Oregon State: Put it in Perspective

Sure, the loss to Oregon State in the first round of the Pac-10 Tournament, 79-72, was disappointing. But putting it in perspective, this wasn't a huge upset. It was a UCLA team losing to an OSU team of just about equal talent level...

Yeah, UCLA lost in the first round of the Pac-10 tournament Thursday, 79-72, to Oregon State.

But man, I'm a bit shocked by the incredible over-reaction by the media and the fans.

Sure it's disappointing. It might put UCLA back on the NCAA tournament bubble. It spoiled UCLA's four-game winning streak. It was a bit of a setback in the development of the program and the young players in it.

But sheesh. The local newspapers have huge headlines about it. Their stories bemoan it as if UCLA was ranked #1 in the country and just lost to Prairie View A&M.

I plainly didn't see the huge letdown that some of these stories and many fans are decrying.

I saw a team that didn't play really well in the first half of the game, facing a team that has probably a comparable amount of talent that was on fire in the first half.

Most of the time, if you have two teams of pretty similar talent level and one of them is sputtering and the other is on fire it's not hard to see what will result.

These newspaper pundits are trying to present some fantasy that elite UCLA was upset by lowly Oregon State.

What decade are they living in?

It's an amazing phenomenon – newspaper writers always trotting out their theory that UCLA fans have unrealistic expectations and opinions of the UCLA program, but it's really the ignorant writers themselves who are the champions of those expectations and opinions.

UCLA was seeded fourth in the tournament and Oregon State fifth. They split their two conference games, and actually, UCLA struggled against the Beavers in both games.

This was not a case of a great UCLA team suffering a huge letdown in the first round of the Pac-10 tournament and getting jumped by a bottom-of-the-barrel OSU team that was far more fundamental, intense and aggressive.

This was two evenly matched teams, both playing relatively hard, and one getting the edge on that particular day.

The off-kiler perspective is actually, in a way, leftover residual from the Steve Lavin era. (Hey, you didn't think I could find a way to blame this loss on Lavin, did you?). Writers and fans were so used to Lavin's team under-achieving that UCLA now has an under-achieving stigma attached to it. When it loses to Oregon State in the first round of the Pac-10 tournament, they are conditioned to say UCLA vastly under-achieved. Brother, wake up here. You don't see the likes of Dan Gadzuric, Jason Kapono, Earl Watson, Matt Barnes or Jerome Moiso on the floor, do you? Lavin's teams did under-achieve with the talent they had, but the 2004-2005 Bruins didn't, and didn't in this game.

UCLA didn't have great intensity in the first half, granted. But it wasn't horrible. It wasn't great, but it wasn't horrible by any means. UCLA's defense showed some vulnerability early, but it was more about OSU then getting in an incredible shooting rhythm in that first half. As we said in the preview, it's difficult to guard all of OSU's perimeter scorers, and if they get it going, even the most intense, energetic defense is going to get burned.

While many want to point the finger at how poorly UCLA played, it was definitely a combination of UCLA's poor play and OSU being on fire. In fact, it was more of a case of OSU being on fire for about a 13-minute stretch in the first half which ballooned their lead to 22 points.

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the game was UCLA's coaches and players being unable to minimize OSU's hot streak during that time. If it had been capable of keeping that lead down to, say, 15-17 points, it would have given UCLA a much better chance of recovering fully and winning the game. When a team gets that hot, it's like in Black Jack when a dealer gets hot. You have to try to minimize your losses, only putting the minimum bet on the table and trying to ride it out. When a team is that hot, you need to play more intense defense and be very deliberate on offense and minimize turnovers, so the points the opposition puts up during that hot run is limited. It was the biggest indication of the lack of experience by its young players and the lack of smarts by its older – during OSU's hot streak UCLA took quick shots and rushed its offense, trying to get back in the game too quickly.

Yes, you can break down some of the aspects of the game UCLA didn't execute well, like getting the ball inside more often (which is the fault of both UCLA's perimeter players for not looking inside and UCLA's interior players for not being aggressive in posting up). And there were the turnovers.

But most of that arose from not having the composure during that 13-minute stretch when OSU was hot.

And like with any dealer's hot streak, it eventually comes to an end, as OSU's did in the second half. UCLA then had a chance to pull out the game, coming to within 4 points after another impressive comeback. But this time they just didn't have enough – what would have been enough if they just could have limited OSU's first-half run.

In that second half, OSU went cold and tentative on offense. They were definitely a tale of two teams – its first half-self and second-half self. They shot 60% in the first half and 37% in the second half, which was more a case of OSU running hot and cold than a big swing in the effectiveness of UCLA's defense. No, the difference in the second half wasn't as much UCLA's defense as OSU coming down from playing at "that magical level."

As our friend PHS1 pointed out in an e-mail to me this morning, perhaps the other mistake was not allowing the team to practice in the Staples Center before the game. Of course, it's hindsight now, but perhaps if the UCLA players had been more familiar with the Staples rims and the shooting perspective in such a big arena UCLA might have shot better than the 37% it did for this game.

But all in all, it really wasn't a case of what many in the media are making it out to be. Has it really ever occurred to anyone that Oregon State might be just as good as UCLA this season? The horror. Oregon State is 17-13. They had some tough losses on the road. They were missing their two best players at the beginning of the season – David Lucas and Nick DeWitz. They brought in one of the best freshmen big men in the conference in Sasha Cuic. All of this contributed to them being a much better team toward the end of the season than the beginning. As stated above, UCLA struggled against them in all three meetings, losing two of them and trailing for most of the way in the one victory over them. It wasn't as if this was really a big upset – like UCLA had soundly beaten OSU in its other two meetings and then let down in this one.

Plus, it's all about matchups. UCLA's personnel, really only being able to go seven deep (and that's questionable) and lacking great effectiveness inside, just doesn't match up well against OSU, who has good frontcourt players and then quick perimeter guys who are good shooters.

It's a matter of putting this game – and this season – in perspective, and not getting ahead of yourselves. It's a matter of not getting carried away and believing this is a top ten level team after seeing visions of an Elite Eight run in your fantasies, just because they pieced together a four-game winning streak. It's really a matter of realizing the talent and capabilities of the team and putting their accomplishments in perspective because of it.

Being 18-10 and probably making the NCAA tournament is a considerable accomplishment. It's over-achieving, and optimizing the talent on the squad. No, under-achieving is having five NBA players on your squad and not making the Final Four.

Just to put it in perspective for you, here's a trip down memory lane: In the 1999-2000 season, Steve Lavin did have those five future NBA players on his squad. That year, the team by the end of the regular season was 19-11 and came in 4th in the Pac-10 with a 10-8 mark (This year, the team at the same stage was 18-9 overall, 11-7 in the Pac-10, finishing tied for third). It did go to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament and because of its great talent and penchant for under-achieving it blew out Maryland 105-70 in the second round, living up to its talent level, and then was blown out by Iowa State in the Sweet 16, 80-56, living down to its coaching level.

It would be nice if some of these writers – and a few of the unreasonable fans -- instead of getting caught up in their own misconceptions and unrealistic expectations, put this team and season in its proper perspective.


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