Near the end of Steve Lavin's tenure at UCLA, the Bruins gave Jay Wright the first marquee win of his career at Villanova. In 2009, Jay Wright's "Killanova" team steamrolled the Bruins on their way to the program's first Final Four appearance since Rollie Massimino won the title. Villanova's history with UCLA includes a number of landmark games including the 1971 National Championship.
This match-up may prove to be just as notable, with both schools coming into the game undefeated on the season.
The Bruins are averaging 73 points per game and allowing only 54.3 to their opponents so far. Villanova has so far averaged 80 points per game (which, sadly, is 5 less than the 85 required for free wings at Flanigans Boat House) and has allowed opponents to notch 51.5 points.
UCLA is lead in scoring and rebounds by sophomore power forward Reeves Nelson, who is averaging 19.3 points and 9.7 rebounds per game. Sophomore small forward Tyler Honeycutt has also averaged 15.7 points per game, along with 3.3 assists and 8.3 rebounds. JUCO transfer guard Lazeric Jones is the only other player averaging double-digit points with 12 points and a team-leading 3.7 assists per outing.
Junior point guard Malcolm Lee did not play in the Bruins' most recent game against Pacific and is still questionable for Wednesday. Lee was second on the team in both points and assists in 2009-2010. Expect freshman Tyler Lamb to step in to try and replace Lee -- he is averaging 4.3 points, 3.3 assists and 1 steal per game, but has impressed coach Ben Howland with his "superlative defense" in his first three games.
While Villanova has lately been known for it's guard play, the last two games have heavily featured the team's ability to score from the interior. When the shots weren't falling from beyond the arc (only 1-made 3-pt attempt vs. BU), the 'Cats were able to score by driving the lane and getting the ball inside to Antonio Pena (17 points against Boston University and 12 against Lafayette) and Mouphtaou Yarou (12 points against Lafayette).
The frontcourt has also combined to average 5 blocked shots per game.
The 'Cats have four players averaging double-digit points so far and Yarou is maybe one big game away from joining them at 9.3 points per game. Maalik Wayns leads the team in assists, averaging 7 per game, with Corey Fisher averaging 4. Overall the team has averaged almost twice as many assists as turnovers (19 assists to 10 turnovers).
The Bruins have also protected the ball, averaging 18 assists per game and 16 turnovers. Over three games, they have averaged 6 blocks and 9 steals. They are 13th in the nation in field goal percent, shooting .522.. While the Wildcats are 35th in the nation in rebounding with an average of 43.2 per game, the Bruins are 151st, averaging 37.3 per game.
The Bruins will be working hard defensively to slow the Villanova offense down, and it will be up to the Wildcats to stay active on the boards and play tough defense of their own. Jay Wright and the Wildcats haven't faced a team that shoots as well from the field as they will on Wednesday, making this game a huge test for a defense rated 14th in the country by Ken Pomeroy.
It does appear that UCLA does far more of it's scoring from inside the arc. Their top-two scorers are both forwards and the team has attempted only 11.5 three-point attempts so far this season (compare that to Villanova, averaging 17.5 attempts from three). It seems that Yarou and Pena will have to be major defensive factors in this game.
Continuation of the trend of excellent play from the Villanova backcourt in protecting the ball and finding the open man -- inside or out --- will greatly improve chances of victory in this game. If the Bruins' defense stifles the outside shooting, however, Villanova must be prepared to do their scoring inside. If the combination of Pena and Yarou works as well against UCLA as it has in the first four games, then that should not be a problem.
UCLA will be extremely motivated to win this game and as one of college basketball's most storied programs, they surely have enough talent to give Villanova trouble.
The winner advances to the N.I.T. Tip-Off Final to face the winner of Tennessee and Virginia Commonwealth, while the two losing teams from this round will face-off before the main event on Friday.
This game will tip-off at 9:00pm on Wednesday, November 24th from Madison Square Garden in New York and broadcast live on ESPN2.
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