Of the many poor performances UCLA has had this season, the most glaring have come against the Big West. First was the one-point overtime win over UC Irvine, one soon followed by the Cal Poly upset. The Anteaters and the Mustangs were picked to finish third and seven in the conference, respectively.
Tuesday night at 8 p.m. (Pac-12 Networks), the Bruins will face a Big West team predicted to win its third straight regular-season title. Here’s a look at the 49ers …
Shooting woes: Last year’s Long Beach State squad was the school’s best in years, one that made the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2007 and was thought of as Sweet Sixteen dark horse. But four starters are gone, a quartet that combined to score over 50 points per game on 46 percent shooting. The lone returner, senior swingman and preseason all-conference pick James Ennis, leads the team in scoring (16.6) and rebounding (7.9) but hasn’t gotten much help. Second-leading scorer Mike Caffey, a guard UCLA coach Ben Howland praised as a skilled driver, is shooting an atrocious 29.5 percent from the field. The team shoots 38.6 percent overall, down from 46.8 in 2011-12.
Important stat: The 49ers take more 3-pointers at a higher rate than any other team UCLA has faced this season, with 38 percent of their shots coming from downtown. Among Bruins’ opponents, this is most similar to Georgia’s 37.4 percent. Both also convert around 30 percent of those attempts. UCLA first used a 2-3 zone when it struggled against the Bulldogs in Brooklyn.
Reinforcements coming: Pending grades, three Division I transfers may debut in yellow and black. Most notable is Keala King, who was Arizona State’s leading scorer (13.7 ppg) before Herb Sendek dismissed him for attitude problems. He struggled with turnovers the last time he was on the floor, but is skilled at attacking the basket. Forwards Tony Freeland (DePaul) and Edgar Garibay (LMU) may also be declared eligible. All three are waiting on grades from one or two classes to come in.
Freeland, who averaged 9.6 points and five rebounds for the Blue Demons in 2010-11, will likely join King in the starting lineup if both are available.
Howland said he will prep the team to play as if the 49ers get their full lineup. Not sure how well he’ll be able to do this given that his Monday film session would be rendered moot. King’s time at ASU also doesn’t help all that much given how much time the freshmen long, but Shabazz Muhammad said he was familiar with King from AAU.
Tough schedule: The 49ers, who close their nonconference schedule at Pauley Pavilion, are just 4-6 on the season. That number is slightly deceptive, since they’ve endured the second-toughest schedule in the country (via kenpom.com), one that included visits to three top-10 teams: Arizona, Syracuse and Ohio State. That said, Long Beach State lost those three games by an average of 29 points.