UCLA hosts the Stanford Cardinal on Saturday in what is the final game of the first half of the Pac-10 schedule for both teams. For the Cardinal, the game represents
an opportunity to finish that first half on a strong note and stay in the
discussion for an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament. For UCLA, the game,
surprisingly (considering the losses to ASU and UDub), offers the Bruins the
chance to finish the first half of the conference season in first place in the
Pac-10. UCLA is coming off an impressive and perhaps morale-boosting win over
California, while Stanford is coming off a heart wrenching one point loss to
Stanford enters the game with a record of 13-5, 3-5 in the Pac-10. While the
Cardinal’s 10-0 non-conference record may look gaudy, those ten wins were not
exactly against any real powerhouses. In fact, Stanford’s best win was against
Northwestern at home, which is about as good a win as UCLA’s best non-conference
Win -- Miami (Oh). A more realistic view of Stanford’s capability probably comes
when looking at its conference record. They beat Cal and Arizona at home but
got clobbered at home by Arizona State and on the road at Oregon State.
First year coach and Duke disciple Johnny Dawkins has brought some new elements
to the Cardinal and they are admittedly playing much better than most
prognosticators felt they would be this season. That’s especially true,
considering the loss of their twin posts, Brook and Robin Lopez. Dawkins and
Stanford play a poor-man’s version of Duke’s game; they run a spread motion
offense with some sets, specifically to get some open looks from beyond the arc,
and they play almost exclusively man-to-man defense, although because of
Stanford’s line-up Dawkins has thrown in the occasional zone in games. The
key, though, is, like Duke, Stanford likes an uptempo attack and that could very
well be the difference in the game.
Although Stanford was tapped by the Pac-10 writers to finish in 9th place in the
conference, they do have a nice trio of players who could play for any team in
the conference, starting with senior guard Anthony Goods (6’3” 200 lbs.), who
is leading the Cardinal in scoring at 17.1 PPG. He leads the team in shot
attempts (221), three point attempts (109) and free throw attempts (110).
The offense, for all its spread options and other players, clearly runs through
Goods. His weakness is that he is shooting only 40% from the floor and 30% from
behind the arc. He is, however, shooting 79% from the free throw line. Goods
is strong and will use that strength to offset his relative lack of quickness,
especially on the defensive end. In fact, except for James Harden, Goods has
won his individual match-up with every ‘2’ guard in the Pac-10 games. Jrue Holiday certainly has his work cut out for him. The one thing about Goods is
that he has become more of the second option in the past few games for the Cardinal as other teams look to limit his touches and he tends to play worse in bigger
Option 1 has recently become senior Lawrence Hill (6’8” 220 lbs). It’s not
surprising that Hill has begun to assert himself; two seasons ago he was one of
the best players in the conference. However, last season Hill regressed in all
facets of his game like no college player I have seen in a decade. Although
Hill is now stepping up (he is averaging 14.2 PPG), he still has two weaknesses: first, his three point shooting continues to be abysmal (28%),
something that started last year; and, more importantly, he only rebounds at a
5.9 RPG clip. That may seem fine, especially in Stanford’s “rebound as a team”
system (much like UCLA this season), but Hill has shown in the past that he can and should be averaging close to a double-double. In short he still isn’t doing the kind
of physical dirty work it would take to move his game to the next level. It
will be interesting to see if Coach Ben Howland starts Josh Shipp on Hill or
goes with Nikola Dragovic.
Whoever doesn’t guard Hill will guard junior Landry Fields (6’7” 210 lbs.), who is the leading rebounder for the Cardinal at 6.7 RPG. He is also third on the squad in scoring at 12.1 PPG. Fields has elevated his game considerably. In his first two seasons in Palo Alto he was almost strictly a three-point gunner. This season, less than 1/3 of Fields’ shots have come from behind the arc. While he is putting the ball on the floor more this season, he isn’t particularly athletic or quick. This really hurts at the defensive end, although it’s interesting to note that Stanford has yet to have a
player foul out this season.
Starting at the point for the Cardinal is senior Mitch Johnson (6’1” 185 lbs.).
Johnson has had some good games for the Cardinal over his four years in Palo
Alto, but the reality is that he has never been more than a serviceable point.
In fact, if Stanford had a stronger starting point guard last season, they
would have been a legitimate Final Four threat. As it is, Johnson is fairly
quick and until Darren Collison shows that he can keep opposing guards out of
the lane on a consistent basis, quickness will be a concern. Johnson is
averaging a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio and he is finding the scorers for
the Cardinal. Dawkins does have him playing generally under control, which has
been one of the knocks on Johnson over the years.
The final starter is undersized, sophomore post Josh Owens (6’8” 215 lbs.).
Basically, Owens starts because someone has to. Stanford has no real true low -post option for either offense of defense, so Dawkins has gone with what he learned at Duke -- have a smaller, quicker line-up on the floor and hope that the outside shots are falling.
Stanford does go nine deep, but all four players off the bench (one from each class), don’t really present any appreciable threat like, say, UDub’s Venoy Overton. Out of
senior Kenny Brown (6’2” 200 lbs.), junior Drew Shiller (6’0” 170 lbs.),
sophomore Will Paul (6’10” 250 lbs.), and freshman Jeremy Green (6’4” 190
lbs.), only Brown and Shiller play minutes in significant situations, although
Green sees the most time. All four of these guys are three-point threats. Paul
is the only post man that gets real time off the bench and he is at least serviceable, but it shows that Dawkins often will go with a smaller, quicker line-up. That may lead Howland to having his “motion” offense on the floor as he did against Cal with Roll, Shipp, Collison, Holiday and Aboya.
In many ways the Bruins and the Cardinal are mirror images of each other. They
are perimeter-dominated, they play tough defense, although not all the time, and
they have rebounding issues. They both like to get up and down the floor and
can get hot from the outside. There are, however, two key differences between
the two squads. First, UCLA clearly has more talent, especially up front. If
UCLA played to its capability and Stanford did the same, UCLA would win by 15-20
points. The other big difference is that UCLA is much deeper than Stanford.
For instance, without Mitch Johnson last weekend in Oregon, the Cardinal were
buried by OSU.
Dawkins has done a nice job with this squad but it was obvious that the loss to
USC on Thursday night (where Hill’s game-winning shot attempt barely missed at
the buzzer) was hard on them. It could have been a case where Stanford was
looking at the USC game as the “winnable” game on the L.A. road trip. Now
Stanford has to get up for UCLA less than 40 hours later, which will be tough.
Expect a closer game than Thursday against Cal, but the Bruins should win.
Don’t be surprised if Alfred Aboya and Drew Gordon, and even J’mison Morgan
simply overwhelm the Cardinal inside.