Gansey for fourth place on the single season three-point list. Gansey had 74 a year ago, while Young currently has 74.
With five more attempts, he will pass former teammate Jo Herber and move into seventh place on the career three-point attempts list.