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Open Game Thread: #9 UCLA Bruins at #8 Texas Longhorns

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The Drum should provide for #8 Texas (5-1) quite the atmosphere this evening when the 9th-ranked UCLA Bruins (4-1) make their first-ever vist to Austin. All time, the Longhorns and Bruins have battled three times on the hardwood (UCLA won the first two, Texas won last year), but each contest has been at Pauley Pavilion.

KEYS TO THE GAME

  • Start fast. In this case, I mean two things: First, a strong opening 20 minutes like last year's at Pauley would both light up the crowd a go a long way towards hiding some of Texas' vulnerabilities (such as go-to half court offense in a close game). Second, I think Texas is the team which would benefit from a higher-paced game. For whatever reason, Rick Barnes declined to press Notre Dame until the game's final minutes; a mistake I hope Rick doesn't make this evening. The Bruins' guards can be forced into turnovers.
  • No second chances. UCLA Coach Ben Howland has some years fielded some excellent offensive squads and other years horribly ugly ones to watch. But even the ugly ones keep the offensive efficiency at a high level, thanks largely to their proficiency racking offensive boards. This will be a man's game, and you can bet that every member of the Texas frontcourt knows that if they're getting beat for rebounds after a UCLA shot, they won't be playing.
  • Win the turnover battle. I get the feeling this might be the decisive factor for these two teams. For Texas, the impact of Augustin's departure is obvious. A year after comfortably leading the entire country with an impressive 14% turnover rate, Texas' rate is up by more than a third, losing north of 19% of their possessions. On the bright side, Texas hasn't been nearly as turnover-prone as UCLA, which has given away 23% of its offensive possessions on the year. The sample sizes are still small, but the underlying causes suggest an opportunity for both teams to attack. For the Bruins, that means being unafraid of getting burnt by our vanilla stable of guards, contesting passing lanes and aggressively playing to change possession. If Abrams gets by you to the lane... who cares? He doesn't instigate contact to get to the line, and doesn't finish. On the flipside, tonight's match up between Darren Collison and Justin Mason should be special. At his best, Collison can be the premier player in a given game, taking over with a wide array of skills -- including a strong perimeter jump shot, ability to finish in the lane, and good passing vision for teammates. He's turned it over an alarming amount so far this year himself, but Texas fans shouldn't be fooled; Collison will be no easy target. Rather, I think Texas should force UCLA to beat the press. Collison's not as good a full-court point guard as he is all-around player, while Josh Shipp (only a competent ball handling guard) and Jrue Holiday (true freshman -- albeit a damn good one) might struggle with the pressure.
  • Big men play big. You wouldn't know it just yet, but this Texas' team's strength is its frontcourt. After back-to-back seasons with limited frontcourt contribution and superstar playmakers outside, Texas is for the first time since Lamarcus Aldridge was here a team that has the frontcourt personnel to have a high impact on the game. Texas is more than just rusty, however; of all the things Rick Barnes does well, scoring consistently and efficiently inside is not one of them. I suspect that this team will get there eventually, especially if Wingman continues to develop as I think he will. But the key in the short term is for Dexter Pittman to get himself under freaking control with his fouls. Texas was in great shape when Dexy was moving the Big East Player of the year around like a table shaker of salt; it was the four fouls -- all of them stupid, preventable, and the result of mental weakness -- that grounded his and our momentum. Who knows, maybe a team as strong and physical as UCLA will provide for Dexy the kind of banging, contact atmosphere in which he can play without fouling. He simply has to pull it all together for this team to reach its fullest potential. Why not start tonight, big fella?

#9 UCLA BRUINS AT #8 TEXAS LONGHORNS

8:00 p.m. CT * Frank Erwin Center, Austin, Texas

Televion: ESPN2 (Dave O'Brien, Jay Bilas)

Radio: 98.1 FM / 1300 AM in Austin

Official UT Game Info: TexasSports.com Game Preview

Bruins Hoops Coverage: Bruins Nation.com