by: Griffin Bennett
I hope everyone has a short memory. The Huskies need to just forget about their disastrous showing against Washington State on Sunday and completely focus on the game in front of them. The Bruins are the hottest team in the Pac-10 as they have won 12 of their last 14 Pac-10 games as well as 8 of their last 9. Their head coach, Ben Howland, finally has his team playing at the high level that he expects and the wins have followed suit. UCLA has more NBA talent on their roster than any other Pac-10 team and some of their late-bloomers are now full fledged stars. This is not the team that the Huskies ran into at Pauley Pavillion on New Year’s Eve. In comparison, the Huskies may have even taken a step back since that day.
While UCLA may have made a few Final Four runs in the last couple years, the Huskies have history on their side. The Bruins haven’t won at Hec-Ed since their 84-82 victory in overtime during the ’03-’04 season 7 years ago. I’m not really sure why the Huskies have been UCLA’s kryptonite but a 6 game home winning streak is quite impressive. Howland’s and Romar’s styles certainly clash as UCLA likes to slow it down and play out of half-court sets and the Huskies thrive on an up-tempo game. I’m not sure how aware the players are of this streak, but I’m sure that most of them remember last year’s game where the Huskies embarrassed the Bruins on an ESPN national broadcast by a score of 97-68. It was the game that began the Huskies hot streak that didn’t end until the Sweet Sixteen, while the Bruins only won two more games and failed to reach the NCAA tournament.
For the Huskies, a victory would make their tournament hopes look a lot brighter and a loss would certainly put them on the bubble. UCLA only needs to win out the rest of their games in order to at least share a part of the Pac-10 title and a loss could put their second place seeding the Pac-10 tournament (and a bye) in jeopardy. The bottom line is that there will be no lack of motivation for either team.
The Bruin’s success begins and ends with the forward duo of Tyler Honeycutt and Reeves Nelson. Honeycutt has posted 12.8 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 2.9 apg, while shooting 35% from three and Nelson leads the team in points (14 ppg), and rebounds (9.0 rpg). Nelson is in the Jon Brockman mold while Honeycutt has NBA lottery-type size and skills. UCLA wants to feed the paint as much as they can and they have found that most teams can’t match their size and ferocity.
At guard, Malcolm Lee was supposed to be the next great Pac-10 pro-prospect. While he hasn’t quite met those lofty expectations, he still is a very dangerous player from the perimeter. He averages 13.3 ppg, 2.9 rpg, but has only shot 31% from three. A guy who has stepped up this year has been Lazeric Jones. He has played the point guard position excellently and it has helped the Bruins’ big men with his recent passing. Jones has averaged 9.9 ppg, 3.4 apg, and 1.1 spg. His defense has been his signature and he completely shut down Mo-Mo Jones against Arizona.
Next up would be the biggest freshman in the nation, and local Kentwood High star, Joshua Smith. He has started to get into game shape as this 300 pounder has been a force down low as of late. On the year, he has averaged 10.8 ppg and 6.2 rpg. Joshua Smith has been an amazing 6th man as his combination of size and skill off of the bench is unmatched in the conference. It has allowed Nelson and Honeycutt to take advantage of match ups against smaller opponents.
Rounding out the Bruin’s rotation are Anthony Stover (who has been starting at center), Jerime Anderson, Branden Lane and Tyler Lamb.
PG – Lazeric Jones – 6’0″
SG – Malcolm Lee – 6’5″
SF – Tyler Honeycutt – 6’8″
PF – Reeves Nelson – 6’8″
C – Anthony Stover – 6’10”
PG – Isaiah Thomas – 5’9″
SG – C.J. Wilcox – 6’5″
SF – Justin Holiday – 6’6″
PF – Matthew Bryan-Amaning – 6’9″
C – Aziz N’diaye – 7’0″
Coach Romar has stated that Scott Suggs is “probable” for the game but will start on the bench with Wilcox remaining in the starting line-up.
Keys to Victory:
- Own the Paint – Both offensively and defensively, the Huskies need to establish their dominance down low. The Bruins have a big line up with 4 players at 6’8 or larger with post skills. Staying out of foul trouble will be key as both Holiday and Gant are going to have get their hands dirt all night.
- Assists and Turnovers – If their is one constant in the Huskies’ losses it has been their lack of ball movement and sloppiness turning it over. With UCLA’s slow pace, the ability to maximize their possessions will be a huge key. Venoy and Isaiah really need to make smart decisions.
- Defense – I want to see the ball swarming, passing lane guarding, turnover forcing, transition creating defense. The Huskies “up-tempo” style all begins with their speed and athleticism on defense.
- Get an Early Lead – The Bruins do not have the kind of team that is built to come from behind. They aren’t the best shooting team and their slow pace doesn’t lend itself to big runs. The Huskies need to stop this trend of slow starts and get up early to force UCLA out of their comfort zone.
It’s going to be a grueling game. I see only two possible scenarios for this one. 1: the Huskies’ feed off of the home crowd energy and have 20+ points off of turnovers that leads them to victory. 2: UCLA’s size forces UW into foul trouble and Gant is unable to defend Nelson or Honeycutt who each go for 15+ while the Husky offense still looks stagnant and lost. In my opinion, both options are equally viable, and I would favor UCLA on a neutral court. The Vegas spread has been set and UW is a 9 point favorite. That seems a little high to me, but the Hec-Ed environment is a huge advantage. I’ll take UCLA +9 but pick UW to win 75-70. Bow Down.