After suffering their first loss of the season last night, the UCLA Bruins return to action late this afternoon when they take on the Georgia Bulldogs in the 3rd place game of the Legends Classic in Brooklyn, New York.
As I was going through my game notes of both the Bruin loss to Georgetown and Georgia’s game against top-ranked Indiana, I was finalizing the two or three things that I thought hurt the Bruins against the Hoyas and what I felt the Bruins would face against Georgia tonight. However, Tracy Pierson’s game review came out and pretty much covered the portion of what went wrong for the Bruins last evening.
As the game review pointedly mentioned, Georgetown is not an athletically elite squad, although they were significantly more athletic than what I predicted in the game preview. Certainly that athleticism caused UCLA issues when the Bruins were on defense, but the Bruins truly suffered on the offensive end because of Georgetown’s length. While the Bruins struggled to get any sort of penetration in their zone offense, the shots they did take were often challenged and altered because Hoyas Coach John Thompson played his personnel in a way that maximized what he was trying to accomplish on the court, namely force the Bruins into contested outside shots and then own the defensive boards.
The shots were contested because Georgetown switched to a basic 2-3 zone. As the game review already stated, the Bruins struggled with that zone all game. Think about it: when the Hoyas were in a man defense, the Bruins were ahead 24-20 and after a slow start looked for all the world like they would start to pull away from the Hoyas before the half.
BRO has written extensively about Coach Ben Howland’s use of Josh Smith, how he should use the Wear brothers and the type of defense Howland should use. The last one is of particular significance. While it is understandable that Howland wants to stick with man defense for the season, he can’t have helped but seen how Georgetown’s length was able to make a basic 2-3 zone very effective against a team with good offensive talent. UCLA has the same kind of length on its roster. However, before I digress further, the point is that questions of Howland’s use of personnel and defensive schemes may continue all season. That isn’t the point of this game preview, which is to make an educated guess how UCLA’s opponent will try to exploit Bruin weaknesses and conversely how UCLA will attack that opponent’s weaknesses.
Georgetown’s athleticism really hurt the Bruins. Georgia is also an athletic squad. However, there are some significant differences. First off, Coach Mark Fox’s roster is not filled with the kind of length of Georgetown. Second, and this could prove to be decisive, Georgetown proved to be a very disciplined team for much of last night’s game. Georgia tends to play out of control often, taking unnecessary chances on both ends of the floor. In all honesty, Georgia had Indiana for the taking last night but ill-advised shots on the offensive end coupled with a lack of discipline on the defensive end allowed Indiana to get to the half with several of its top players, including Cody Zeller, in foul trouble. When Indiana was able to put its best players out on the floor for much of the second half, the Hoosiers methodically pulled away from the Bulldogs.
Fox, who Bruin fans should be somewhat familiar with from his days at Nevada, is a smart coach who will undoubtedly have seen the effect Georgetown’s defense had on the Bruins. Georgia will run a 2-3 against the Bruins -- bank on it. The differences are that Georgia will not keep its shape integrity like Georgetown and, this is key, the Bulldogs don’t have the ability to alter shots like Georgetown does.
The Bulldogs do have some players who can hurt the Bruins, specifically in the backcourt. Sophomore Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (6’5” 205 lbs.) and senior Vincent Williams (6’0” 165 lbs.) are both capable of putting up points, especially Caldwell-Pope. His size and length will present the Bruin defenders with some difficulties. The good news for the Bruins is that Caldwell-Pope hasn’t met a shot he doesn’t like and will just as easily shoot his team out of the game as get hot and carry it.
Williams is a solid, not great point guard who will be a much easier match-up for a hobbled Larry Drew II than Georgetown’s Markel Starks was last night. Williams doesn’t have the strength to bother Drew like Starks did. Williams also has moments where he has real difficulty protecting the ball.
Georgia struggles up front, especially on the boards. The Bulldogs are being outrebounded by a whopping 9 RPG. In fact, Caldwell-Pope is also their leading rebounder. Sophomore Nemanja Djurisic (6’8” 230) and junior Marcus Thornton (6’8” 235 lbs.) are the only frontcourt players rebounding with any regularity, averaging 5.5 RPG and 4 RPG respectively. Junior Donte’ Williams (6’9” 225 lbs.) is also solid but is just getting his legs back after missing two games earlier this season.
Another difference between Georgetown and Georgia is the ability of the Hoya post players to step out and hit outside shots. Other than Djurisic, Georgia’s roster doesn’t have post players that can do that.
When I was writing the game preview for the Georgetown game I had this little voice in the back of my head that told me Georgetown’s length was going to bother the Bruins. I ignored that voice, being caught up in the football team’s win over USC and the impending debut of Shabazz Muhammad. I have searched my notes and Georgia’s roster for signs of a similar issue, but there just isn’t one there. Certainly the Bruins can lose the game, especially if they let last night’s loss emotionally linger. Georgia does have an athletic advantage and if the Bruins start slow, that could prove costly. However, outside of that athletic advantage, the Bulldogs don’t possess the same kind of weapons to hurt the Bruins the way that Georgetown did.
This is a must-win game for the Bruins, who came to New York realistically looking for a split of the two games. However, the Bruins were hoping to have the chance to prove themselves against Indiana tonight. As it is, while the Bruins are still looking for a victory over a BCS conference opponent, Georgia may not be as good as UC Irvine. That in and of itself may be the biggest reason why tonight’s game is so critical for the Bruins.
Although Georgia will try and get out on the break, they will try and slow down the game in the halfcourt if the break isn’t there. That’s assuming they don’t take ill-advised shots. In that way, the game will mirror last night’s. Still, I simply can’t see how Georgia’s ability to attack the Bruin weaknesses is truly going to hurt. The one obvious area is if the Bruins simply don’t show up focused.
Here’s guessing (and that’s what it is at this point) that the Bruins do show up. I picked UCLA to win last night 70-61. At least I got the Bruin half of the score correct. Let’s stick with the same score.