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December 16, 2011

Bruins host UC Davis



The University of California at Davis, out of the Big West conference, shows up at the Honda Center on Saturday, December 17th at 12:00 noon PST to take on UCLA's suddenly rebuilding Bruins.

The Aggies probably aren't going to lead anyone to confuse them with the Miami Heat or North Carolina Tar Heels. They come in with a 1-8 record to start the season. The record is indeed dismal but not necessarily indicative of the talent on this team, they are not totally without talent and, given the way the Bruins have started the year, UCLA can't take any opponent for granted in 2011-12.

UCD is coached by Jim Les who had a decent career in the NBA as a three point specialist. Les has plenty of experience and the ability to turn things around having coached Bradley University to more than 150 wins and a sweet 16 birth in the NCAA Tournament.

Les takes over a team that went 10-20 a year ago. The Aggies are another team that cannot come close to matching the Bruins' size. The Aggies try to make up for that from the three point line. One out of every three shots the Aggies takes have been three point attempts.

The Aggies are only converting 42 percent of their shots from the field and are hitting just about 36 percent from the three point line. Coach Les has not had a chance as yet to recruit players to fit his system so he finds himself in the position of having to tinker with this team trying to find a combination and approach that works this season.

One thing - Coach Les isn't afraid to let his players shoot the rock and shoot it they do. They have taken 220 three point shots so far this year. A team without size must be creative and this team looks to create open shots for their shooters.

It's still early in the season and U.C. Davis has not yet settled on a firm lineup or rotation. They have only one player who has started every game: 6-5, 195 pound junior guard Ryan Howley who is also second in minutes played with nearly 31 per game. Howley is averaging nearly 7.0 points a game and he is the Aggies' leading rebounder, pulling down 6.3 a game.

One of the saddest aspects of sports is the injuries. The Aggies lost their number one scorer and arguably their best all-around player, junior guard Ryan Sypkens, to a knee injury on 11.11.11. Sypkens was off to a solid start averaging 14.5 points and 5 rebounds; he had been the team's iron man getting in 33 minutes a game. He was named to the All Big West Conference freshman team his first season. The Aggies will struggle to replace him all year.

Sophomore Josh Ritchart (6-9, 215) plays both guard and forward. Ritchart was the Big West Co-Freshman of the year last year as well as a Mid-Major Freshman All-American. This season Ritchart has played in all nine games, starting seven. He is averaging just under 14 points and 5 rebounds and is tied for the team lead in steals with 10. He is shooting a team best 49 percent from the floor and is hitting 81 percent from the free throw line.

Harrison DuPont, a 6-5, 215 pound forward transfer from The Citadel who was named to the Southern Conference All Freshman team, has played in only six games due to transfer rules. In those six games DuPont is averaging 10 points and 4 rebounds in almost 28 minutes a game.

A transfer from Cal Berkeley, Eddie Miller has been sidelined for part of this season due to injuries. When Miller can play he is special, hitting on 63.6 percent of his three point shots. Miller has seen action in 4 games this year and is averaging only 14.3 minutes a game. In those minutes he has propelled himself to be the team's third leading scorer averaging 9.5 points per game and also grabbing nearly 3 rebounds.

With UCLA's noted lack of success guarding three point shooters so far this year, Miller's got to be licking his chops looking forward to the opportunity. Conversely, Coach Ben Howland's preparations leading up to this game will no doubt include lots of time preparing his charges to recognize the Cal transfer and rotate toward him any time he's on the floor.

The coaches' son, Tyler Les, is expected to start at one guard position. At 6-2, 190 pounds, Les, now a sophomore, averages a bit under 9.0 points, most coming from beyond the arc. He is making 37 percent of his three point attempts.

Ten Aggies average at least 14 minutes a game. He is still evaluating his talent and trying to mold them into a successful team. To this point the Aggies average 66.7 points per game but give up 77.7. Certainly team defense is a work very much still in progress.

The Aggies have made 69.3 percent of their free throw attempts. So far they have been out-rebounded by an average of eight boards a game.

The Aggies turn the ball over 15 times a game. They average 13 assists per game.

This is a team that fell to Eastern Washington 79-59 and to Stanford 70 to 49. The Bruins have advantages all over the court. This one should prove to be more about the Bruins hoping to continue to show improvement than facing an opponent who figures to be able to keep the game competitive.

In other words, this figures to be a typical pre-conference season game, one designed to give a smaller state school a chance to play in the spotlight while allowing the name "home" team to improve its skills and pad its record. It is to be hoped it all works out that way in this shockingly difficult early 2011-12 Ucla basketball season.

Ted Bloom contributed to this report


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