After splitting games in the Bay Area last weekend, the UCLA men’s basketball team is now in the position of having to win virtually all of its remaining regular season games in order to have a reasonable expectation of getting an at-large invite to the NCAA Tournament. The first of those games is on Wednesday night when the Bruins host Oregon State at Pauley Pavilion (7 PM; Pac 12 Networks).
As Bruin fans, and probably coaches, look at the developing “bubble” for the NCAAs, one can’t help but notice that UCLA is actually inching closer to being on the “right” side of that “bubble.” The win over Stanford last Thursday, despite the loss to Cal two days later, actually had a net positive effect on the Bruins’ chances. That says quite a lot about the softness of the “bubble,” but regardless, it actually means UCLA has a reasonable chance to make the Big Dance considering its remaining schedule.
The Beavers come to Los Angeles as one of the most schizophrenic teams in the nation. They are arguably one of the top 20 teams in the country when playing in Corvallis. However, they have been just as conversely bad when playing on the road. The Beavers are 2-7 away from Gill Coliseum and some of the losses have been bad, such as at Quinnipiac, versus a bad Auburn team in Las Vegas, and getting thoroughly demolished in the desert by both ASU and Arizona. Contrast that with OSU’s 14-0 record at Gill, which includes a win over then #2 Arizona.
Much of that Jekyll and Hyde persona comes from two interrelated reasons. The first is Head Coach Wayne Tinkle. He’s been in Corvallis for less than a full season and doesn’t have much of a track record beyond his stint as the head man at Montana, but what he’s accomplished this season with arguably one of the least talented high-major squads in the nation is nothing short of amazing. He is able to scheme for opponents, make in-game tactical adjustments better than perhaps any coach in the Pac-12 and he recognizes the strengths and weaknesses of his individual players and his team as a whole. Most importantly, and this is the second reason, he has his Beavers completely buying in to the team concept. Utah is probably the only other team in the conference who has a team dynamic like Oregon State’s, and it should be no surprise because Tinkle is a protégé of Utah’s head coach, Larry Krystkowiak.
However, all the scheming and coaching in the world can only mask a lack of talent for so long, and for the Beavers, the mask comes off on the road. This is, quite simply, a very bad road team. Oregon State, for whatever reason, can’t shoot on the road and don’t play with the same kind of defensive presence they do in Corvallis.
Frankly, UCLA should win this game and do so with a bit of room to spare. UCLA tends to be 15 points or so better at home while OSU is about 20 points worse on the road. UCLA lost in Corvallis last month by 11 in a game that was closer than that for much of the game. Remember, too, that UCLA was missing Tony Parker for that whole weekend.
Parker represents a true force for the Bruins now. He was dominate against Cal and helped Kevon Looney control the glass against Stanford. He was sorely missed on the Oregon road trip and probably more so against the Beavers.
That’s because OSU has no real inside game to speak of. The Beavers’ top rebounder is junior wing Gary Payton II (6’3” 175 lbs.) who, although averaging well over 7 RPG, simply can’t compete with Looney or Parker when those two are on their games. The two primary frontcourt players are really that only in name. Juniors Daniel Gomis (6’10” 223 lbs.) and Olaf Schaftenaar (6’10” 224 lbs.) aren’t going to remind anyone of Robinson and Duncan. Gomis did grab 8 boards in the first meeting of these teams and had 3 blocks, but he is an offensive non-factor and it must be remembered that he didn’t have to guard Parker when OSU played man defense.
Schaftenaar had a very solid game against UCLA, scoring 11 points on 3-5 shooting from behind the arc. More importantly, he made two of those three-pointers when the Bruins were getting close to inching into the lead. However, he is relatively uncomfortable with his back to the basket and doesn’t like physical play. Looney only scored 10 points in Corvallis but he had 11 boards, which was virtually the same as Gomis and Schaftenaar combined.
Junior Jarmel Reid (6’7” 231 lbs.) came off the bench to provide some defense and help on the glass, where he grabbed 6 rebounds, but he’s it in terms of depth. In fact, expect OSU to play zone almost exclusively because of the apparent massive advantage UCLA will have in the post with Looney and Parker, not to mention Thomas Welsh, who since starting in Oregon in place of Parker has looked more comfortable with the speed of the game.
The Beaver backcourt is a bit tougher and has some skill, but it is very thin. Payton is the team’s leading scorer, which isn’t saying much, and he was excellent in the first half of the first game in Corvallis. However, he tailed off after the half. The key against Payton is making him force plays. Payton will put his head down and drive against three defenders to nowhere (sound familiar?) when things stagnate on offense and, for OSU, offensive stagnation is a ready catch phrase when the Beavers are on the road.
Sophomore point guard Malcolm Duviviers (6’2” 205 lbs.) had an excellent game in January, perhaps his best in a Beaver uniform. He scored a game-high 19 points and seemingly had his way with whatever UCLA threw at him, especially in the second half. Chances are that even if Duviviers has a good game, it won’t be anything like the first time these teams met. In the first match-up, Duviviers struggled from behind the arc, where he was 0-2. It would probably be a good idea to play off him and invite him to shoot rather than drive since he was able to get to the free throw line 12 times in January, and while that was a bit inflated because of UCLA’s fouling at the end of the game, he was able to get to the line a great deal when the game was still in doubt.
Junior Langston Morris-Walker (6’5” 216 lbs.) generally provides some scoring and rebounding (4.4 RPG, good for second on the squad) as well as a calming presence and length on defense, but he generally shouldn’t be considered a real weapon. Certainly players like him are needed on very good teams in order to provide toughness and grit, but he shouldn’t be someone the Bruins need to concern themselves with in terms of his going off for 24 points and 12 boards.
The three starting guards for OSU combined for 47 points in Corvallis, and UCLA would have kept right up with the Beavers if Isaac Hamilton hadn’t had his worst game of the year. Hamilton was putrid. He didn’t score, played lousy defense and found himself benched in favor of Gyorgy Golomon for much of the second half.
In the first match-up the Bruins played without Parker, Hamilton had the worst game of his career, Duviviers had a career game, the Beavers were at Gill Coliseum and Tinkle was coaching against Alford. Sure, Tinkle is still the coach, which will count for something, but now the game is at Pauley, where UCLA is much better, Parker is presumably playing and could have a field day (provided UCLA’s guards get him the ball), Duviviers is unlikely to replicate his performance from the first game, and Hamilton is starting to play generally better and it’s unlikely he’ll lay a goose egg on the score sheet.
The bottom line is that UCLA should win this game handily, and hopefully that’s what the Bruins will do. It would be nice for UCLA not to have to play its starters for 35-plus minutes. Speaking of which, Oregon State has got the same problem, particularly with its backcourt players. There are signs of fatigue that are beginning to show for the Beavers, certainly more so than with UCLA’s thin rotation.
As UCLA begins to look at its NCAA resume, this is a good game for the Bruins to win. Unlike recent editions of the Beavers, this one has a top-100 RPI. Further, UCLA has a respectable RPI considering the Bruins are 14-10. UCLA is sitting at 46 in the RPI and could conceivably get into the top 40 with a sweep this weekend. The Bruins certainly have big holes in their resume: their current record against the top-100 of the RPI, the fact that they didn’t win a significant non-conference game (Long Beach State continues to be the only non-conference foe UCLA defeated that has a top-100 RPI, but that could easily change if LBSU loses any more home games to the like of UC Irvine, as the 49ers did this past weekend), and the Bruins have been atrocious on the road until the Bay Area trip.
Fortunately for the Bruins, five of their last seven games are at Pauley Pavilion and there’s no reason to not expect the Bruins to win all five. The key will be the road game at Arizona State, assuming the Bruins lose to the Wildcats in Tucson. If UCLA closes 6-1 then they may realistically be on the right side of the “bubble.” However, the bubble will immediately and irreparably burst if the Bruins lose any of their remaining home games, so a win on Wednesday against the Beavers is critical, as will be the rest of the home games.
Oregon State 55
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