Southern Utah Men’s basketball faces their third consecutive road test in a row Monday, Nov. 18 at the University of California Los Angeles. The game will be college basketball’s midnight snack, beginning at 9 p.m. MT.
The 2019 version of UCLA is not the 88 consecutive wins-type powerhouse of the John Wooden era, but they’re still a traditional giant in one of the nation’s hoops hotbeds.
The Bruins have won more NCAA championships (11) than any other college basketball program in American history. They hosted some of basketball’s brightest stars from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Bill Walton and Russell Westbrook to Kevin Love.
Pauley Pavilion is a historic arena hallowed by the legends who ran its sidelines. In terms of pageantry, it doesn’t get much more historic than Pasadena.
With all of that said, SUU has a legitimate chance to win this game. Las Vegas betting odds have the Bruins favored by 12 and a half points, just one more point than they gave to BYU when the T-Birds nearly won in the Marriott Center.
The T-Birds are coming off of consecutive quality performances against larger universities on the road. The first came at the University of Nebraska in double overtime. Cameron Oluyitan sealed the 79-78 win with a one-dribble pull up in the final seconds of the second OT.
BYU posed a greater challenge, even without star forward Yoeli Childs. The T-Birds pulled within one point of the Cougars with 1:04 left to play, but the ice in Jake Toolson’s veins didn’t even cause a shiver as he nailed a three pointer to put the game out of reach with 34 seconds left.
In those two games SUU shot 4 of 35 from three point range. They turned the ball over 36 times. They looked like an even match for a Big Ten school and an NCAA tournament hopeful despite playing at a level nowhere near their best.
That’s why this game is so intriguing. Even as double digit underdogs, Todd Simon’s T-Birds have the potential to beat UCLA at Pauley Pavilion.
UCLA were picked to finish eighth in the Pac-12 conference and brought in Mick Cronin from the University of Cincinnati. Cronin inherits a team that underachieved under Steve Alford in 2018, finishing 17-16 and missing the postseason despite a 4-0 start.
2019 has started well for the Bruins. They’ve knocked off Long Beach State, UC Santa Barbara and UNLV, who they clobbered 71-54 last Friday. All three of their wins have come at home, and they’ve got SUU and Hofstra this week before heading to the Maui Invitational in Hawai’i.
This contest comes as part of the Maui on the Mainland series and will be broadcast on Pac-12 network. Here are three keys to the game that might unlock an upset win at Pauley Pavilion.
Don’t Be Intimidated. Be the Instigator.
Last season the T-Birds were given a similar opportunity to win against a Pac-12 school but were run off the court by a Kevin Porter-less USC team. The T-Birds lost 91-49 to the Trojans the last time they were in Los Angeles, and they can’t come out slow against UCLA.
BYU offered extra incentive because they’re an in-state rival, but UCLA will extend no such courtesy. They’re going to try and run up the score quickly so the bench guys can play the second half, much like SUU did in their 110-66 win over NAIA opponent Bethesda in their season opener.
The T-Birds did not have Dwayne Morgan or John Knight III in last year’s lost to the Trojans, and young players like Harrison Butler and Maizen Fausett are a year more experienced. Jakolby Long and David N’Diaye had to watch from the sidelines during their redshirt seasons, so this outfit is much more experienced than the 2018-19 group.
That means SUU will need to start quickly to keep up with the Bruins. UCLA never trailed against UNLV and the Rebels never had a chance in the game. LBSU on the other hand, led by as many as nine points in the first half and nearly won 69-65.
The T-Birds should also be keen to UCLA’s penchant for starting the second half well. UCSB had a lead going into half time, but the Bruins dominated the first ten minutes of the second half and won 77-61.
Don’t get caught up in the lights or the majesty. Get out there and play good basketball, just like they did at BYU.
Protect the Ball
It seems simple, but UCLA can happily match SUU in terms of athleticism, so if the T-Birds give the ball away, UCLA will run in transition.
BYU played a much slower, more fundamentally solid brand of basketball than UCLA can. The Bruins turned the ball over 17 times against UNLV. BYU turned it over 12 times against SUU.
That could translate to more transition opportunities for both teams, which is why it’s imperative that the T-Birds limit their turnovers. Some of the mistakes are simple miscues that ideally a team can iron out, but others are part of a pattern.
Butler picking up offensive fouls on drives that are a hair out of control come back to bite him over and over. Dwayne Morgan and Andre Adams both turned the ball over while trying to take their man on a drive from the perimeter.
Those might be products of trying to move too fast or trying to do too much. When the opportunities to run are there, SUU should take them, but they don’t need to force things. There’s enough offensive skill on this team to score in the halfcourt.
A Few Three Pointers Couldn’t Hurt
Jacob Calloway and Brandon Better made a lot of three pointers during their time at SUU, and their absence has been felt through two games. Dre Marin seems like the only one confident enough to launch one recently.
Shooting well on the road is always tough, but some of these open looks have to start falling eventually.
That doesn’t mean the T-Birds need to live and die by the three in this game. They played well enough to win their last two road games by driving to the basket and finding the open man.
Penetration will always be the focal point of this offense, but just because the kickouts haven’t been working doesn’t mean the guards should stop kicking it out. Ball movement can really unlock this team’s potential because they can attack closeouts with the best of them.
Tip-off is set of 9 p.m. MT on Pac-12 Network.
Story by: Connor Sanders
Photo courtesy of SUU Athletics.