If you didn't like the last game we played, you won't be a fan of this one either. As good of a defensive team as Southern Illinois is, UCLA may be even better. They play a very similar style as well, very physical and up-in-your-face which we struggled with on Thursday night. I am glad we had to get pass such a tough defensive team like the Salukis before we face the Bruins, it should at least prepare us for the football game that is going to be played on the court in San Jose.
Besides their amazing defense, they do have a better offense than the Salukis led by unanimous All-American G Arron Afflalo. He has struggled recently but has picked up in the Tournament scoring 16.3 points a game. His backcourt mate, sophomore G Darren Collison, is a great point guard and is a similar player to Sherron Collins that plays better defense. He was barely recruited out of Rancho Cucamonga, California, but UCLA took advantage of that fact and snapped him up. Third on their team in scoring in the Tournament is F Josh Shipp, another junior who can hit the 3. We will have to get on him and Afflalo as they can kill you from long range. We let the Salukis have way too many open 3's in the first half, if we do the same thing the better shooters on UCLA will jump out to a huge early lead (like Texas did twice by shooting the 3). Down low they are a lot weaker, with sophomore fowards Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Lorenzo Mata starting. Mbah gets a boatload of rebounds and grabbed 12 of them in their second round game against Indiana. He had a horrible game against Pittsburgh on Thursday, playing only 20 minutes and scoring 2 points and grabbing 2 rebounds. Everything he didn't do on Thursday Mata did, having a great game with 8 points and 9 rebounds. He is a lot like Sasha Kaun for us, he can make some shots down low and plays really good defense, but can't create a shot for himself if his life depended on it.
Keys to the Game
1) Get Julian the Ball
Like I said, UCLA's defense is very similar to the Salukis'. Mbah will probably draw the assignment of Julian, and while Julian had an outright horrible game against Southern Illinois he will have to step up today. He is the 'X-Factor' or 'GameBreaker' or whatever you want to call him, he has to have a good game for us to win. As good as UCLA's defense is, they don't have the athletes down low to compete with Julian and he needs to take advantage of that and play at a high level.
2) Speed the Game Up
We tried to do this against the Salukis but couldn't get it done and it will be even harder against UCLA. Still, we have to try anything we can to speed the game up because the more possessions the more chances our offense has to score. Sherron, Super and Russell all have to push the ball up the court if we have a chance, in order for us to win we have to get at least some transition points. Granted, we don't want to play stupid and just blindly run the ball up the court, we have to be smart.
3) Don't Give Up Open 3 Pointers
Against Texas twice we gave up way too many open shots in the first half which let Texas jump out to an early lead. We can't afford to do that against UCLA because they have a much better defense than Texas and it will be darn near impossible to come back from a deficit like that. Just guard Afflalo, Collison and especially Shipp on the perimeter and we'll stay close.
4) Beat Them Up Inside
The backcourts basically even eachother out if you include Shipp as the 3rd guard, just like Brandon Rush. I think that the game will be decided in the frountcourt, which is why Julian Wright is the 'X-Factor'. Besides Julian though, all of our big guys need to play well because we need some bangers to combat their bangers in Mata and Mbah a Moute. Arthur played great against Southern Illinois breaking out of his slump, hopefully he can do it again against the Bruins. Darnell Jackson and Sasha will both be huge today, they have to at least play defense and get some offensive putbacks because that is what Mata and Mbah will do.
5) Get Bill Self to the Final Four
As has been commonly discussed this week, Bill Self is 0-3 lifetime in the Elite Eight and never been a part of a Final Four. His first year at Kansas we lost in the Elite Eight to Georgia Tech and he also did it while coach of Illinois once and as coach of Tulsa once. If we lose yet again today, that will be all that is talked about after the game. Once and for all, let's just let Billy live in peace and make a Final Four. He deserves it.
Rock Chalk Talk Prediction: This game will be one you will talk about ALL DAY on Monday, an epic game that will always be part of basketball lore. No matter who wins this game, they will have won a hardfought rough-and-tough game and deserve to win not only this game but a National Championship. I think that Julian will step up and play like he did against Florida in the first half, but we will only be winning by 2 points. In the second half it will go back and forth throughout the entire game, but with :28 seconds left Brandon will hit yet another huge shot putting us in the lead by a point proving he is the go-to-guy on this team. We will make our free throws from there on out and make our way to the Final Four.
KANSAS 59 UCLA 58 ROCK CHALK!! FINAL FOUR HERE WE COME!!!!