Josh Huestis (24) and Dwight Powell (33) Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
The UCLA Bruins (18-7, 8-4 Pac-12) have to pick themselves up off the mat after getting knocked out cold by the California Golden Bears on Thursday, 76-63.
Ben Howland’s squad will make the trek across the Bay to visit the Stanford Cardinal (15-10, 6-6 Pac-12) at Maples Pavilion on Saturday, and the Bruins better be ready. The matchup, which is essentially a must-win for UCLA’s fading conference title hopes, is slated for a 1 PM PST tip-off and will be televised on ESPN2.
Stanford is coming off a gut-wrenching 65-64 loss to Southern Cal, a contest that saw the Trojans nearly blow a 14-point second half lead before slamming the door shut. Statistically, the Cardinal matched USC in nearly every category, but a paltry 33.3 percent mark from the free-throw line did them in.
With UCLA coming to town, Stanford will have to ramp up the intensity if the Card hopes to avenge a 68-60 loss at Pauley Pavilion back in January. The last time these two teams met in Palo Alto, Stanford bested the Bruins 60-59 after Lazeric Jones clanked the potential game-winner off front iron at the buzzer.
This time around, UCLA will be looking to get back on track and head home to LA with a split in Northern California. But before the Bruins can celebrate a victory, they’ll have to get past these Cardinal ballers. Here are three players to watch in Saturday’s nationally-televised showdown.
F Dwight Powell
If there is one Stanford player keeping Howland up at night, it has to be forward Dwight Powell. The 6’10”, 235-pound junior from Toronto is an absolute machine on the glass, averaging 8.3 rebounds per game for the Cardinal. In Stanford’s loss to the Trojans on Thursday, Powell pulled down 17 boards to go with his 17 points on 7-of-13 shooting.
Given how poorly UCLA has rebounded this season, Powell could be the deciding factor in Saturday’s matchup. And to make matters worse, he does a lot more than crash the boards. Powell also averages 15.2 PPG and shoots a respectable 78.3 percent from the charity stripe. Unless the Bruins can perfect their box-out skills, Powell will have his way with the soft UCLA frontcourt.
F Josh Huestis
Alongside Powell in Stanford’s frontcourt is Josh Huestis, a junior forward from Great Falls, Mont. that could be just as lethal on Saturday. Huestis measures in at 6’7″ and 230 pounds, but he can rebound and bang in the paint with the best of them.
Huestis averages 10.2 PPG and 9.3 RPG to go with 2.1 blocks per game, making him a big-play threat in almost every possible situation. On Thursday versus USC, Huestis went off for 22 points on 10-of-13 shooting from the field. In case math isn’t your strong suit, that’s a field goal percentage of 76.9. That’s downright filthy.
But the good news for the Bruins is that Huestis was basically a non-factor in the teams’ first meeting, as he only managed seven points on 3-of-11 shooting. However, Huestis did haul in 10 rebounds in that game, which could be reason enough to fear him in the rematch.
G Chasson Randle
Last but not least is Chasson Randle, a sophomore guard plenty capable of getting buckets. At 6’1″ and 180 pounds, the Rock Island, Ill. native won’t scare anyone with his size, but opponents better take notice nonetheless.
Randle posts 13.7 PPG on average, as well as 3.0 RPG and 2.8 assists per game. And while those numbers don’t jump off the screen at you, they are certainly worthy of a mention. Randle doesn’t shoot at an exceptional rate from the field (38.3 percent), but he does get to the free-throw line often and makes it count (79.4 percent).
As has been made abundantly clear, the Cardinal’s biggest threat to UCLA comes in the frontcourt. But if there is a Stanford player to watch for in the backcourt, it’s undoubtedly Randle.