Oregon is a good, not great team. They do some things very well, things that could really tip the balance of the game in their favor. Like the Bruins, the Ducks rely on a couple of their own freshmen, but they have already played a game under this type of pressure. Remember, the Ducks defeated Arizona in Eugene last week.
Let's get the obvious out of the way first: the Bruins should gain at least a few points by playing at home. While Oregon isn't a bad road team, they are a team that feeds off the energy of the crowd at their new, energized Matthew Knight Court.
There will be a couple of match-ups that should determine the outcome of the game. The first key one isn't even between the players, but rather between UCLA Coach Ben Howland and Oregon Coach Dana Altman. If Howland is considered the best Xs-and-Os coach in the conference, then Altman is right there with him. Altman is excellent at devising game plans that maximize his team's strengths and exploit the opposition's weaknesses. Howland is well known for his game preparation, but also has a much better record getting ready for Thursday games rather than the second game of a conference weekend (do you hear that Arizona?). The key here will be which coach will be better at A) coming up with a game plan, and B) making in-game adjustments.
The next issue of the game will be tempo, more specifically, which team thrives more at a fast tempo. Both teams like to get up and down the floor. In fact, UCLA has yet to face a team that likes to get out on the secondary break like the Ducks. Similarly for UCLA's opponents, the Bruins could do a lot towards ensuring a victory against the Ducks by limiting or even eliminating their easy points after made UCLA baskets.
These squads are statistically mirror images of each other. Oregon averages 46% from the floor shooting while the Bruins average 48%. Oregon allows its opponents to shoot 40% from the floor while the Bruins are allowing 41%. Oregon is averaging 34% on three-pointers while the Bruins average 36%. Oregon is averaging 40 rebounds per game while the Bruins average 39. If there is one stat that might be telling, it's the turnovers. Oregon averages 21 TPG while the Bruins average 15. That's a minimum of 12 more possible points for the Bruins, and in what shapes up to be a close game, that could be the difference.
On the other hand, the Ducks do something UCLA doesn't, and that's pressure defensively. The Bruins haven't faced the kind of defensive pressure that Oregon will throw at them on Saturday. Even more athletic teams, like Missouri, don't ramp up the pressure in the halfcourt like the Ducks do. Unfortunately, the Bruins generally don't have the athleticism to make the Ducks pay for that kind of pressure, so the issue here is going to be which team imposes its will on the other, the Ducks with their defense or the Bruins with their offense? Will UCLA run its offensive sets crisply enough that it will force the Duck defense into mistakes?
Then there are the individual match-ups. Let's begin at the point guard spot, where Oregon will start true freshman and former UCLA verbal commit, Dominic Artis (6'1" 185 lbs.). Artis is one of five Ducks averaging in double figures, at 10.1 PPG. He leads the team in assists at 3.7 APG and he's shooting 34% from behind the arc. While he splits time with junior Johnathan Loyd (5'8" 165 lbs.), Artis is clearly the first point guard option. Artis is bound to be amped for the game seeing as he apparently withdrew his verbal commitment to the Bruins after Kyle Anderson's commitment. Artis is sure to want to show Howland and others that essentially taking Anderson over him was a mistake. However, even though Artis is quicker and more athletic than UCLA's Larry Drew II, he has some holes in his game. Artis shows his freshman inexperience by turning over the ball 3 times per game and, more importantly, when Artis plays "emotionally," as he probably will on Saturday, he tends to get out of control in the lane and make poor decisions with regard to shot selection (So, there is one advantage to UCLA not getting Artis). Still, expect he and Loyd to put more pressure on Drew than anything the UCLA senior has seen yet this year.
Loyd (another player that UCLA also could have gotten if they had wanted) is a bit of a sparkplug off the bench for Altman, and he's been a bit of a pain in the side of the Bruins the past two seasons, especially last year in UCLA's devastating loss in Eugene. He is much like Artis in that he tends to get out of control at times and averages only slightly more assists than turnovers. He also has issues with shot selection. Still, the battle between the duo of Artis and Loyd against UCLA's Drew and Norman Powell bears watching.
Speaking of a pain for the Bruins, E.J. Singler (6'6" 215 lbs.) returns. Singler's biggest attribute when he has played the Bruins has been his "sneakiness." Lacking athleticism, he's sneaky in creating shots out of nothing. He did that a few times in the win against USC on Thursday. The thing that makes Singler, who averages 10.5 PPG and is second on the team with 5.8 RPG, truly dangerous, though, besides his savvy, is his streak shooting. While he averages 35% from behind the arc, he's generally a very hot or cold shooter. If he gets going, he'll score over 20 points on Saturday. The defense the Bruins play on him will be key to slowing down the Oregon halfcourt offense. Singler is savvy enough to give Shabazz Muhammad and Jordan Adams, both of whom he should be guarding at some point on Saturday, a difficult time. However, he could also find himself getting lit up by one or both on the other end.
Altman has some real size up front in seniors Tony Woods (6'11" 243 lbs.) and Rice transfer Arsalan Kazemi (6'7" 226 lbs.). Woods is a shot blocker while Kazemi is a space eater. Kazemi is especially effective on the boards, averaging 9.5 RPG. Woods is hitting for 10.9 PPG but only 3.8 RPG. However, keep in mind his shot-blocking capability. A poster on BRO wrote earlier this week that Travis Wear would essentially have a poor game against Oregon because he was finally going to go up against post players who "know how to guard him." Actually, it might be the opposite – that Wear matches up better against Woods. Wear's ability to hit the long jumper may be what wins this game for the Bruins. If Woods plays off him, Wear has shown he can consistently hit the mid-range to three-point shot. If Woods uses his length to get up into Wear then that means the Oregon paint is without its shot blocking presence. Either way, Wear has an impact. Don't lose sight of the fact that Wear is very good at slipping into open spots when his defender isn't paying attention.
Kazemi will be a handful to deal with for any of the Bruin posts. This may be the game where Howland regrets not having Tony Parker and his size more game-ready to deal with someone of Kazemi's bulk. Kazemi usually comes off the bench.
The other forward starter is senior Carlos Emory (6'5" 205 lbs.). He is athletic and does a lot of the little things that teams need to do in order to win. Emory averages 10.5 PPG and 4.5 RPG. He is also typically given the other team's best offensive wing as a defensive assignment, so he should be matched up on Muhammad or Adams.
The final starter may be the conference's most pleasant surprise, freshman Daymean Dotson (6'5" 202 lbs.). He leads the Ducks in scoring at 12 PPG and has generally been good all over the floor. He is also athletic and likes to get into the lane. However, he isn't the best shooter from distance, hitting only 32% of his three-point shots (which is not only an area of weakness for Dotson but for the entire team). The assignment to guard Dotson will likely fall to Adams, though it was refreshing to see Howland go to Powell quickly against the Beavers when it was clear Adams wasn't getting the job done.
So there you have it, an Oregon team that only has seven players in its rotation, the short bench being another similarity to the Bruins. This very well could be a battle of attrition, especially if foul trouble raises its ugly head.
There is one more issue: How much was taken out of each team on Thursday night. The Bruins played the earlier and had the easier game, beating OSU by 10 and leading by double-digits for much of the night. Oregon played a late game against Southern Cal and had to contend with a nail-biter (that the Ducks won by 2). However, neither team had to play guys for big minutes, save for Drew's 38 minutes for the Bruins. There's more, however, to fatigue than physically being drained. The mental fatigue of being involved in a very close game and then having to turn right around and play another road game can be tough. It may not have any impact on the game, but it is something to think about.
Howland brought up in his press conference that this is just like his first season, when the Bruins opened up conference play 5-0, only to get destroyed at home by Arizona. That started a tumble that saw the Bruins finish 11-17 on the year. Now the Bruins are in the same territory playing in a very similar situation with even a similar team to that 2003-2004 Arizona team coming to Pauley Pavilion. Howland stated he thinks this Bruin team is better than the one in his first year. That remains to be seen.
This is a huge game, probably more so for the Bruins than the Ducks as it's their home game. It's also huge because Oregon has already swept the Arizona schools while the Bruins will have to travel to the desert next weekend.
Here's the thing: Even with all the possible scenarios and issues for the game, I really do believe that it comes down to one thing. Tracy Pierson wrote about UCLA's penchant for relaxing defensively, and he's right. This young team takes its foot off the defensive gas instead of stepping on an opponent's proverbial throat. Young teams lose focus like that, but talented young teams also gain that focus back when the bright lights come on. These young Bruins, with freshmen who played in big, pressure-filled games in high school, seem like the type to thrive on an this environment. Thursday night the Bruins clearly looked like a team that was looking ahead. This is the game they were looking ahead to…