If I would have been told three months ago that the Zags finished its toughest stretch of the season 2-1, there would be nothing but joy from my end. Especially because the stretch included two road games, one of which in one of the most intense buildings in the country. The fact that the regular season will not nearly come close to presenting the same challenges as this seven-day stretch.
Tomorrow the Zags play UCLA in Los Angeles and although a lesser squad than the likes of Arizona, the Bruin are still a very dangerous team. UCLA, like the Zags, have a very talented backcourt in Bryce Alford and Norman Powell and very solid front court in Kevon Looney and Tony Parker and are very capable of competing on a high level.
If Zag fans care to take an bone-chilling stroll down memory lane, the last time these two teams faced off was in the Sweet 16 on March 23, 2006.
Need I say more?
What to watch for…
1. Pangos v. Alford— If there is a better matchup of scorers who will act as a matador defensively in a head-to-head, I’d love to see it. Last year, Alford showed flashed of solid bench production but was always assumed to take up a roster spot from his father, head coach Steve Alford. This year, however the six-foot-three shooter has adopted the point guard role and flourished in his dad’s system averaging 17.5 points and 7.1 assists per game while shooting 90 percent from the free-throw line. Pangos is proven. Alford is in the middle of the breakout season. Neither are great defenders, and that is why I think this matchup will be the most intriguing.
Watch out for the possibility of Bell going on Alford as well, since Mark Few has been on record raving about the point guard’s game.
2. Normal Powell in transition–Yes, the freak-athlete and potential draft pick is averaging 17.9 points on 50.4 percent shooting including 46.3 percent from behind the arc. Yes, he leads the team in scoring, 3-point percentage and 3-pointers made and steals, and will be one of the best players coming out of the Pac-12 this season. But be wary of his biggest threat: transition play. Offensively his NBA-ready athleticism has been on display this season and defensively he is a tough matchup.
I could see Powell facing Bell Jr, Kyle Dranginis and Byron Wesley at points during the game, similar to how the Zags handled WSU’s DaVonte Lacy defensively.
3. UCLA putting GU on its heels early–With the home court and starters capable of high-volume scoring, watch out for the Bruins early as they could potentially get very hot and put GU on its heels.
My crystal ball…
GU WINS BY 10+. UCLA possesses an NBA-level player in Powell, a breakout point guard and a consistent front court. The Bruins are 7-0 at home, including a 14-point win over Long Beach State. That being said, the Bruins are likely a sub top-four Pac-12 team and certainly not deep for the Zags. My prediction for a Pangos explosion has been postponed from last game until Saturday.
When: 7:00 p.m. PT, Saturday December 13, 2014
Where: Pauley Pavilion, UCLA, Los Angeles