Oregon Preview

A UCLA team that has ups and downs with its intensity goes to Eugene to face perhaps one of the most pumped up teams in the country, the Oregon Ducks, in a game that doesn't look good for the Bruins...

While the UCLA basketball team might be enjoying the fact that they finally won a game for the first time in more than two weeks, the reality is the Bruins are now skirting with a second straight unsuccessful season because of their collective lack of intensity and focus. The Bruins may be 10-6, but they may not win many more games this season if they play as they did in the second half of the win over Oregon State.

Now the Bruins will have to face a team with arguably the opposite personality of themselves, the Oregon Ducks, a team that proved Thursday night when they beat USC that a team with little talent can win on pure emotion, intensity and attention to detail, especially on defense.

The Bruins better find the mojo they had from the first half in Corvallis or Oregon is going to be 2-0 in its new venue. There may not be another college team in the land that is playing with more positive emotional energy than the Ducks because of the opening of their new basketball arena, Matthew Knight Court (or Matt Court as the Oregon fans are now calling it). If the Bruins play like they did during the OSU first half then they should win the game and return to Los Angeles in much better shape than when they left for the Pacific Northwest road trip.

The game really isn't about personnel, but rather about collective team identity, at least for this one game. However, looking at the player match-ups is what we do, so…

The best player for new coach Dana Altman's Ducks is senior Joevan Catron (6'6" 245 lbs.), a bull of a player who leads the team in scoring at 15.9 PPG and rebounding at 6.4 RPG. Catron, however, is unlikely to play against the Bruins because of a strained calf he suffered against Washington State last weekend. He may still play but he will be limited. This is after Catron missed almost the whole of last season with a back injury. He is a player who knows how to use his size and he plays bigger and longer than his 6'6", 245-pound frame. Reeves Nelson and Brendan Lane will have their hands full if Catron plays. Catron, if he does go, will almost have to defend Josh Smith when the Bruin frosh plays because Altman has very little size on his roster.

The other forwards are senior Jeremy Jacob (6'8" 226 lbs.), junior Tyrone Nared (6'8" 210 lbs.) and sophomore E.J. Singler (6'6" 210 lbs.), brother of Duke's Kyle. None of them are spectacular. They are long and fairly athletic, but they are thin and can be abused on the low block. Of the three, Singler is the most accomplished, having a skill set similar to his more famous brother. Singler is second on the team in scoring at 11.4 PPG and rebounding at 6.3 RPG. He is a pretty good outside shooter, hitting 19-51 three-pointers on the season, good for a respectable 37%. Singler embodies the Ducks when things go well for them. He is a high-energy guy who will get under the skin of opposing players simply because of his grit and tenacity.

The Duck backcourt is as anonymous as its frontcourt and the numbers that the Oregon guards and wings are putting up are pretty pedestrian. Altman is playing five guards right now in senior Jay-R Strowbridge (5'11" 185 lbs.), juniors Malcolm Armstead (6'0" 195 lbs.) Garrett Sim (6'1" 181 lbs.) and Teondre Williams (6'4" 218 lbs.), and freshman John Loyd (5'8" 160 lbs.), the same player that was interested in UCLA last spring. All of them shoot the three, but none of them exceedingly well. Armstead and Loyd are the two who run the point while Strowbridge and Sim are more shooting guard types. Williams is a natural two guard, but is often played out of position in order to spell Singler at the small forward spot. He may have to spend more time at small forward if Catron is out because Singler then slides to the power forward position for some minutes.

The one thing that this Oregon team does a decent job of is play defense. They hold opponents to a respectable 44% shooting and they force an average of almost 17 turnovers per game. Loyd is quick and has the ability to be a thorn in the side of opposing offenses. The problem for the Ducks is that their collective offense is among the worst in men's' Division 1 basketball. They shoot a woeful 41% from the field for the season and only 30% from beyond the arc. They are a pretty good free throw shooting team, though, at 73%.

Altman was well-known as a defensive coach while coaching at both Kansas State and Creighton. He knows when to switch defenses and has his players well-versed in where to be on given possessions on the defensive end. However, this Oregon team is still getting used to Altman and what he wants them to do on defense. They are, however, playing with a lot of passion and that should be expected playing on a new court with pretty rabid fans.

The fact that the game will be during the opening weekend of the Matt Center will stand to only help the Ducks. In beating USC on Thursday the crowd got the home team fired up to the point that they led by 20 midway through the second half. This against a team that just beat UCLA by 11. The other thing to keep in mind is the court has some very different shading and coloring. It made the game on Thursday difficult to follow at times on television. Oregon will of course be used to the court, while UCLA will not. That should at least psychologically play into Oregon's favor.

On paper the Bruins should win this game going away, but "on paper" tends to discount or not count at all a team's heart and desire. Oregon is playing with passion after having a few clunkers early in the season (Idaho and San Jose State). That passion can go a long way in determining the outcome of a game when the opposition is both young and inconsistent in their effort, and that's UCLA's M.O.

Expect the Bruins to have some trouble with Loyd, both containing him and keeping him from being too much of a pest when UCLA has the ball. The Bruins will also have some trouble with Catron if he plays (Jacob is banged up, too and only played 11 minutes against the Trojans). The Bruins had better offset that with some smart basketball at both ends of the floor. They should do what USC failed to do Thursday night -- pound the ball inside where the Bruins have a massive advantage. Don't allow Oregon to speed up the game. Hit the boards on both end, and most of all don't allow the crowd to be a factor after the tip.

Sadly, the Bruins appear to still be too young, mentally soft and inefficient to pull off the sweep of the Oregon schools, especially because Oregon seems to be playing with the exact opposite energy level and focus right now. It won't be a blow-out, but Bruin fans should expect to be disappointed.

Oregon 63

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