Oregon Preview

After the loss to OSU, UCLA travels to Eugene to try to salvage the weekend against Oregon. The Ducks present some considerable challenges...

The UCLA Bruins are facing their most important game of the season on Saturday when they travel to Eugene to take on the Oregon Ducks. It is a crucial game because the Bruins are coming off an 87-74 loss at Oregon State on Thursday night.

We at BRO have sometimes gotten our predictions wrong on Bruin games, both in score and in the way a particular game has transpired, but we were pretty much dead on for the OSU game. Coach Ben Howland insisted on playing man defense for most of the game and in the end it probably cost the Bruins a victory. Watching that game unfold, it's probably a pretty safe bet that UCLA will probably attempt to defensively play Oregon much the same way. The question is whether or not UCLA's man-to-man defense will be enough to handle the personnel that Oregon coach Dana Altman will throw out on the floor.

A couple of things about the OSU game: I know that Tracy Pierson wrote almost exclusively about the Bruin defense in his OSU game review, but the fact of the matter is, except for the inexplicable loss at home to Idaho, OSU has been simply torching opponents on the offensive end. That's what they did when they beat Texas on a neutral floor and Cal at home. I think this is important to understand because I'm not writing that to state that Pierson is wrong in his defensive assessment, but that the OSU game, because of OSU's offense, may be the best offense the Bruins see this weekend. The Beavers certainly shoot better than the Ducks (49% versus 45%) and average almost 15 PPG more than the Ducks. You can even make a credible argument that OSU, outside of Angus Brandt, is more athletic than the Ducks as a team.

However, the Beaver defense leaves a lot to be desired and UCLA isn't going to get the open looks they got in Corvallis when they face the Ducks. Oregon allows opponents to shoot in the 42% range. To add to the issues that face the Bruins on Saturday, while Oregon may not be as collectively athletic as the Beavers, individually the Bruins may face more match-up issues than they did in Corvallis.

A positive irony for the Bruins is that they just played against arguably the best player in the Pac 12, OSU's Jared Cunningham, and now they will face a player with a similar build and game in Oregon senior Devoe Joseph (6'4" 180 lbs.). Joseph, a Minnesota transfer, is having a very good year for the Ducks, averaging a team-leading 15 PPG and is near the top in virtually every other significant statistical category for a point guard. Joseph is clearly more of a scoring point guard than a natural passer, but he has been very effective for the Ducks. He isn't as good as Cunningham in almost every facet of his game (except for three-point shooting), but he's plenty good enough to cause the Bruin guards a great deal of trouble throughout the game. However, the Bruin guards should be very familiar with Joseph as they played Cunningham on Thursday.

The "two-guard" and "swing" spots are occupied primarily by senior Garrett Sim (6'2" 185 lbs.) and junior E.J. Singler (6'6" 215 lbs.), who both shot well against the Bruins last season. Because Joseph is more of a scoring guard, Sim actually has more of a point guard's stat line than does Joseph. Sim has 52 assists to Joseph's 35 (and more turnovers than Joseph) and he generally makes good decisions on the floor. The Bruins have an athletic advantage against Sim but he is a very smart player. The key to Sim is that he's a deadly three-point shooter, averaging almost 49% from behind the arc on 77 shots.

Singler is the emotional leader of the Ducks and really is Altman's coach on the court. He isn't outstanding at anything but is good at virtually every facet of his game. His three-point shooting is off this year (33%) but, as the Bruins well know, he can get very hot from distance at any time. Singler is the team's leading rebounder at 5 RPG, but that's a mirage stat as the Ducks generally rebound by committee, having six players average at least 3.5 RPG.

Speaking of playing familiar individual opponents, Oregon's first guard off the bench, sophomore Johnathan Loyd (5'8" 165 lbs.), is eerily similar in his game to OSU's Ahmad Starks. Loyd is probably better at getting in the paint than Starks (Loyd has a team-leading 64 assists) while Starks is probably a better shooter. Regardless, Loyd is quicker than anyone on the UCLA roster save maybe Norman Powell.

The OSU inside players presented much more of a size threat than the Oregon "bigs" do, but Oregon's big guys are more athletic than their Beaver counterparts. Junior Tony Woods (6'11" 250 lbs.) has turned into a relatively competent post player, while seniors Jeremy Jacob (6'8" 230 lbs.) and Tyrone Nared (6'8" 220 lbs.) have enough quickness to really bother UCLA's inside players. None of these three players score much and Jacob and Woods are strictly inside players (Woods has 30 blocks on the season) but all three could really cause the Wears, Josh Smith and Anthony Stover some foul-trouble headaches with their activity and athleticism.

Really, individually going through the Oregon roster to look at match-ups is a bit of a futile endeavor. You certainly should know about Joseph, Sim and Singler, but after that Altman will mix and match up to eight other players. There are 11 players on the Ducks' roster that average double digits in minutes played. The key to playing the Ducks is being active on both ends and taking advantage of the things your team does well while minimizing the areas of concern for your squad. Trying to take individual Duck players out of their game is almost pointless as Oregon has so many interchangeable players.

For the Bruins, this means that they have to do a better job on the defensive end than they did against OSU. Quite frankly, while OSU did some things to exploit UCLA's lack of quickness, they also hit some crazy shots that won't go in nine out of ten times. Oregon is going to run many of the same offensive sets out of a high-post motion that OSU ran, although there will be more traditional sets thrown in. UCLA is going to have to worry more about Oregon's post players driving to the hoop than they did against OSU, but they aren't going to have to worry as much about the dribble penetration of Singler and definitely Sim. That may be a bit of a scary proposition for the Bruins as UCLA is coming off a game where the Bruins made OSU's Devon Collier look like an all-Pac 12 player.

Sim is the most dangerous shooter on the floor and the Bruins need to recognize where he is at all times, and Joseph is also hitting on well over 40% of his deep shots. However, Oregon's offense on the whole is nothing like the Beaver offense. OSU averages well over 80 PPG while Oregon is only scoring just over 68 PPG.

Oregon also plays better defense than OSU, but they don't cause the kind of turnovers and general havoc that OSU's ¾ court 1-3-1 press causes. UCLA was able to shoot at 57% against a high-pressure defense looking for turnovers while still not turning the ball over all that much. The Bruins shouldn't have that kind of shooting percentage against the Ducks but they should be able to initiate their offense with much less pressure on them than they did against OSU.

There will be a concern for the Bruins in that both Jerime Anderson and Lazeric Jones are coming off games where both played very close to 40 minutes. How tired will they be?

The Bruins still need much more out of Josh Smith, who scored 10 points in 19 minutes against the Beavers and rebounded fairly well.

However, as funny as this sounds, after having viewed both the Ducks and Beavers, who would have thought that OSU probably has the better, more athletic team? I would argue the Beavers do and even if that's an incorrect assessment, the Beavers are a much more difficult match-up for the Bruins than the Ducks should be.

That's not to say that UCLA will win as Matt Court is a much more intimidating atmosphere than Gill Coliseum, in spite of the fact that OSU had a great crowd for Thursday's game.

How will the Bruins fair with their intensity in a very hostile environment? How will tired players hold up (Oregon had to play a bit of a nail biter on Thursday against a depleted USC squad)? How will Smith play? How will the offense do? The defense? All of these are valid questions, but this game is going to come down to whether or not Howland is going to continue to stubbornly play man defense when a zone could/would work much better. Oregon has two shooters who could light up the gym from deep but as a team they are much worse from distance than OSU and OSU isn't exactly great from the three-point line. Oregon has too much athleticism for the Bruins to stay in man defense all game, especially in the low post.

I am going to go out on a limb, though. I was right about the Oregon State game in that the man defense would lead to a close Bruin loss (I said two points rather than the three they lost by) and I hope I am right about this: Oregon is a better match-up for the Bruins. The Ducks don't put near the pressure on the opposition's guards that OSU does. Instead of looking for turnovers, the Ducks play lane denial defense looking to hold the opposition to a low shooting percentage. UCLA doesn't turn the ball over, and runs its offensive sets about as well as any team Oregon will face. UCLA is similar in some key areas to two teams that blew Oregon off the floor -- BYU and Cal, and Cal beat Oregon by 17 in Eugene. Both Cal and BYU are more deliberate teams that run solid, low-turnover offenses. (I am not making a comparison between those two teams' personnel and that of the Bruins but rather the playing style).

Finally, UCLA got blown out on the road at Cal after a close first half (has anyone noticed that in UCLA's three conference road games that the Bruins have been down by 1 at the half of each?) because the Bruins were emotionally shot after a close loss to Stanford two nights before -- a game the Bruins felt they should have won. My guess is there is no such feeling running through the UCLA locker room after the OSU game. If Anderson and Jones aren't run down by their minutes from Thursday, then I'm going to be a homer and predict a bit of an upset.

Oregon 65

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