This was, on the surface, one of UCLA's best wins of the year, with the Bruins knocking off a middling-to-decent opponent, on the road in a hostile environment, despite their best player not playing well.
The Ducks, though, are probably not as good as their non-conference record would have indicated, and have admittedly hit a significant lull in the first half of conference play. It remains to be seen exactly how bad they'll end up, but they'll need to significantly turn it around for their season to be a successful one.
Still, UCLA overcame some significant issues, and so it was, in that sense, probably the most encouraging win of the season, because the Bruins showed fortitude at various points in not letting the game get away from them. Kyle Anderson, despite playing with a sore neck and ankle, gutted through 34 minutes of what looked like very painful play.
The sequence to end the game was a perfect example of the Bruins' fortitude -- after going ahead 62-52, UCLA went into a lull thanks to a combination of slow defense and what looked to be some fatigued play from Anderson, who was battling various ailments throughout the game. The Ducks went on a 16-3 run, putting the score at 68-65 with under a minute to go, and for those of us who have watched UCLA this year, it seemed pretty clear that this would be another missed opportunity for a solid road win.
Of course, instead, UCLA showed the resolve to make the comeback, fueled by a burst of better defense and Jordan Adams' big three-point play to tie the game. That 5-0 run to close the game might have been the most encouraging thing to happen for UCLA this season, simply because it was the most difficult situation that UCLA has overcome this year. UCLA hasn't shown the ability to make a comeback like that this year, particularly with a game on the line.
You'd have to say that Oregon didn't play well, though, especially down the stretch. In fact, to start the second half, it'd be easy to say that Mike Moser had as much to do with UCLA's run to start the half as any UCLA players. That said, this still seems like a game UCLA would have lost a month or two ago.
You have to give credit to Anderson for gutting through the win when he was clearly in a great deal of physical discomfort. He was also bothered quite a bit by the Jonathan Loyd, whose quick hands caused him some trouble on the defensive end. Anderson had nine turnovers, but a couple of those came off perfect passes that bounced off UCLA players out of bounds (Norman Powell and David Wear owe him). Conversely, Anderson (and Bryce Alford) were both helped by some really lucky bounces off their errant passes throughout the game.
Alford didn't play well and probably played too many minutes in the first half (13) when Oregon began to exert control over the game. In the second half, he played a much more manageable six minutes. He wasn't effective on either end of the floor, and with the Ducks playing up on him to take away his shot, he elected to drive more often than not and he hasn't shown the consistent ability to do so against high-major teams. In fact, not to go all Bill Walton on you, that was a huge issue in the first half against Oregon, with the entire UCLA team over-dribbling and not looking to pass quickly. It led to more outside jumpers than you'd want against a team that really didn't have much size inside, and helped to lead to Oregon to a 36-32 advantage at half and seemingly all the momentum.
Norman Powell and Jordan Adams really did wrest control of the game back from Oregon to start the second half. Powell, in particular, played a very controlled game, earning several trips to the free throw line off good drives to the basket. He also showed excellent touch on that banked floater early in the half. Combined with his first half where he was actually played defense, he was easily UCLA's best player Thursday. Adams also seemed to come alive for his best stretch of play in a long time. Both players also rebounded well, earning six apiece, which was significant because UCLA didn't get much of anything from its starting posts.
Travis Wear and David Wear took eight of UCLA's first 16 shots, and that's usually a sign that UCLA is settling too much for mid-range jumpers. Neither player rebounded well against Oregon's lack of size, getting out-quicked by the Ducks. In 45 minutes, the Wears combined for six rebounds. In 17 foul-plagued minutes, Tony Parker had 4.
Parker played pretty well in his 17 minutes, playing with strength against Oregon's posts and looking much more like the version of Parker that played so well against Stanford than the one that fouled out against California. He still did foul out, though, so there's clearly some work he still needs to do in terms of staying focused. Steve Alford has shown that he's willing to limit the minutes of the Wears to get Parker more time, and it'll be up to Parker to consistently show he can play those minutes without getting into foul trouble.
Zach LaVine had a generally sub-par game, not looking comfortable getting his shot off against Oregon and then making at least one ill-advised drive to the basket that resulted in a turnover. UCLA played zone for a good portion of the game, so the perceived match-up of LaVine or Powell guarding the smaller Oregon guards didn't come to fruition much throughout the night.
As we said after the Colorado win, to make sure this game means anything, UCLA needs to take care of the road sweep on Sunday. If the Bruins are able to beat Oregon State, seal the road sweep, and have a 4-0 winning streak heading into the USC game, we can begin to talk about UCLA playing for a high seed in the NCAA Tournament again. At 18-4, with a relatively easy slate of games remaining, the Bruins can head into the back half of the conference season with a firm grasp on second place in the conference and the opportunity to play for a San Diego pod in the NCAA Tournament.
Bruins Gut Out a Win
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