The UCLA Bruins are in Sin City for the Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational to take on the Nevada Wolf Pack on Thursday and the Northwestern Wildcats on Friday. This is the first true measure for UCLA as the up-tempo Bruins get to test their mettle in a tournament environment. Even though the teams are set, they are going need to be ready for anything and everything in back-to-back games. So without further ado, let us meet the opposition.
Nevada Wolf Pack
Conference: Mountain West
The Wolf Pack are not necessarily the first big test for the Bruins, but they are part of the first big test with the Invitational. Nevada is starting the season under fifth year coach David Carter, who is 77-61 with the Wolf Pack. After finishing last year 12-19, Carter and The Pack look to improve things in Reno as they rally around senior guard, Deonte Burton who is averaging 24.5 points per game this season. After him, only three other Nevada players are scoring above 10 points or more per game: Michael Perez (11.0), Cole Huff (10.8) and Jerry Evans, Jr. (10.0).
As for the Nevada defense, well, they are allowing 74.3 points a game, which will generally be considered bad since they only score 72.8. Compare that to the fact that UCLA averages 87.2 points per game and you can see how this is trouble…for the Wolf Pack. Bottom line, if the Bruins can limit the Wolf Pack’s scoring chances, especially Burton, then barring a huge meltdown, UCLA should come out of this contest unscathed.
Northwestern is a team that could surprise the Bruins. Lead by head coach Chris Collins in his first year, the Wildcats are only allowing 62.0 points per game while putting up 70.3 themselves. They are a group of good passers with the mind set for good positioning. And boy, can some of them shoot!
This team has the guys to get it done, especially, Drew Crawford who is a 6’5” senior guard/forward that is scoring 16.3 points and grabbing 8.0 rebounds per game. The Wildcats also have a supporting cast that looks to make a bigger impact against the Bruins than what the Nevada Wolf Pack has to offer. JerShon Cobb is a guy the Bruins have to spot up because he can just as easily pulls down his averages of 12.8 points and 5.0 rebounds per game. Against the University of Illinois, Chicago, junior guard Dave Sobolewski got his career-high of 25 points as he helped lead Northwestern to a 93-58 victory. If the Bruins can muster up some defense, any at all, they should be fine, but once they let the Wildcats start draining shots from beyond the arc, it could be real trouble for the Bruins.
What To Look For
The Bruin defense. For example, Nevada’s Deonte Burton will have the ball in his hands a lot and UCLA will need to put one or two guys on him the entire game, but that is the question, who is the lock down defender? The Bruins are going to need someone to step up and take away the opposition’s most talented player from time to time and this week’s Invitational is the first time UCLA will see that.
Right now, Norman Powell would be the guy to get in the opposition’s face, but with his breakout style of offense that is allowing him to produce the likes of windmill slam dunks, he will exert a lot of energy. So is there anyone else? Well, Jordan Adams is leading the Bruins with 3.4 steals per game, but he usually plays off the ball. His quickness in space allows him to defend with ferocity, but he is not a game stopper. Although they are identifying themselves as an offensive threat, they need to address the lapse in defense. Someone else needs to step up, even if it is for a short stretch. Well, it is almost game time, Go Bruins and Happy Thanksgiving!