Yes, I'm well aware that UCLA played Kentucky. But having seen Oregon play a couple of times it's not difficult to see how Oregon presents a tougher matchup for UCLA than Kentucky did – and could very simply be the better team. The Ducks have lost only to #7 Kansas, and then to Alabama by a point. They're coming off perhaps their best performance of the season against USC Friday night when they beat the Trojans 92-74. USC, admittedly, is a mess of a team right now, but you can't take away the performance of the Ducks, who shot an astounding 87% from the field in the second half of that game. UCLA hasn't faced the kind of scoring power yet this season that it will see today against Oregon, and it's really the biggest test of the season for UCLA's strong defense.
Oregon is led by senior wing Luke Jackson, one of the best players in the Pac-10, if not the best, and one of the most under-rated players in the country. Jackson is averaging 20 points and seven rebounds a game, while shooting 46% from three. Find another player UCLA will face this season with those kind of stats. Jackson is 6-7 and 215 pounds, strong, tough and relentless. He can, obviously, shoot the ball from distance, but he's also a warrior inside. Jackson does it all, and is most effective when drawing the defense to him and finding teammates for open looks.
The Ducks, though, have some more fire power besides Jackson. Three other players average double-figure scoring. Their best frontcourt players is Ian Crosswhite, a very intriguing player, averaging 15 points and six boards a game. Crosswhite is huge at 6-11 and 250 pounds – while not being their center but their power forward. With that big of a body, Crosswhite, an Australian, handles the ball, shoots and passes the ball well. UCLA's head coach Ben Howland called Crosswhite a "point power forward." He's coming off his best game of the season against USC when he scored 22 points and had 13 rebounds.
Howland also described 5-10 senior shooting guard James Davis as perhaps the best three-point shooter in the country. He's shooting 47% from three, and makes a little more than three per game on average. He hit seven threes against USC. He's small and doesn't put the ball on the floor, but he's hard to find in Oregon's speed, shoot-quick offense. Scarily, Davis doesn't even start, and is perhaps the best sixth-man in the conference.
After the big three, then it's easy to lose track of Andre Joseph, the 6-3 senior guard who, comparatively, is scoring a quiet 12 points a game while also shooting 50% from three, and he's not really even a pure shooter. Joseph is one of Oregon's best athletes and is pretty good at creating, not just for himself, but to set up teammates.
6-9, 230-lb. senior Jay Anderson starts at center. Anderson is an experienced, skilled player lacking athleticism who doesn't get a great deal of touches with all of the other Ducks flying around putting up shots, and is just an average rebounder. He plays only 18 minutes a game.
Freshman point guard Aaron Brooks rounds out the Oregon starting five, a player UCLA fans are familiar with since UCLA recruited him heavily. Brooks, as a freshman, has been generally pretty good, and (like seemingly the entire team) is coming off perhaps his best performance this year against USC, making three out of four three-point attempts. Brooks is Tyus Edney-like – and perfect in Oregon's system -- small and very, very quick, pushing Oregon's offense up the court to find easy baskets in transition.
But it doesn't stop at the Ducks' top six. Oregon, perhaps, has the best bench UCLA has faced yet this season. There is Davis, but also three others that are fairly solid contributors. 6-10 freshman center Mitch Platt gets more time than Anderson, and is really just a better version of Anderson. Platt isn't very athletic, but skilled and advanced for being a freshman. Oregon also gets frontcourt help from 6-11 sophomore center Matt Short. In the backcourt, 6-3 sophomore guard Brandon Lincoln has been giving a breather to Brooks, and playing well as of late. He also can shoot the three well.
Oregon employs a fast-paced, speed offense that tries to get the ball up the court quickly and into the hands of its shooters in semi-transition. It's very effective when you have the kind of shooters that Oregon has, with the Ducks averaging 82 points a game. On the other hand, in this style Oregon is notorious for not playing much defense, and it's held true this season so far, allowing opponents 72 points a game. Oregon's defense could be the antidote UCLA's offense needs to get in a groove.
But as stated above, UCLA hasn't faced an offensive team like Oregon to date. The length of UCLA's defenders have been good enough to hold opponents' from being effective in their half-court offense, but it's questionable whether UCLA has the quickness and intensity to stay with Oregon pushing the ball up the court, and then be able to find its shooters in transition. Again, the Bruins will miss the intensity, aggressiveness and athleticism of Brian Morrison in this game. Watch for Janou Rubin, after his impressive showing Friday against Oregon State, to get even more minutes because of the defense he could offer against Oregon. If the Bruins are to win, it will happen with their defense, needing to limit Oregon's shooters.
But UCLA still isn't quite there yet to compete with a team that has it humming like Oregon.