Oregon State Preview

UCLA takes on Oregon State Saturday morning looking to complete the road sweep of the Oregon schools and enter the back half of the conference season on a 4-0 streak...

After UCLA's thrilling last-second win over Oregon on Thursday night, the Bruins look to complete a sweep of the state of Oregon when they take on the Oregon State Beavers in Corvallis Sunday (11:30 AM, ESPNU).

The game is important for the Bruins in that a win would completely solidify second place for the Bruins in the Pac 12. If UCLA is successful on Sunday then the Bruins will have finished the first half of their Pac 12 slate, arguably the tougher half, with a record of 7-2. Further, with Arizona's loss to California Saturday night, the Bruins will only be one game behind Arizona for first place in the Pac 12 and the Wildcats have a tougher second-half schedule in conference than do the Bruins. Finally, a win would put UCLA clearly on a path to a top four or five seed for the upcoming NCAA Tournament and presumably put them in games in San Diego.

Coach Craig Robinson's Beavers have a reasonable belief that if they go on a bit of a run, they have an outside shot at an NCAA Tournament bid. Robinson certainly hopes so as the general consensus coming into the season was that if Robinson wanted to keep his job, he needed to guide the Beavers to the Big Dance.

UCLA comes into the game with a 17-4 record, 6-2 in the Pac 12, while the Beavers are 12-8 with a 4-4 conference record. UCLA has suffered defeats at the hands of Duke, Missouri, Arizona and at Utah. OSU has lost to the likes of Akron, DePaul, Hawaii and, most damaging of all, Coppin State. Quite frankly, in terms of NCAA Tournament chances, OSU needs this game much more than UCLA does.

The star player for the Beavers so far this season has been senior guard Roberto Nelson (6'4" 198 lbs.). He leads OSU in scoring at 22.3 PPG, assists, at almost 4 APG, and shot attempts with 288. He is the clear floor leader of the team and when he is on the Beavers are very dangerous. Robinson plays Nelson at the point much of the time simply because he wants to get the ball in Nelson's hands as much as possible. Nelson has a quick shot and really hasn't met a shot he doesn't like. Chances are that UCLA coach Steve Alford will put Norman Powell on Nelson. Powell has started to look like one of the best perimeter defenders in the conference and has been playing recently as if he is enjoying the opportunity to shut down the opponent's top guard.

Besides the fact that Robinson wants the ball in Nelson's hands, the other reason Nelson starts at the point is that Robinson really doesn't have another point guard on the roster he trusts to play big minutes. As a result, Robinson has recently been starting freshmen Hallice Cooke (6'3" 185 lbs.) at the off-guard spot. The game will represent a reunion of sorts as Cooke played his prep ball at St. Anthony's (Jersey City, NJ) and was a teammate of UCLA's Kyle Anderson. Cooke's main attribute has been that he is the best three-point shooter on the Beaver roster, at 52%. He should probably be more of a top option for the Beavers on offense but those shots would probably come at the expense of Nelson's attempts, which Robinson hasn't shown a willingness to sacrifice. Cooke is very good when he gets his feet set, but he struggles when trying to score off the bounce. UCLA's Anderson probably knows how to defend Cooke, but by putting Anderson on Cooke, Alford risks pulling his best rebounder away from the glass. To put in perspective how far from the defensive boards Anderson would be if he guarded Cooke, the OSU frosh has yet to record an offensive rebound on the season. Anderson may guard Cooke at times, but don't be surprised to see Jordan Adams on him, especially since Cooke struggles on the bounce, or Zach LaVine or even Bryce Alford.

Sophomore Langston Morris-Walker (6'5" 216 lbs.) rounds out the recent starting backcourt. The young wing actually is a good shooter, averaging better than 50% from the floor and from beyond the arc. However, he simply isn't shooting enough. He is only averaging 3.7 PPG. He is a longer wing and plays pretty good defense. He will likely be matched up against UCLA's Adams when he is on the floor.

There are four players who occupy the two post spots. The two starters are senior Angus Brandt (6'10" 246 lbs.) and junior Eric Moreland (6'10" 218 lbs.). Brandt has a game very much like UCLA's Wear brothers. He doesn't shoot as well as they do, but he is more physical and a better passer and is key to OSU's modified high post Princeton-style offense.

Moreland is the more physical post presence and leads the team with 8.5 RPG. His early season suspension set him back a bit offensively, and he is still raw at that end of the floor, but he impacts the game in virtually every other way.

The Wears should be able to match up with Brandt, so Tony Parker will be key as his ability to deal effectively with Moreland will go a long way to dictating who wins the frontcourt battle.

The other two post players who receive significant playing time are senior Devon Collier (6'8" 216 lbs.) and sophomore Daniel Gomis (6'10" 223 lbs.) Collier is essentially a starter and will play about 27 MPG. He will fill any one of three spots, the five, the four and even a little bit at the three. He is the most athletic player on the team, even though his limited offensive game means he is strictly a low post scorer. He leads the team in blocks by a large margin and is second on the team with 14.5 PPG. More than that, Collier is long and because of that, I have a sneaking suspicion that Collier will be matched-up on Anderson for much of the game. If Collier is matched up on Anderson, it could make for a long night again for the UCLA sophomore. He is coming off arguably his worst game as a Bruin and is banged up. His ankle was reportedly giving him so much trouble that it would be unreasonable to think he'll be fully recovered by game time.

Gomis is strictly a size-based minutes eater. Robinson likes bigs who can pass and play the game facing the basket. Gomis rebounds well but has no real impact in any other part of the game. Still, having a 6'10" player anchor the paint could make dribble drives more difficult.

Oregon State is one of those teams where the individual statistics and tendencies don't tell the whole story. They are clearly the sum of their parts. This is a team that shoots the ball very well, especially at home. In fact, unless something changes, they should be around 50% for the game on Sunday. OSU shoots 49% from the field as a team and 41% from behind the arc. That last statistic is important, as UCLA has clearly struggled at times this season closing out on shooters. As a result, even poor three-point shooting teams like Utah can look like marksmen.

However, as efficient as they've been as shooters, the Beavers struggle in virtually every other statistical category. They are mediocre defensively, allowing opponents to shoot 44% from the floor and almost 37% from behind the arc. They are virtually even in rebounding average (which is a concern for them considering the cupcakes on their own schedule) and they've turned the ball over 40 more times than their opposition. The last statistic should also alarm Robinson considering how the Bruins have thrived off of and caused turnovers this season.

The Beavers also don't slow things down like they have in the past, averaging 77 points per game (and allowing 74). The Bruins will have an opportunity to run on Sunday.

However, the feeling is that this game is truly going to come down to an individual match-up. Nelson is THE key for OSU. If the Bruins shut him down, or even slow him down, then UCLA wins convincingly. If not, then it will be a tough battle. Powell has really started to step up his defensive game. Nelson may get his, but it may take so many shot attempts to do so that it ends up hurting his team. The one caveat in this is the condition of Anderson's ankle. If it is truly bad then UCLA will struggle. If he has rid himself of some of the pain then he should be stronger than he was against the Ducks, and that would only help the Bruins cause.

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