As many on BRO already know, UCLA is coming into the game staggering a bit after an embarrassing loss at Washington State last Saturday, and Oregon is playing after Wednesday night's win over #10-seeded Oregon State. While the Bruins have gone 2-2 in the games since the one-game suspensions of Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson, the Ducks are one of the hottest teams in the country, having won their last 8 games. That streak has probably locked up a bid in the upcoming NCAA Tournament, especially after Wednesday night's victory. It really has been quite a run for the Ducks, who were essentially left for dead in terms of the Big Dance as recently as mid-February.
UCLA's own dance ticket was probably assured several weeks ago, but the Bruins have looked tired at best and disinterested at worst over the course of the past two weeks. That is a disturbing trend, considering some of the factors that are purportedly surrounding the program. However, the Bruins have the opportunity to renew the optimism that was shared by many BROs as recently as the game at Berkeley by stepping up over the course of the next three days and next two weeks.
The game is not really a mysterious one; despite Oregon's fine efforts over the past three weeks or so, the Bruins could really dictate the outcome of the game based on their own effort and intensity. It's really been that way all season. For the most part, this year's Bruins have been an inconsistent team with regard to effort. As Greg Hicks and Tracy Pierson have pointed out, UCLA has only given concerted effort in spurts this season, but that's typically been enough to beat most teams. Over the course of the season the Bruins have shown signs of a team that simply wants to move on, whether it is to the NBA or graduation or next season. Or perpahs they simply are waiting for the regular season to end so that they could get on to the important stuff: tournament time. It really is a crapshoot as to which one holds more truth.
As with all teams, Oregon presents match-up issues for the Bruins, but they also have some real holes that UCLA can exploit. For instance, outside of super-senior Mike Moser (6'8" 211 lbs.), Coach Dana Altman doesn't really have anyone else on the Duck roster capable of adequately defending UCLA's all-everything Kyle Anderson. When Anderson struggles, UCLA struggles. If Anderson truly plays great then the Bruins seem to play well. Anderson really is the lynchpin.
Oregon is not a great rebounding team, thus possibly negating a Bruins weakness: UCLA's inability some games to control the glass. Oregon equaled Oregon State's rebound total last night with 24, but that was a result more of the good shooting that went on (OSU shot almost 61% from the field while Oregon was at 57%) and Oregon State's ineptitude holding on to the ball. The Beavers committed 15 turnovers to Oregon's 5 and that was really the game right there. After taking a 57-54 lead, Oregon went on a 19-4 run fueled by OSU turnovers. Oregon is really good when they can turn over teams, but the Ducks are not a stout defensive team. UCLA is usually pretty good about not turning over the ball. That could very well negate a large part of Oregon's ability to get out in odd-man breaks.
Oregon has a player that has been very difficult to guard. Senior Jason Calliste (6'2" 171 lbs.) has been on fire on the offensive end over the past month. His play has been sparked by his 54% shooting from the three-point line. Quite frankly, he, more than any other Duck, has been the reason for Oregon's resurgence the past few weeks. He is very good at coming off of screens. He isn't a slasher in the traditional sense of the word, although he has been getting to the bucket, but he has been deadly from behind the arc. He had 17 points on 3-4 shooting from distance against the Beavers. If UCLA stops Calliste then UCLA will win. He has become that important to the Ducks. When UCLA goes to a man defense, using Norman Powell on Calliste wouldn't be prudent, in fact it could be a waste. Calliste's use of screens would necessitate someone longer or stronger than Powell. Further, if Powell is on Calliste (when Calliste is in the game because he still comes off the bench) then the Bruins run the risk of letting the Duck point guard run rampant.
Speaking of point guards, Altman rediscovered sophomore Dominic Artis (6'1" 186 lbs.) last night. Artis had his best game since probably last season, going for 10 points and 6 assists in just 23 minutes. He would be a huge asset going forward because the Ducks have been on this winning streak with Artis essentially an afterthought.
Then there's senior Johnathan Loyd (5'8" 163 lbs.) who, although he had a poor game last night, almost single-handedly beat the Bruins in last year's Pac-12 title game. He is the kind of player who flourishes when the opposition spends too much time worrying about his teammates. The combination of Artis and Loyd may give the Bruins some real headaches.
Back to UCLA, though, because the game's outcome should really be up to the Bruins. Last week's debacle in the Palouse could be one of two things: a harbinger of things to come or a really bad shooting night. The guess is that it may be the combination of both, in that UCLA's players simply don't have the capacity to currently give anything approaching 40 minutes of intensity and effort. However, the Bruins also shouldn't shoot as abysmally as they did on Saturday for a second game in a row. Tracy Pierson has written about this idea several times already, but it bears repeating: a team with little to no inside presence, while offensively gifted across the board, runs the risk of having a shooting night much like what happened on Saturday. UCLA also doesn't have the defense to keep them in games when that happens.
UCLA played inspired ball in the second half of the Oregon loss at Pauley two weeks ago. This was the same game that Anderson and Adams were suspended. So the Bruins should be much better after losing the double-overtime thriller now that both are back in the lineup, or at least that's how some are thinking. What those people aren't taking into account is that UCLA was at home that night and the Bruins are infinitely better in Westwood than on the road. UCLA also barely beat Oregon in Eugene when the Bruins had a full line-up. However, that 2-point road victory took was in the middle of Oregon's egg-laying portion of the season.
The point is that the outcome of this game is really anybody's guess. Will the Bruins actually play with pride, angered by the loss to Wazzu? Will Oregon continue its relentless play or finally exhale knowing that last night's win over OSU virtually cemented its place in the Big Dance?
Regardless of the outcome, Oregon will probably be in the 7-10 seed range come Selection Sunday based mostly on the Ducks' fairly tough non-conference schedule. The Ducks currently have the #26-ranked RPI in the country. Ironically, that is one spot ahead of UCLA, which took a big tumble with the Wazzu loss.
The outcome, however, is huge for the Bruins. The committee has valued tougher non-conference scheduling, which doesn't help UCLA, whose best non-conference victory is over #96-RPI Santa Barbara. So even though UCLA's RPI is high, the reality is, if UCLA loses to the Ducks, don't be surprised in the Bruins are as low as a 10-seed on Selection Sunday. One BRO poster started a thread stating the sentiment that UCLA won't win another game this season. That could be right.
If the Bruins play inspired ball and shoot even halfway decently, they stand a good chance of winning. That's true even if the inspiration is in spurts. However, looking at the last two weeks as a pattern doesn't flatter the Bruins, and until they show it on the court, it is hard to imagine UCLA suddenly turning it on.