UCLA Playing For Respectability

The Bruins travel to take on the Oregon State Beavers tonight. UCLA, with a win, can guarantee itself a berth in the Pac-10 tournament. Without a Pac-10 championship or an NCAA bid on the line, or even a winning record, can the Bruins get up for this game and earn back some respectability?

UCLA (11-14, 7-9) goes to Corvalis, Oregon, tonight to take on the Oregon State Beavers (11-15, 5-11) and try to secure a place in the Pac-10 tournament.

A win tonight guarantees the Bruins get in the tourney. A loss leaves the door wide for other teams to move right past them and bump the Bruins out of the tourney.

UCLA beat the Beavers at Pauley two months ago, 77-66. A whole lot has changed since. It was just the eighth game of the season, and the players were actually playing pretty hard. Even so, UCLA played its worst game of the season that it actually won, but luckily Oregon State played even worse.

The Beavers are better now than they were, even though they got spanked last weekend on a trip to the Bay Area against Stanford and California. Two weeks ago, though, they swept the Arizona schools at home, beating then #14 Arizona, 90-84.

OSU is led by former walk-on, junior David Lucas, who is averaging almost 18 points and 7 rebounds a game. He's a big, strong 6-7 and 230 pounds, and gets all of his points from within 15 feet.

Lucas is the inside and Chris Stephens, the sophomore shooting guard, is the outside, averaging 15.5 points a game while easily being OSUs' best deep threat.

UCLA, overall, from a personnel standpoint, matches up well against the Beavers. UCLA's taller centers stack up well against OSU's freshman 6-9 center, Kyle Jeffers. The Beavers have an advantage with Lucas over UCLA's T.J. Cummings, but much will depend on whether Cummings decides to play defense. The other fairly good shooter among the starters is junior wing J.S. Nash, but neither Stephens nor Nash are particularly quick, which gives UCLA's Trevor Ariza and Dijon Thompson a bit of an advantage with their length. OSU's point guard, 6-4 sophomore Lamar Hurd, is another good matchup for UCLA – with Cedric Bozeman better suited to stay with a bigger – and slower – point guard.

In the first matchup, UCLA owned the boards. That coupled with a good second half (after an abysmal first) and Oregon State shooting pretty badly gave the Bruins the win. T.J. Cummings and Dijon Thompson both had bad nights, while the Bruins were carried by Trevor Ariza and Janou Rubin.

This game shouldn't be as easy. Obviously, OSU will play better being at home. They are 10-5 at home, even though seven of those wins were over non-conference cupcakes like Prairie View and Willamette. And Lucas has blossomed and improved, being even more aggressive and take-charge than he was when the Bruins first faced him. OSU is also playing for their Pac-10 tournament lives, so you can expect to see the Beavers that swept the Arizona schools, as opposed to the Beavers that got whacked by Cal and Stanford.

UCLA, though, has Brian Morrison back from injury. Morrison didn't play in the first game against the Beavers, and perhaps his energy could keep the Bruins playing with effort and competitiveness.

The Bruins have more talent than the Beavers and match up really well against them. It will come down to a matter of how much UCLA wants it. Not playing for a Pac-10 title, but just a Pac-10 tournament berth, with the season winding down and no NCAA berth possible, it will be the biggest gut check of the season for this team, to see if they can gain some respectability. It will be very difficult this time for UCLA to win without significant contributions from Cummings and Thompson, so they'll have to show up.

Oregon State 69

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