Something has to give. Ohio State is allowing 61.7 points per game while UCLA is putting up 97.9 points per contest. The superior strength will be determined Saturday afternoon when the two teams face off in the CBS Sports Classic at Las Vegas.
UCLA (11-0) leads the country in field-goal shooting percentage (56.0) and in three-point field-goal shooting percentage (45.3). The second-ranked Bruins have made 399 of 712 shots from the field and 124 of 274 from beyond the arc.
As if that is not impressive enough, UCLA has five players who have attempted at least 24 three-pointers and each of them are shooting better than 40.0 percent from long distance.
“Our defense is definitely going to be tested and you have to tell your guys, ‘They’re going to make some,’” OSU head coach Thad Matta said. “The three-point defense has got to be there and knowing that they’re a very good at it but they don’t rely solely on that. They will drive to the basket, they’ll post the ball too.”
The Buckeyes’ strength this year just so happens to be their defense. They have held opponents to shooting just 37.9 percent from the field and 32.8 percent from three-point range.
The most points Ohio State (8-2) has given up in a game this year is 79 to Florida Atlantic, which actually resulted in a loss for Matta’s club.
Meanwhile, UCLA has eclipsed the 100-point mark in five of its 11 games this season, with 119 being the highest output.
“They are a team where you can’t take plays off,” Buckeye junior forward Jae’Sean Tate said of UCLA. “They score the ball at a tremendous rate and defense is going to be key. So, we’re trying to home in our defense.
“We’re just going to play Buckeye defense the way we’ve been playing it and they’ll have a hard time.”
Clearly, the emphasis in practice all week has been on defense to try to slow down the potent UCLA offensive attack. Ohio State Junior forward Keita Bates-Diop said he thinks his team can run with the Bruins, but he’s not so sure that’s the most conducive way to play with them.
“We have pretty good conditioning on our side so I think we can keep up with them,” Bates-Diop said. “I don’t know if we want to turn it into that kind of game because they shoot a lot more threes than we like to. So, we’ll probably just try to play our game and stop them from what they do well.”
One player who helps facilitate UCLA’s prolific offense is freshman guard Lonzo Ball. He is fourth on the team with 14.8 points per game but leads the squad with 8.6 assists per game.
“He’s really good," Matta said of Ball. "Somebody asked me the other day about a comparison to (former Buckeye guard) D’Angelo (Russell) and there are some similarities there because he can beat you by scoring, he can beat you by passing. As we did with D’Angelo, they move him around to a lot of different spots and he does a great job making that team go.”
Matta understands how explosive UCLA is offensively and therefore thought it was necessary to repeat his awareness of how critical Ohio State’s defensive play will be in the matchup.
“I know this, our defense is going to be tested and we’ve got to do a great job of communicating and what we’re trying to do and how we’re doing it,” Matta said. “And like I said, they may make a couple and you got to run down and execute at the other end.”