Friday, February 08, 2002

Villanova vs. #15 UCLA Preview

To the Villanova Wildcats faithful-

The #15 UCLA Bruins travel to the Main Line for the first time on Saturday....

#15 UCLA @ Villanova
Saturday, February 9, 2002
1 PM
TV: CBS Radio: 950 AM,

Facts on the #15 UCLA Bruins

Location: Los Angeles, California

Conference: Pacific-10

Coach: Steve Lavin (6th season)

No UCLA coach since the Wizard of Westwood, John Wooden, has been without numerous critics. The basketball world was shocked when Lavin - who had spent just five years as a Bruin assistant - secured the most prestigious job in college basketball. He is 118-49 at UCLA. I actually like Steve Lavin as a coach. He's an intellectual - his father is a college English professor as well as basketball coach - and he brings a different perspective to the game. Under his tutelage, UCLA employs a variety of offensive and defensive systems, making it difficult for opponents to prepare for them. (This would be in contrast to a team like Providence, which always presses, or Temple, which always plays the match-up zone.)

Also, I'm very impressed with anybody, who can leapfrog entire stories (let alone rungs) in the college hoops hierarchy. (I hope Lavin doesn't get fired!) Rumors had swirled that legendary coach Rick Pitino - who oscillates between college and NBA jobs - would replace Lavin this season.

suffered through a highly-publicized UCLA flirtation with Pitino, before the legendary coach opted to head for Louisville. Of course, nobody can be sure if Pitino would have taken the UCLA job, even if it had been offered to him. Ultimately, Lavin righted the Bruins' ship and made a Sweet 16 showing, getting people off his back for the time beind.

All-time series vs. Villanova: The Bruins have won the only two meetings. The first meeting came in the 1971 NCAA championship game, when the underdog Wildcats hung with John Wooden's dynasty before falling, 68-62. (Please see accompanying article for more about that game.)

Last season, Villanova was humiliated at Pauley Pavilion, 93-65, in front of
CBS' cameras. It was a milestone for Lavin, his 100th career victory. As I wrote last year:

Date: 1/14/2001

After Villanova lost at UCLA, 93-65, on Saturday, Bruins coach Steve Lavin said: "We did a better job of putting this team away. We were able to take it from 19 to blowout level."

Lavin was referring to UCLA's Thursday defeat of #19 Southern California. The Bruins had led by 19 in the second half, but USC crawled back to lose by only five. As he aptly noted, that wasn't a problem against 'Nova; UCLA pilloried Villanova by 28. The outcome was never in doubt. VU coach Steve Lappas also succinctly summarized the contest: "They played great. And we played awful, in every single aspect of the game: which, obviously, they had something to do with." Villanova is now 10-4 overall, 2-1 BIG EAST. In the 1971 national championship rematch - delayed for nearly 30 years - UCLA didn't disappoint the Wizard of Westwood. Former UCLA coach John Wooden - winner of 10 national titles - admired the Bruins' effort from his traditional second row seat, behind the bench. (Talk about being overshadowed...)

UCLA - now 9-4 overall, 3-0 Pac-10 - earned its fifth consecutive victory since Lavin adopted the full-court pressure defense. UCLA relentlessly pressed from beginning to end: Villanova was NEVER in the game. At all. UCLA took a double-digit lead midway through the first half, and never looked back.

The Bruins mauled Villanova to pieces, forcing 26 Wildcat turnovers. Villanova's play nose-dived exponentially, as the turnovers mounted. UCLA led by as many as 31 in the second half, cruising to a lopsided victory. VU center Michael Bradley put it best: "They came out and pressed our brains
out. We turned the ball over and the press killed us."

I had estimated that VU had about 30 turnovers. I was surprised to check the box score and see "only" 26. As he did in Tuesday's loss to Providence, senior point guard Jermaine Medley crumbled against the press. He had one of the worst games of his career: he had eight turnovers and no assists, playing only 22 minutes.

For the first time, freshman Derrick Snowden played more minutes than Medley, and Snowden fared considerably better. He logged 27 minutes, recording three turnovers and three assists. Lappas accurately noted, "The turnovers were absolutely horrendous. You have that many and you don't give yourself a chance to win."

Unfortunately for Medley, his poor judgment this weekend wasn't confined to his wretched performance during the game itself.

The Los Angeles Times has reported that "The victory was particularly satisfying for [UCLA guard Earl] Watson because of something that happened before tipoff. He was approached by
Villanova point guard Jermaine Medley and berated out of the blue. "I don't know what he was trying to say," Watson said. "It was a lot of cuss words. I was walking in and he was walking in and he said something. I'm not into that one-on-one personal stuff..." Medley.... wasn't available for comment. But the exchange wasn't one-sided; Watson confessed he did his share of talking during the game "and I had some cuss words for him too." Apparently, this was our lone senior's idea of team leadership: entering Pauley Pavilion and insulting a UCLA player. In doing so, Medley's unsportsmanlike behavior reflects poorly on Villanova and our program, and he should be disciplined.

But even if we were sufficiently unprincipled to tolerate such boorish
behavior: did he seriously believe that HE was going to intimidate Watson - a senior who has started every game since he arrived in Westwood - in a building with 11 NCAA Championship banners hanging from the rafters?"
2000-2001 season: 21-8 overall, 14-4 Pac-10 (3rd place), RPI rank #11, no conference tournament. Qualified for NCAA tournament as #4 seed, East Region. Defeated Jay Wright's #13 Hofstra in first round, #12 Utah State in second round. Lost to #1 Duke in Sweet 16, at the First Union Center.

Lavin later cited the Villanova demolition as the turning point in the Bruins' season, giving them momentum for a fine season and Sweet 16 run.

2001-02 season: 16-6 overall, 8-4 Pac-10, ranked #15 in AP poll, #18 in ESPN/USA Today poll, RPI rank #14.

The Bruins got off to a rocky, 2-2 November start, falling to Ball State at the Maui Invitational and to Pepperdine at Pauley Pavilion. However, they ripped off nine consecutive wins, among them Alabama and Georgetown. After stumbling @ Southern Cal, they recovered for wins over Kansas and Arizona State. They have gone 3-3 in their last six contests - all Pac-10 affairs -
with the three losses coming against powerful Arizona, Stanford, and Oregon.

The big news: The Bruins are coming off an emotional win in Wednesday's second game with USC. Billy Knight hit a thrilling three-pointer at the buzzer to knock off the #25 Trojans, 67-65, and split the series. The Bruins had held a double-digit lead with less than six minutes to play, but needed Knight's heroic shot to emerge with a victory. Jason Kapono led UCLA with 26
points and eight rebounds.

Lavin uses a nine-man rotation. UCLA has a nucleus as talented and experienced as any in the land. As a team, the Bruins are terrific shooters, hitting 48.1% of their field goal attempts. Kapono, their superstar, leads the team with 18.6 pts/game. One of the most accurate shooters in America, he has converted 47.9% of his overall shots, 46.3% of his three-pointers, and 87.4% of his free throws. And for good measure, he adds 5.7 rebounds per game. Kapono and fellow seniors Knight and Matt Barnes take lots of three-pointers, and all shoot over 44% from behind the arc.

They are among the most lethal outside shooters nationally. Senior Dan Gadzuric is the force underneath, averaging 10.5 pts and 6.8 boards per contest. If UCLA has a weakness, it is at point guard, where freshman Cedric Bozeman took over for long-time point guard Earl Watson this season.

Villanova Update

The atmosphere at the Pavilion will undoubtedly be the most raucous and celebratory, since 'Nova hosted then-#1 UConn on February 15, 1994. With the vast majority of high-profile opponents coming to the First Union Center, it is rare to host a team of UCLA's stature on campus. Fortunately for Villanova's students - and the Wildcats' chances of victory - the NBA
All-Star Game meant that the Center was unavailable for this game. It has been far and away the game generating the greatest buzz among the Wildcat faithful...

Hopefully, the game will evoke memories of February 27, 1999. That Saturday, Villanova clinched a NCAA berth by stopping #8 St. John's at the Pavilion. CBS showed joyful students charging the court, to a national audience - one observer noted that the game "was basically a two-hour, free infomercial for Villanova."

For some reason, the program has been opting to forfeit home-court advantage by playing so often downtown. 'Nova's record at the Pavilion is 139-45. In contrast, the Wildcats' ledger at the Center is only 7-9. While obviously the Center record is against stronger opponents, its cavernous size and 'Nova's inability to fill it are a more realistic explanation of the disparity.

Villanova (12-7 overall, 4-5 BIG EAST, #64 RPI) is facing its third nationally ranked opponent since Saturday. The Wildcats fell to #21 Pittsburgh and #11 Miami earlier this week.

Coincidentally, the NIT - ('Nova's likely March destination) announced Thursday that the usual 32-team field will be expanded to 40 this season.

'Nova's performance against Miami was considerably better than it had been two weeks earlier, in which the Hurricanes embarrassed the Wildcats with a 27-3 run to start the game. At the Pavilion, 'Nova battled during the entire second half, often bringing the Pavilion faithful to their feet often and turning in an entertaining performance. The downside was that Gary Buchanan - who is stellar on the Pavilion hardwood - had the worst shooting game of his career, hitting only 3 of his 19 shots.

Fellow guard Reggie Bryant also struggled from the floor: with 'Nova's two best outside shooters both having an off-night, it was just too much for the Wildcats to overcome. Coach J opted to slow down the game, reducing the number of possessions to try to steal a game from a superior opponent. The tactic nearly worked. It also enabled J to use his starters for nearly the entire game; Bryant was the only
reserve to play a lot and even his minutes were reduced.

Regardless of the outcome, it promises to be a highly exciting and exhilarating day on Villanova's campus...

I'll provide a full recap after the game.

Go Wildcats!

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