Oregon State Preview

UCLA gets Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams back for Sunday's game against Oregon State, which will be important, since the Beavers beat the Bruins earlier this year...

Heading into Thursday's game against Oregon, after we learned that Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams wouldn't be suiting up, I was worried the Bruins weren't going to play with any heart knowing their two top scorers were out for the game. Obviously, given the nature of the stirring comeback and the double-overtime loss, nothing could have been further from the truth.

As Tracy Pierson wrote in his Oregon game review, the Oregon game and the circumstances surrounding it have set the UCLA program up at a fork in the road in terms of how the rest of the season is going to play out. The worst case scenario is that the Bruins learn nothing from Thursday and continue the run of play they were on before the suspensions. Conservatively speaking, that means a probable 2-1 end to the conference regular season, no better than a 1-1 Vegas trip for the Pac 12 Conference Tournament and a probable exit from the NCAAs no later than the round of 32. However, the best case scenario is rather intriguing and certainly exciting for Bruins fans. The Bruins might very well learn from the Thursday suspensions, go 3-0 to finish the regular season, do so with sustained effort and intensity, and make a run through the Pac 12 Tourney, leading to an eventual 4 or 5 seed in the NCAAs and getting to the second weekend with a real shot at upsetting a #1 seed. The disparity between those two possibilities is what makes the remaining three games of the regular season so interesting.

The Bruins will host the Oregon State Beavers in the regular season finale at Pauley Pavilion on Sunday night (6 PM PST, Fox Sports 1) and the game has now become hugely significant in terms of UCLA's postseason fortunes. By winning the last three games of the regular season, the Bruins will probably put themselves in position to be no worse than a 6-seed on Selection Sunday. The first step requires that the Bruins beat an Oregon State team that pretty well dominated in a victory over UCLA in February. Many might remember that while the score was close, the only thing that kept the game from being a very comfortable double-digit victory for the Beavers was their inability to hit their free throws. It wasn't as if OSU had the personnel to dominate UCLA, but UCLA's lack of effort and intensity played a significant role Oregon State's dominance. If UCLA brings both on Sunday then the Bruins should win comfortably.

Oregon State really doesn't have much to play for other than pride. Certainly they could use wins on Sunday and next week to make some sort of argument for an NIT bid, but that's doubtful. Because nothing short of a run to the Pac 12 Tournament title will net the Beavers an NCAA bid, they will probably come into Pauley somewhat loose. The question for the Beavs will be whether that looseness means playing "free" or playing very lackadaisically.

Regardless of the mental state and effort of the Beavers, the key to the game really is the effort that UCLA brings. The return of Adams and Anderson will certainly be viewed with a wary eye for the reasons already discussed. If they bring the kind of effort they saw out of their teammates on Thursday and the rest of the team continues in that vein, then UCLA will be successful. There are possible issues even with that, though. Suppose Anderson and Adams do bring a focus and intensity missing from some games this year, but for whatever reason they feel it is their responsibility to carry the team, or do more than they really need to. That won't affect the defensive end, and it can be argued that it could only have a positive effect on the team's defensive structure. However, it could lead to stagnation and confusion on offense. As Tracy Pierson wrote in his Oregon game review, by the midpoint of the second half it was clear that the Bruins individually understood their offensive roles and were able to execute those roles within the structure of the motion offense. The return of Adams and Anderson, and especially Kyle, represents the possibility that one or both of them might monopolize the ball. It really is a crapshoot as to predicting how they and the team will respond.

Another thing to keep an eye on is whether or not Coach Steve Alford will continue to utilize Zach LaVine as a primary ball handler and have Bryce Alford play off the ball. Bruin fans were exposed to that very usage of personnel on Thursday with dynamic results. If Alford decides that LaVine should be the primary back-up to Anderson then UCLA's offense probably has dimensions that Oregon State did not see in the first encounter between the teams and probably will struggle to answer.

Oregon State is certainly capable of winning the game. They have players who could hurt the Bruins and have players who present the Bruins with match-up issues. The two most important players for Coach Craig Robinson's Beavers for this specific match-up are junior forward Eric Moreland (6'10" 218 lbs.) and freshman guard Hallice Cooke (6'3" 185 lbs.).

Moreland has the capacity to be a double-double machine, going for 11 points and 14 boards the first time these teams met. Much will depend on how engaged he is, but he really dominated portions of the game in Corvallis. He also had 2 blocks and 5 assists. However, that doesn't begin to tell the real reason for his value. His defense in Corvallis was excellent, particularly on Anderson, and that's why he is so valuable. Anderson always presents a unique match-up issue for the opposition, usually being too quick for a big to guard or too tall for a traditional wing. Moreland is one of the few players that have the size and quickness to bother Anderson. Keep in mind that despite Moreland's play in the first game, Anderson still went for 18 points and 9 boards. He was the one Bruin who had at least a decent game.

Cooke has a career day against the Bruins, going for 20 points on 7-9 shooting from the field and going 4-6 from behind the arc. The three-point shooting he displayed was not a shock. I wrote in that game's preview that he was the one Beaver who the Bruins needed to keep track of closely as a shooter. He is shooting 48% from behind the arc for the season. However, his overall shooting from the field in that game was significantly better than his season stats would suggest. His three-pointers were also daggers in terms of when they happened.

The key to defending Cooke is going to be closing out on him, which the Bruins did poorly in the first game. Much of that was due to Alford's choice to utilize a zone defense almost exclusively throughout that first game. Alford was certainly worried about OSU's ability to dominate the Bruins inside, with Moreland and seniors Angus Brandt (6'10" 246 lbs.) and Devon Collier (6'8" 216 lbs.). The latter two combined for 24 points in Corvallis. Still, when the Bruins made their late second –half comeback, much of it was due to Alford going to a trapping man defense. If nothing else, it's probably imperative that Alford mix his defenses much more than he did at OSU.

Of course OSU's leading scorer, senior point guard Roberto Nelson (6'4" 198 lbs.) needs to be taken into account, and he did have 12 points up in Corvallis, but that is a deceptive total. After hitting his first two deep three-point attempts in that game, Nelson went 0-6 for the remainder of the contest. Nelson does have the capacity to get hot and does average 20.6 PPG. Because of the presence of Nelson and Cooke, Alford may want to consider playing Norman Powell and LaVine together as the backcourt defenders, especially when/if the Bruins show man defense.

The play of Adams, beyond how much effort and focus he shows, will also be a key. While he was in a bit of a slump before the home stand against Colorado and Utah (and had a mediocre game against Stanford last Saturday), he was downright awful in Corvallis. It was probably the nadir of his season as he had only 6 points on 0-9 shooting from the floor. On top of that, when the Bruins inexplicably had a chance to win the game, Adams made a poor decision to drive to the hoop with his head down and was called for a charge that effectively ended UCLA's chance to steal the game. Adams certainly cannot have as poor a game as he had in Oregon this time around. If nothing else he should at least get some lucky shots to drop. However, if he starts the game hot, then UCLA's offense opens up quite a bit.

Finally, there is the issue of the home court. UCLA is invariably better (is there anyone who thinks the Bruins make a game of it with Oregon on Thursday if that game wasn't in Los Angeles?) in Pauley Pavilion, and Oregon State is not so good on the road. The Beavers are 2-6 on the road in Pac 12 play and their 2 road wins were against USC and Washington State, clearly the two bottom-feeders of the conference.

The Bruins were totally outplayed in Corvallis (despite their halftime lead), being outrebounded by 7, shooting only 39% from the field while allowing the Beavers to shoot 48% (including 54% in the second half) from the field. The Bruins did turn the Beavs over 18 times, but still, much of the game went the way of OSU. Despite all of that the Bruins were looking at a chance to win the game when Adams was called for his charge with 13 seconds to go in the game. Just assuming an even marginally increased focus and intensity on Sunday that should be enough for the Bruins to offset the four points they lost by in Corvallis.

However, the Bruins should see Adams have a much better game than he did in Oregon and hopefully the lessons of the last week, especially from Thursday for both the players and the coach, have been learned enough so that the Bruins exploit some issues that OSU faces.

Assuming a natural drop off for the Beavers since they're on the road, and assuming the Bruins play even relatively well, this game shouldn't only turn into a UCLA victory, but it could turn into a bit of a blow-out. If that happens perhaps that would signal UCLA understanding and implementing the lessons learned from this very unique past week.

Oregon State 74

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