(Sports Network) - The UCLA Bruins are one of the host teams of the NIT Season Tip-Off, and they will take on Pepperdine tonight at Pauley Pavilion. The winner of this clash will face either Nevada or Pacific tomorrow, and the losers will square off as well.
Pepperdine opened its season on Friday against Portland State, and the result of that clash was a heart-breaking 83-81 loss. The Waves posted just seven wins in 2009-10 and finished the season with a miserable 11-game losing streak. All five starters return from that squad, however, so there is some reason for head coach Tom Asbury to be optimistic despite Friday's setback.
As for UCLA, its season began on Friday as well with an 83-50 romp over Cal State Northridge. Last season, UCLA ranked in the middle of the Pac-10 Conference in both scoring offense and scoring defense, and the team was rather mediocre overall. While this squad is still far from powerhouse status, there is reason to believe that the Bruins will be better in 2010-11.
UCLA owns a 16-4 series advantage over Pepperdine, which includes a 71-52 romp over the Waves last season.
Pepperdine junior guard Keion Bell is a big-time performer. The 6-3, 200- pounder is undeniably the team leader, coming off a season in which he averaged 18.5 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. The problem is that 6-7 forward Mychel Thompson (11.8 ppg) is the only other reliable offensive threat on the roster. In the opener against Portland State, Bell exploded for 22 points off the bench, but he did commit seven of the team's 19 turnovers. Corbin Moore tallied 12 points for the Waves, who got 11 points apiece from Thompson, Suttle and Jonathan Dupre. Pepperdine made good on 52.5 percent of its field goal attempts, including 8-of-14 from behind the arc, and but the team shot a woeful 11-of-24 from the foul line. As a result, the Waves were outscored 31-11 from the charity stripe, the most obvious reason for the loss.
Malcolm Lee, UCLA's top returning guard, tallied 12.1 ppg as a sophomore. Reeves Nelson, a 6-8 forward, managed to post 11.1 ppg and 5.7 rpg as a freshman while shooting 64.7 percent from the field. In the opener against Cal State Northridge, Lee tallied just eight points, but Nelson hit all six of his shots from the floor and scored 17 points in just 20 minutes of action. Tyler Honeycutt posted 16 points, while Lazeric Jones contributed 15 points. The Bruins connected on 56.9 percent of their field goal attempts in that win and scored 20 points from the foul line, although a 20-of-32 effort from the charity stripe doesn't exactly qualify as efficient. UCLA turned the ball over 22 times as well, so there is plenty of room for improvement. Fortunately, the club forced 27 giveaways and limited the Matadors to 29 perfect field goal efficiency.
UCLA figures to knock off Pepperdine by double figures. Reeves will lead the way, as he will do often this season.
FACTS & STATS: Site: Pauley Pavilion (12,800) -- Los Angeles, California. Television: ESPNU. Home Record: Pepperdine 0-0, UCLA 1-0. Away Record: Pepperdine 0-1, UCLA 0-0. Neutral Record: Pepperdine 0-0, UCLA 0-0. Conference Record: Pepperdine 0-0, UCLA 0-0. Series Record: UCLA leads, 16-4.