The UCLA men’s basketball team faces a stern test this weekend when the Bruins travel to the Oregon schools to try and increase their current three-game winning streak. The road trip starts in Corvallis on Thursday night when the Bruins play the Oregon State Beavers at Gill Coliseum (6 PM; Pac 12 Network).
The game will also be of great importance to the Beavers as they seek to build upon their upset of Arizona two weeks ago. The Beavers split the games in their Washington trip last weekend, but those games were on the road. Oregon State must know that to preserve any momentum for its season that it must sweep the Los Angeles schools at home.
The Bruins find themselves at 11-7 overall and 3-2 in the Pac 12. While the current winning streak hasn’t erased many of the worries that came to the forefront over the course of an earlier five-game losing streak, the wins over the Bay Area schools and at USC have certainly curtailed a complete collapse of the season by the Bruins. Now the conversation seems to surround smaller goals, and for this week the issue is whether or not the Bruins can be successful in a road game outside of Los Angeles. Although Oregon State has lost games to some mediocre competition this season, including to Quinnipiac and a bad Auburn team, the Beavers are undefeated at home. Because of OSU’s success at Gill as well as its playing style, the Oregon State game should be the tougher of the two games this weekend for the Bruins to win.
Oregon State has been a high-major afterthought for more than two decades. The Beavers have bordered on mediocre to bad over the course of that timeline. Most of the time the Beavers simply didn’t have the talent to be competitive in the conference, but even when they did have some talent, like they did for several of the last five or six seasons, they were undone by some pretty poor coaching. With all due respect to former coach Craig Robinson, he was simply over his head as a tactician and teacher in the Pac-12. After firing Robinson at the end of last season, the Beavers hired former Montana head coach Wayne Tinkle, and his abilities have had an immediate impact on the Beaver program. When BRO’s Tracy Pierson writes about playing within a team concept, he should use Oregon State as an example. Quite frankly, the Beavers have as little athletic and basketball talent as any team in the conference. Tinkle’s tactical and teaching acumen along with the buy-in he’s gotten from the players, is the primary reason why OSU sits at 12-5 overall and 3-2 in the conference.
It should be no surprise that Tinkle’s Beavers are one of the two best defensive teams in the conference. The other team is Utah, and Utah’s Larry Krystkowiak is Tinkle’s mentor and predecessor at Montana. The man-to-man defensive system employed by Tinkle is conceptually the same as what Krystkowiak has installed at Utah. To say that UCLA didn’t fare well in Salt Lake City would be an understatement and there is every reason to expect the Bruins to offensively struggle in Corvallis because of the similarities that Oregon State has to Utah in terms of defensive toughness and style.
If the Bruins have a general advantage it is in the area of pure talent. Tinkle plays a general seven-player rotation and his seven players are, to a person, less talented than their UCLA counterparts. However, they buy-in to the team concept in a way that the UCLA players have yet to grasp.
Oregon State’s best player up to this point has been junior college transfer Gary Payton II (6’3” 175 lbs.). While not the player his more famous father was, Payton is incredibly active, uses his strength to his advantage and plays with no fear. Oregon State doesn’t score many points, so many of its statistics are deceiving, but Payton does lead the team in scoring at 11.8 PPG. That doesn’t seem like much, but Oregon State only averages 64 PPG and the Beavers have six players who average at least 7 PPG. The Beavers also have five players who have attempted at least 115 shots, so they spread things around. Payton doesn’t even lead the team in attempts, however, he is averaging about 50% shooting from the floor. He’s not a great outside threat, both because he doesn’t have a great shot and because he likes to drive or even post up his defender. He doesn’t have elite athleticism but he does have more than either of UCLA’s Bryce Alford or Isaac Hamilton. His real contribution to the team, though, comes on the other end of the floor where he has 50 steals, and on the glass, where he averages 8.5 RPG. It is in the paint and on the glass where Payton can show off his physical strength and be potentially a game-changer versus the Bruins.
Junior Langston Morris-Walker (6’5” 216 lbs.) actually leads the team in shot attempts and is second on the team in scoring at 10.9 PPG. While he is a high-volume shooter, he is much less effective as a shooter and scorer than is Payton. Morris-Walker isn’t the athlete that Payton is and that limits his shots as mediocre athletes can guard him adequately like, say, UCLA’s Hamilton. The key to slowing or stopping Morris-Walker is playing off him a bit and forcing him to shoot jumpers. He is the one player where UCLA may be better off going underneath screens on many occasions. Like Payton, he is a good rebounder, averaging almost 5 RPG and he is a very hard-working defender.
The third real offensive threat is junior post Olaf Schaftenaar (6’10” 224 lbs.), who is much more of a face-up four than a true post. He averages 9.8 PPG and is the team’s most effective three-point shooter. He isn’t as talented as his older brother, former Beaver Roeland (who is playing in Greece), but he has much the same game, thus leaving UCLA’s coach Steve Alford with a quandary. The best defensive match-up for the Bruins would be to put Kevon Looney on Schaftenaar, but that would pull Looney away from the basket where he has been a beast for much of the season. The other option would be to put Tony Parker on him but Parker has had some trouble guarding posts out to the perimeter. Further, Parker may not even play because of back spasms. That would mean the possibility of having true freshmen Thomas Welsh and Gyorgy Golomon guarding Schaftenaar.
Sophomore point guard Malcolm Duvivier (6’2” 205 lbs.) is the starting point guard and does a very good job of getting Oregon State into its offense. His statistics are middling, mostly because he’s been a poor shooter this season, but he is a true point guard who’s gotten better as the year has progressed. Interestingly, he is one of the few point guards in the Pac-12 that won’t overwhelm UCLA’s Bryce Alford athletically. Alford is a better basketball player than Duvivier, but the OSU point guard is stronger and plays defense with a mean streak, which could give Alford quite a bit of trouble all night. Payton runs the point when Duvivier is out.
Those four players have started all 17 games for the Beavers and there’s no reason to think that won’t continue on Thursday.
The last starting spot is really split between two players, juniors Daniel Gomis (6’10” 223 lbs.) and Victor Robbins (6’7” 197 lbs.). Gomis has started 12 games while Robbins hasn’t started at all, but Robbins plays more minutes. Robbins actually averages 10.3 PPG but he does a lot of work in and around the basket with put-backs, etc. It will be interesting to see how Tinkle utilizes his bench because Robbins will actually be out for this game.
Gomis’ value is on the defensive end where he is the one true low-post shot blocker. He has 18 blocks on the season (Payton leads the team with 19) and has a wide wingspan. Offensively he provides a nice scoring touch in the paint, averaging 54% from the floor, but he doesn’t rebound well at all and struggles, like Schaftenaar, to guard out on the perimeter.
The last player in the rotation is junior forward Jarmel Reid (6’7” 231 lbs.), who may get a great deal of playing time in the game because of the presence of Looney. Look, no one on Oregon State is going to be able to guard Looney one-on-one, but Reid plays a physical style that just might disrupt the Bruin freshman a bit.
For all the talk of what players Coach Alford should put on whom, the reality is that UCLA would probably be better off playing zone in this game. Oregon State is arguably the worst outside shooting team in the conference. Schaftenaar is really the only Beaver that’s proven to be an outside threat. Oregon’s State’s offense is built around players that can muscle their way into the paint. As a group, OSU is a strong team, especially in the backcourt. It would make sense for the Bruins to force them, or rather, invite them to shoot from behind the arc.
One of the things UCLA seemed to get better at the past three games is looking to the low post on offense. While there is still the glaring issue of too many shots being taken by the wrong players, at least UCLA seemed to grow a bit as a team in terms of looking for mismatches. Both Parker and Looney have the potential to be so dominant in the offensive low post and on the glass as to render the rest of the match-up issues moot. That’s why the presence of Parker is going to be critical if UCLA has any chance at the win. Looney should be able to get another double-double, but without Parker’s help, he may be a one-man show, and that might not be enough.
UCLA has a great deal to overcome in this game, with the potential unavailability of Parker, playing on the road and out of state for only the fourth time this season. OSU’s defense, too, is so well-conceived it would present problems for the Bruins regardless of where the game is played. The Beavers will probably take away the easy inside feeds because Tinkle will certainly know that’s the area his team can be exploited. Like Utah, OSU does a good job of forcing an opponent away from its first offensive option. They play excellent help defense and they are a good team-rebounding unit. The one thing that Tinkle does that is more like his other mentor, Mike Montgomery, is Tinkle likes to set the three-point line as the point of defense. Utah tends to defend a little higher up and out. For Tinkle, that means he has a really solid defensive unit inside the arc. Despite holding opponents to 28% three-point shooting on the season, because of this tactic the Beavers can allow a team to get hot from behind the arc.
The combination of being a true road game, against an opponent who plays a defense that bother the Bruins and the probable physical limitations of Parker, even if he plays, will probably be too much for the Bruins to overcome. If Parker were healthy, then UCLA would probably have a better than 50/50 shot to win the game, especially the way Parker’s been playing. However, his back issues probably limit his ability to dominate inside and take away one of the few outright advantages the Bruins had coming into the game. If Parker is healthy, UCLA should win.
Plus, I’ve been writing the past few weeks that I would need to see the Bruins take the next step before I would trust that they would continue to improve. The next step is this week -- winning on the road in a hostile, out-of-California environment. Until I see the Bruins achieve success in such a setting, I have a hard time believing they can do it.
Oregon State 64
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