UCLA Bruins (13-9, 5-4) vs. Stanford Cardinal (15-6, 6-3)
Tipoff: Thursday, Feb. 5, 6:05 p.m., Maples Pavilion
TV: ESPN2 (Dave Fleming, Bill Walton)
Radio: AM 570 (Chris Roberts, Tracy Murray)
Scouting report: UCLA has won just one game outside of Los Angeles this season. Notching a victory at Stanford tonight would help preserve what slim chances at the NCAA tournament the Bruins have left.
Arizona is the most talented team in the conference, but the Cardinal would probably be the runner-up. (UCLA has better top-end talent, but Stanford has more depth.) Head coach Johnny Dawkins saved his job with a Sweet 16 run last season, and was also rewarded with what has been a Pac-12 Player of the Year type of season from Chasson Randle. The senior is a score-first guard, but he fills that role well and is scoring 20.8 points per game on 43.1 percent shooting. He also hits more than 40 percent from beyond the arc, and is averaging 3.4 rebounds and 2.8 assists.
Randle is also accompanied by fellow sharpshooters in Anthony Brown and Rosco Allen, both of whom can light it up from outside. UCLA did a poor job defending the perimeter, which seems to trace back to a philosophical flaw in Steve Alford’s playbook. The second-year head coach said last season that he isn’t as concerned with allowing 3-point attempts versus easy shots in the paint. That makes the Bruins susceptible to teams that get hot from downtown.
Bryce Alford has looked more comfortable at times playing shooting guard, and he might split backcourt duties more moving forward. UCLA benched the starting point guard for a significant period in the second half of last week’s win over Colorado, and the Bruins actually looked better for a stretch as Isaac Hamilton manned point guard duties. It was a small sample size, but both Bryce and head coach Steve Alford said that it could lead to Bryce playing more off the ball.
Opposing player to watch: Reid Travis sat out nearly all of January with a stress fracture in his upper leg, finally making his return in a 13-minute appearance. The 6-foot-8, 245-pound freshman was a four-star recruit out of Minneapolis, and was regarded as one of the more physical interior prospects in the country. He was also the first McDonald’s All-American to commit to Stanford since Brook and Robin Lopez.
If Travis can contribute significantly, that might change the matchup advantage that UCLA’s Tony Parker has enjoyed recently against the Cardinal. Parker has routinely abused Stanford big man Stefan Nastic, and went off for 22 points and 12 rebounds in last month’s triple-overtime win. However, the junior has also looked a bit off in his last two games returning from back spasms, shooting a combined 3-of-12 against Utah and Colorado.
Key stat: Stanford isn’t particularly adept at forcing turnovers, ranking No. 260 nationally according to kenpom.com. If UCLA can take care of the ball and keep it moving on offense, it should have a chance.
Odds: Stanford opened as a 6-point favorite in Vegas, with the line stretching to 7 points heading into the game. kenpom.com gives UCLA a 24 percent chance of winning.