L.A. STORYAs noted by Nestor at BN, UCLA can secure its first undefeated season at Pauley since '74-'75 by sweeping the Bay Area schools. As Nestor further notes, the last time UCLA got this close to a perfect home season was 1995, when Cal blew by the eventual national champions on their home floor 100-93. The record books say that UCLA won that game, of course, thanks to Cash-n-Carry Bozeman, who passed more than a few ham sandwiches Jelani Gardner's way.
He'll excuse us for not remembering that time fondly - you say the words "Jelani Gardner" and I begin twitching. But now we know the Bruins' motivation, and there's no reason to think that UCLA will take the Bears lightly. Also, Darren Collison is coming off of his best two-game stretch of the conference season and looks to be in better form than he was in the first meeting at Haas.
So what can Cal do? Install the West Virginia 1-3-1 over the next two days? Hope that a flu bug ravages Westwood? No, the best they can do is relax and hope everyone brings their A game offensively. To the extent UCLA ever struggles, it's when opponents take care of the basketball and hit their outside shots. Cal does the former better than all but ten teams in the country. Your NCAA leaders in turnover percentage:
Butler (15.0); Houston (16.0); Washington State (16.0); VCU (16.1); UNLV (16.5); Bradley (16.6); Air Force (16.8); Virginia Tech (16.8); Seton Hall (16.9); Mississippi (16.9); Cal (17.1)No worries there. As for the offensive side of things, Ubaka is the key. Sick with the flu, he played the worst game of his Cal career against UCLA at Haas; a healthy and inspired AU could do some interesting things with the smaller Collison in the post. As much as we like Alex Pribble's hustle on defense, Ben should consider limiting his minutes Thursday night. The Bears can't afford to play four-on-five with a UCLA team that makes its living grinding out wins in the sixties.
USC on Saturday is a different thing altogether. The Trojans, who are still my dark horse favorite to make a Sweet 16/Elite 8 run, lost inexplicably at Arizona State on Saturday. By ten points. They shot 36% from the field and 28% from two. Taj Gibson didn't score a field goal in 37 minutes of play. The Sun Devils play pretty good defense (top 100 in adjusted efficiency), but USC simply didn't bring it to Tempe. The Trojans told the papers after the game that they couldn't get into a good offensive flow:
"When we got up, we started rushing shots a little more than usual," said (Nick) Young, who had 11 points. "One shot, one rebound — they'd get the rebound and push it up. We didn't just settle down."That's always been the risk for a team that doesn't employ a true point guard. Another troubling sign: USC had 16 turnovers against ASU, after enjoying a nice advantage against Arizona in Thursday's win (the Trojans had only 9 turnovers to Arizona's 16). Tim Floyd said after Saturday's loss that USC was "an NIT team." I don't think so, but they do need a weekend sweep at the Galen Center to feel better about their seeding.
So Saturday looks to be the better opportunity, but really Cal is playing with house money this weekend. No one expects much, so the Bears can relax and have a little fun. Who knows - maybe they'll steal a game in the process and help punch their post-season ticket.