(Sports Network) - The VCU Rams and the UCLA Bruins will do battle at Madison Square Garden this afternoon for third place in the NIT Season Tip-Off. VCU opened the college basketball season with three consecutive victories, including a 21-point romp over Wake Forest on the road to build some major confidence. The Rams certainly put forth a tremendous effort in Wednesday' semifinal matchup with nationally-ranked Tennessee in New York, but that affair ended in a 77-72 defeat. A member of the Colonial Athletic Association, VCU is lead by Shaka Smart, one of the 10 youngest coaches in Division I.
UCLA opened the season with three straight wins, all by double figures, but none of those opponents were on par with Villanova, currently ranked seventh in the nation. The Wildcats were the opponents of the Bruins on Wednesday, and while UCLA put forth a solid effort in that affair, the result was an 82-70 setback. The Bruins weren't considered one of the top two teams in the Pac-10 Conference heading into this season, but the club certainly has the talent to get to that level.
The only previous meeting between these teams came in the 2009 NCAA Tournament, a game won by UCLA by a 65-64 final.
Brandon Rozzell has been the most productive offensive performer for VCU through four games, as he is pouring in 18.2 ppg on 57.4 percent shooting from the field. The Rams are helped by the duo of Joey Rodriguez and Bradford Burgess, as both players are scoring 15.0 ppg. Rodriguez has connected on 13- of-30 three-point attempts thus far, and he has dished out 33 assists against only nine turnovers. Rounding out a foursome of double-digit scorers is Jamie Skeen with 13.0 ppg, and he is pulling down 8.5 rpg as well. In the narrow loss to Tennessee, Rozzell poured in 23 points off the bench, as he nailed 6- of-11 three-point attempts. Ed Nixon tallied 16 points, while Skeen contributed 12 points and 14 boards. The Rams connected on just 30.9 percent of their field goal attempts, however, and suffered a 54-45 rebounding disadvantage. The fact that they finished with more turnovers than assists didn't help either.
UCLA is scoring 72.2 ppg on 49.1 percent shooting from the floor, and the team is allowing 61.2 ppg on 35.7 percent field goal efficiency. The Bruins have three double-digit scorers in the fold, and Reeves Nelson leads the way with 17.0 ppg on 66.7 percent shooting. He is also pulling down 10.5 rpg, impressive to say the least. Tyler Honeycutt, another standout frontcourt performer, is posting 13.8 ppg and 6.8 rpg, while Lazeric Jones brings 12.3 ppg to the floor. Against Villanova, UCLA was outscored 28-18 from the foul line, the most obvious reason for the setback. A 43-38 rebounding deficit also hurt the cause. Malcolm Lee scored 13 points for the Bruins, who got 12 points from Jones. Nelson and Joshua Smith had 10 points apiece, and Nelson contributed 13 rebounds.
FACTS & STATS: Site: Madison Square Garden (19,876) -- New York, New York.. Television: ESPN. Home Record: VCU 1-0, UCLA 3-0. Away Record: VCU 1-0, UCLA 0-0. Neutral Record: VCU 1-1, UCLA 0-1. Conference Record: VCU 0-0, UCLA 0-0. Series Record: UCLA leads, 1-0.