Bruins Take On High-Flying Ducks

UCLA travels across the state of Oregon to take on the Ducks today in Eugene. The Ducks have only lost to the #1 team in the country so far this season, and have one of the best guards in the west in <b>Aaron Brooks</b>...

You could make the case that the Oregon Ducks, who are 9-1, have really only played one good team so far this season. That was Illinois, the nation's #1 team, and it was Oregon's only loss.

But actually, Oregon has some victories over a few other teams that, when stopping to reflect, are probably better than UCLA.

Oregon has beaten New Mexico, Vanderbilt, Fresno State and USC – teams that are a combined 35-14 and UCLA would be hard-pressed to beat.

There is some hope, though. USC had a very good chance to beat the Ducks on Friday. They were up by 3 with about 4 minutes left but didn't score again until 10 seconds left in the game.

UCLA does not, by any means, have the type of talent that USC does, and certainly doesn't have that level of athleticism that USC utilized to stay with the Ducks. USC is the type of team that had a chance to beat the Ducks, being able to out-run them with their athletes. UCLA doesn't have that type of team.

The way UCLA will be able to beat the Ducks is by adopting a Washington State approach – slowing down the game, using the entire shot clock, not turning the ball over or taking bad shots in transition that then unleash Oregon's transition game.

Oregon's engine is its point guard, 6-0 sophomore Aaron Brooks. The incredibly quick and speedy point is scoring in bunches, averaging 17 points and five assists per game. He's coming off perhaps his best performance as a collegian against USC, when he scored 34 points. Brooks is the epitome of UCLA's recent defensive problems, being able to defend guards, particularly quick ones that can break you down off the dribble, penetrate and either score or create for teammates. Brooks is the embodiment of that. He also is a very good three-point shooter, shooting 45% on the year and having made the most threes on a three-shooting Oregon team.

Every week or so we come up with a new Achilles Heel for this year's UCLA's team. One week it was rebounding. The next it was interior scoring. The Weakness of the Week now is definitely perimeter defense. UCLA didn't do it well against Oregon State, allowing them open outside looks in the second half, which the Beavers made, and which made the difference in the game. If UCLA allows Oregon the same kind of opportunity, it will be a blow out.

Not only is Brooks going to be a huge challenge for the Bruins, but Oregon has some considerable talent besides Brooks on the perimeter. 6-4 freshman wing Bryce Taylor from North Hollywood (Calif.) Studio City has had a good first ten games of his college career, averaging 12.5 points and shooting 43% from three. Taylor is a very good catch-and-shoot guy, and is doing well in Ernie Kent's run-and-gun system. He isn't a great athlete and is limited in driving to the basket.

That duty has fallen to a freshman that UCLA fans know very well, 6-5 small forward Malik Hairston. Until Brooks' 34-point outburst against USC, Hairston was leading the team in scoring, now averaging 13.6 points per game. He is getting it done by slashing to the basket, using a strong, 200-pound body and good quickness to get to the hoop. He, as of yet, isn't a great outside shooter, but he isn't horrible by any means.

Coming off the bench in the backcourt has been Kent's son, Jordan Kent, who is a great athlete but lacks developed skills. He has very good quickness and is a very good defender, having won the 200 meters in the West regional for the Oregon track team last spring.

6-3 junior Brandon Lincoln also provides some help off the bench. Lincoln can play either position, the one or the two, and also isn't a bad outside shooter.

All in all, Oregon's backcourt is very good. In Kent's system, they'll get up the court and push it, flying on the wings of Brooks, and will shoot very quickly in the halfcourt offense, if there is just the tiniest open look. They've been successful at it, too, with the team shooting a combined 41% from three and making an average of 7 threes per game.

Oregon, though, is an outside-inside type of team. Their biggest inside threat is a 7-0, 250-pound power forward, junior Ian Crosswhite, who is more finesse than power. Crosswhite is a formidable scoring threat (averaging 12 points and 6 rebounds per game), mostly because he prefers to step out and shoot than play with his back to the basket. He has become better in the low block this season and, with his big body, is still a tough low-block defensive matchup.

6-9, 265-pound sophomore Mitch Platt has been getting the start at the other post position. Platt, though, who has decent skills but isn't much of an athlete, has only been averaging 14 minutes a game. He and Crosswhite can slow down the high-flying Ducks at times and Kent likes to go smaller for long stretches in the game.

Another newcomer that UCLA fans are very familiar with is Maarty Leunen, the 6-8 freshman power forward. Leunen, who is far more mobile than Platt, has been getting more minutes than him off the bench, and has been more productive, averaging 5 points and 4 rebounds in 18 minutes per game. Leunen also prefers to face up more than play in the block, and will take a three (like the entire team) if given an open look.

A couple of big men will also come off the bench for short stretches, 7-0 redshirt freshman center Ray Schafer and 7-0 junior Matt Short.

It's pretty plain what UCLA will have to do to beat Oregon: defend the perimeter. UCLA's freshman point guard Jordan Farmar has probably the biggest challenge of the season for him so far in matching up against the lightning-quick Brooks. Containing him, keeping Brooks in front of him and out of the lane, is key. Two old high school rivals, Arron Afflalo and Taylor, will again face off, even though Afflalo might match up against Hairston while Josh Shipp could get the assignment of guarding Taylor. UCLA will probably opt for its man defense primarily in trying to contain Oregon's perimeter players. It's imperative that UCLA's defenders are diligent in not losing Oregon's shooters in transition or in their quick halfcourt offense. The challenge is, as the game goes on and UCLA's freshmen probably begin to tire, whether they'll be able to stay with them defensively.

Inside, UCLA matches up fairly well. Even though Dijon Thompson gives up 50 pounds to Platt, you'd still rather take Thompson's advantage in quickness. Thompson, also, probably will match up fine against Leunen. Michael Fey, coming off perhaps his best game at UCLA when he scored 23 points against Oregon State, will need to stay out of foul trouble in defending Crosswhite. On the offensive side, though, if Fey continues to get the ball down low and convert like he did against Oregon State, Crosswhite could have his hands full.

UCLA's limited bench could present a problem. Brian Morrison had a fairly good game against Oregon State and looked to be coming out of his slump. He'll have to stay under control, though, against Oregon, whose pace would tend to make Morrison excitable. UCLA is most likely without the injured Janou Rubin, which gives them one less fresh body to defend against Oregon's speed ball approach.

If UCLA can slow down the game, play good enough defense that it forces Oregon to have to execute a half-court offense and not allow Brooks to go off, while getting Fey going in a well-executed and time-consuming halfcourt offense of their own, they'll have a chance. But that's a big if.

Oregon 88
UCLA 79


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