To help dissect the upcoming hardwood showdown between USC and UCLA, Carlos Sandoval of Go Joe Bruin sat down with us to give his perspective on all things UCLA Bruins Basketball.
The Bruins (16-5, 6-2) fell out of the polls after a befuddling 18-point loss to Arizona State on Saturday, which followed an impressive victory over Arizona. But even still, Pac-12 Championship aspirations still remain for this young UCLA Bruins squad.
The USC Trojans (8-13, 3-5) lost both contests in Arizona last week, barely falling to ASU in overtime before getting demolished by 24 points in Tuscon. To make matters worse, the Trojans have gone winless in their last six contests versus their arch-rivals, UCLA.
Here is Carlos Sandoval’s take on the Bruins heading into Wednesday’s cross-town rivalry game against the USC Trojans.
Q: UCLA started off the season with unimpressive games against UCI and Cal Poly. What has sparked the Bruins resurgence into the polls?
I think the team just became more mature and gelled better. The growth has been pretty good and the team plays with a lot more energy and the chemistry factor is clearly improved. That does not explain the loss to Cal Poly, though, because even moderately not-bad teams should beat Cal Poly.
Q: Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson have both been spectacular this season. What impact do these players present for this team and which is the bigger matchup nightmare?
Shabazz obviously scores in bunches and he’s ridiculously hard to control while he’s posting up. He has issues with shot selection and it really hurts his game. He jacks up a ton of needless jumpers and plays a brand of hero ball that needs to be eviscerated. When he’s playing within the offense, he’s really damn good, though.
Kyle Anderson? He’s way different and really hard to characterize. He’s actually this team’s best rebounder while he also can play the point. Think Lamar Odom without the athleticism and with a smoother touch. Or think Shaun Livingston, save athleticism and a higher hoops IQ and better rebounding skills.
Anderson reminds me of Magic Johnson sometimes but his passing is way too erratic, although the ball is rarely in his hands. So Kyle is obviously the bigger match-up problem.
Q: The Wear twins have been one of the best brother combinations in NCAA. That being said, what is the ceiling for this duo?
The Wear twins are so sporadic and we shouldn’t even talk about them collectively anymore. Travis Wear is far and away the better Wear brother and I predicted that would be more salient many months ago. He shoots more consistently, is learning to bang inside and, dear god, have you seen David Wear? He’s terrible, and it’s incredibly difficult to watch him play.
Q: Ben Howland has been placed on the hot seat for not getting the most of this program. If UCLA does not make the tournament in a season full of high expectations, or loses early, will he stick around as head coach?
If this team doesn’t get to the Elite Eight, Howland’s done. That’s it. No excuses. Making the tournament won’t repair any of the damage he’s done in the past four years. He’s burned recruiting bridges in the local scene, his timeouts and in-game decision-making is as maddening as ever and he doesn’t prepare teams well for weekend games. It’s almost certain he’s gone after this season.
Q: How did the Bruins go from controlling the tempo against Arizona to getting outplayed by ASU? Does this have to do with the style of play that UCLA plays?
I think the ASU game was a lack of energy and Arizona State playing to UCLA’s weakness. The Bruins can’t defend inside and were burned endlessly by the likes of Jordan Bachynski, who blew up for 22 points, 15 boards and six blocks.
Sure, Travis Wear was out with a concussion which he suffered against Arizona, but even with that, getting burned the way UCLA did in the paint is inexcusable. This is why Omar Oraby and Dewayne Dedmon, two seven-footers, scare me, at least if Bob Cantu uses them correctly and the Trojans play inside-out.