The young Texas Longhorns (4-2) face their first true road test this Saturday as they travel to Los Angeles to take on UCLA (2-4). The Bruins, coming off a much-needed victory over Pepperdine, appear to be back on track after a disappointing start to the season. Will it be enough momentum to take down J'Covan Brown and the 'Horns?
Both teams lost key players to the NBA over the summer - Tristan Thompson, Cory Joseph, and Jordan Hamilton for Texas; Tyler Honeycutt and Malcolm Lee for UCLA. Both teams are still finding their identity. Texas is young and inexperienced, still fitting the pieces of their offense together. UCLA is struggling to overcome a dismaying series of losses. There are a lot of uncertainties with both squads, but one thing is sure: After Saturday, we'll know a lot more about the strengths and weakness of each program.
More about the Longhorns vs the Bruins after the Jump.Texas fans breathed a sign of relief on Tuesday, when the Longhorns decisively beat North Texas 73-57. Those lucky enough to be at the Erwin Center or watch the elusive Longhorn Network for last Saturday's contest against Sam Houston State saw what the final score (56-40) hid. Texas was playing ugly, ugly basketball.
Not so against North Texas. Chalk the Sam Houston State game up to freshman inexperience or post-Thanksgiving, tryptophan-induced fatigue, but Texas looked much-improved on Tuesday. Freshman guard Myck Kabongo led the Longhorns with 16 points and 7 assists and freshman forward Jonathan Holmes continued to make an impact with 12 points and 6 rebounds. The defense looked solid and the offense, while a work in progress, looked more controlled and promising than before.
J'Covan Brown had 6 points against North Texas and 11 against Sam Houston State - a far cry from his season high of 35. But, never fear, J'Covaniacs. It's true that Brown has had an off shooting night or two, but for the most part, this is a smart, calculated move by Rick Barnes. Running the ball through Kabongo gives the team a chance to develop an offense that isn't dependent on one player. Texas will see more lights-out nights from Brown, but this season is about the duo of Brown and Kabongo (or, as the good folks at Burnt Orange Nation have collectively dubbed them, "J'Bongo").
The Bruins were ranked 17th in the preseason AP poll, but looked rudderless as they went into a free fall and lost four of their first five games against easy opponents. But after their win over Pepperdine, they are a team reenergized. Guard Lazeric Jones had 14 points and 6 steals. Twin forwards David and Travis Wear combined for a formidable 18 points and 17 rebounds. Their fellow big man Reeves Nelson could also do some damage against the Horns, but he seems to be pretty far in Ben Howland's doghouse after some personnel issues.
The big Bruins could spell trouble for a smaller Texas squad that is weak on rebounding. The Longhorns are also prone to stupid freshman mistakes, while the Bruins have more experience. UCLA hasn't defended the perimeter well this season and the Longhorns have several players who are threats from beyond the arc. If Texas' shots are falling, and if they can stay out of foul trouble and keep up with the bigger Bruins on the glass, the Longhorns could leave Los Angeles with a "W".
The game, which is at Los Angeles Sports Arena instead of Pauley Pavilion, is at 3:30 CST this Saturday.