Tomorrow night, our UCLA Bruins Men’s Basketball squad (13-10, 6-5 in-conference) will get a rematch, at home, against the Stanford Cardinal (16-7, 6-5 in-conference). Last time the two teams met, Stanford was at the top of the conference (now tied for sixth with, guess who, UCLA) and edged out the Bruins in Palo Alto by a score of 60-59.
This time, things are a little different. After starting the season incredibly hot, Stanford has fallen quite a bit and have lost four out of their last five contests. UCLA has a chance to pounce on the reeling Cardinal this time around, especially with a record of 6-3 at home and 4-0 at home in conference play.
Here are some things to watch for:
Our bigs. It’s no known secret that UCLA boasts one of the best front-courts in the Pac-12, if not the best front-court in the Pac-12. That is, when Josh Smith gets going — as he did against Washington and Washington State last weekend — and when the Wear Twins are playing smart basketball. The issue is getting these guys up in the morning to play defense — as Josh Smith has not — and trying to better defend opponents in the paint — which the team, as a whole, has not done. Which leads us to the next point …
Where the f*** is the defense? Currently, our beloved UCLA Bruins rank 10th in opponents’ field goal percentage. Tenth. TENTH. OUT OF 12! That’s incredibly disheartening, but it’s not something that’s irreparable. Throughout the entire year, Ben Howland’s biggest struggle has been against himself, as he’s had a hard time moving from his signature man defense to a zone defense. I know why it takes a ton of pride for coaches to move to zone — it’s a signal to the offense that our team has holes to cover defensively and the mismatches are abundant. Playing man requires some serious athleticism at every position, and our guards — key to a Ben Howland-coached team — just won’t make it defensively. If UCLA plays zone against the Cardinal for a good majority of the game, and if Howland mixes up his defensive strategy to throw them off, this could be over before it starts.
How we play ball late in games. Four of five of our in-conference losses have all been the byproduct of shoddy late-minute second halves. The way we play for nearly 90 percent of a contest usually evaporates when the time starts ticking away from five minutes or less. Down the stretches of games, turnovers and gassed players have been our downfall; that was the case when we lost our first in-conference game to Stanford, and that’s the case now, after losing a heart-breaker to best-in-the-conference Washington last weekend. This team generally doesn’t choke at home, but with the inconsistency that this damn team suffers from, what does it matter?