Oregon State Preview

A revitalized Oregon State team comes to Pauley Pavilion Thursday, and the Bruins better not be looking past them to Oregon...

UCLA (18-9, 10-6) takes on Oregon State (12-15, 4-12) at Pauley Pavilion Thursday night at 7:30 PM.

The Bruins crushed OSU 70-48 at Corvallis, the biggest victory margin of the season. They did it by running their 1-4 offense extremely well (61.5% FG shooting for the game), getting the ball into Dan Gadzuric, who scored 18 points on 9-14 shooting in 35 minutes, and packing in their 1-2-2 matchup zone (the Beavers were 7-32 from 3 and only hit 35.3% of their shots for the game).

One assumes that Ritchie McKay would like to make some adjustments for this game, but he probably doesn't have to. The Beavers have had some personnel shakeups of late, and that's led to the emergence of a previous role player as a temporary star. Add in the fact that OSU has been red hot from behind the arc lately and this contest looks to be much closer than the first one between these two teams.

Philip Ricci, 6-7 SR PF/C (16.8 ppg, 6.8 rpg), has been the rock for this club since Day One. He has a wide body (250 pounds) to go with great hands, good hops and excellent footwork around the post. Philip can step out and hit the 17-footer, but does most of his damage underneath the basket, which is why UCLA will almost certainly retain its 1-2-2 matchup for this game and force the Beavers to beat them from the outside.

Brandon Payton, 6-0 SR SG (5.2 ppg), Gary Payton's younger brother, started his career at UCSB. He lost his starting job as a JR and transferred to OSU, which wasn't an obvious move. For most of the season, Brandon has been an energetic defensive stopper who occasionally scored off drives. When Jimmy Haywood quit the team for good and Brian Jackson quit the team for a couple of games, McKay gave Brandon the nod. In the 3 games he's started, Brandon has scored 61 points total (20.3 ppg) and hit 9-16 from 3 (56.3%). He was hitting less than 25% of his 3s before then. Brandon presents a difficult matchup for the Bruins if he's hot.

The aforementioned Brian Jackson, 6-9 JR SF (11.7 ppg, 3.9 rpg), is back after going AWOL for 2 games. He told reporters he was quitting because he couldn't handle the high expectations of OSU fans and also because he wanted to score more points. In short, he wanted to have his cake and eat it too. Then he woke up and came back to the real world, rejoining his teammates in the process. Brian is a finesse player in a power forward's body. He makes 39% of his 3s and can run the floor like a guard. He would score more in McKay's offense if he played harder at both ends and kept himself out of foul trouble…

JS Nash, 6-1 FR SG (5.6 ppg), has also benefited from Haywood's absence. JS came into college with the rep as a shooter. He's hit about 30% from 3 for the whole season, but in the last 2 games he's started and scored a total of 27 points while hitting 4-5 from 3. If JS and Brandon are both hot, OSU will stay with the Bruins throughout the game and could beat them if UCLA plays without pride or precision. OTOH, the Beaver guards are short and UCLA's 1-2-2 can present obstacles for short guards, even short guards who normally shoot the ball well.

Adam Masten, 6-5 SR SG/SF (8.1 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 3.1 apg), has been another source of consistency and inspiration in what has otherwise turned into a dreary season for the Beavs. Adam leads the team in assists, but he's just as likely to bomb in 15 points or grab 8 rebounds or turn in a good defensive job on a big-name star as he is to lead the team in dimes. He's a very good outside shooter (38.5% from 3) who will almost certainly be matched up against Jason Kapono defensively.

Joe See, 5-11 FR PG (6.1 ppg, 2.0 apg, 35.4% 3s), and Floyd North, 6-4 FR SG/SF (4.6 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 42.3% 3s), are two more talented frosh. Joe comes off the bench, but usually sees the lion's share of minutes at the point. He has deep range from 3, but has been streaky all season. Floyd is a superior athlete with good wing skills and terrific size for his position. I think he will develop into an all-conference player for this team by his JR season, but he has been inconsistent as a FR.

With Brian either fouling out, wimping out or sitting out, Coach McKay has been searching for another frontcourt player. Fortunately for UCLA, he hasn't found one yet. Jarman Sample, 6-9 SO PF, came in from JC with a rep, but hasn't lived up to it. He did get 8 rebounds against Washington last week, but he's only averaged 1.3 ppg and 1.4 rpg for the season. He seems to be mobile, tall and willowy strong, but just hasn't done much. Ian Elseth, 6-7 FR PF (1.0 ppg, 0.8 rpg), and Derek Potter, 6-11 FR C (0.4 ppg, 1.2 rpg), haven't done much, either. Ian looks like he can become a solid banger with a midrange shot at some future time. Derek is a slender post player with good skills around the block, but he doesn't appear to be physically or mentally tough enough for the Pac-10 as of right now.

OSU's strengths: When they're patient, they work the clock for good shots out of a motion offense and they've been shooting the ball very well lately, especially from 3. McKay seems to have loosened the reigns a little bit to take advantage of all those guards and OSU will run and gun more than they have in the past. They don't make a lot of unforced mistakes despite the lack of a "pure" PG. Philip Ricci gives them a strong post presence who forces teams to design their defenses around stopping him.

OSU's weaknesses: They're short and lack depth up front, so rebounding at both ends and defense inside is a problem. Apart from Brandon Payton, the backcourt and wing players lack great quickness and they have a hard time applying defensive pressure on teams that move the ball well or set good picks. They typically don't cause many turnovers.

The Bruins have become a difficult team to analyze. On offense, Head Coach Steve Lavin has made a radical late season change, moving the Bruins from their 1-4 high offense to the 4 out, 1 in motion offense. In UCLA's new "41," 4 Bruins initiate the offense by spacing the floor outside the key. Dan quickly takes up a spot down low, usually isolated one on one against a defense that spreads itself very thin to match up with the Bruin offensive players.

The Bruins now look for the quick dump in to Dan for an easy shot down low, as contrasted with focusing on a series of cuts and passes designed to stretch the defense out over the course of the shot clock. If the dump in isn't available, the Bruin players have the freedom to attack their man off the dribble or pass and move to the FT line to set a high pick for a teammate that quickly becomes a step out for the 3 or a cut down low for a post up (Dan also comes up high to set picks before moving down low again).

Since UCLA is taller than almost every college team at every position, they are now using their size more to their advantage in isolation plays. And when the FR are on the floor, UCLA's noticeably improved quickness and athleticism can generate more favorable isolation matchups against teams that lack great quickness. Dan has fewer decisions to make, and he seems to get better with every game. The other vets have more decisions to make, but they're vets.

When a motion offense breaks down against a strong man d, it looks like "playground bb," and I've noticed several uses of this term when describing UCLA's new look. That terminology doesn't really apply to the 41 when it's working. Ultimately, basketball is basketball. It's a pretty simple game, and the 41 is just a simple form of the motion offense which emphasizes low post scoring more than the traditional Midwestern motion like Cal uses. Lute Olson and Coach K have both used similar offenses this season and in the past.

Of course, this begs the question of why Lavin only decided to go with the 41 now (according to Lavin, the Bruins have practiced the motion every day since the start of the season). I think it's largely a response to the season-long struggle the coaching staff has had in motivating and controlling their players. While the SRs (and a key JR) are well-versed in the 1-4, they apparently find it as boring as the fans do, especially when they're playing such a passive defense at the other end of the floor. The FR have struggled with the 1-4 all season and the Bruins have often appeared to be two teams, with the vets on one side and the FR on the other, so that Lavin's substitutions have almost always seemed to disrupt the flow of the offense no matter what pattern he used (except for when Rico Hines enters the game, since he knows the 1-4 better than anyone). No doubt, the increasing ability of teams to successfully defend the 1-4 (and the Villanova game may have been the straw that broke the camel's back) probably played its part in Lavin's decision-making process as well.

Against Stanford, one of the better defensive teams in the conference, the Bruins scored 95 points. The SRs look like they're having more fun with 41, and the FR seem to be executing it more effectively than they did the 1-4. In short, UCLA looked like an integrated team with an effective bench for the first time all season last Saturday.

The 41 has its potential drawbacks. Against ASU and Cal, the Bruins turned the ball over a lot. Whether that was because of the quickness of the opposing players or the UCLA players having jitters executing the new system, no one knows. With the Bruin players now given so much freedom to create on their own (in concert with their teammates, of course), Matt Barnes, Jason Kapono and Billy Knight might have stretches where they will over-dribble the ball and try too much one on one action, which will result in turnovers and bad shot selection (as it did against Cal and ASU when UCLA used the motion).

So, the coaches will still have their hands full making sure that the team doesn't degenerate into playground basketball, but if they can walk the fine line and keep the team under control then the Bruins could be much more difficult to shut down for the rest of the season. Lavin says he will continue to use several 1-4 plays within the motion offense to keep it more structured, especially when the shot clock winds down.

On defense, the Bruins will almost certainly stick with their 1-2-2 matchup, with some man mixed in for a new look now and then and fullcourt zone pressure after made foul shots. The 2-3 experiment thankfully appears to be over. If OSU is cold, they could go 7-32 from 3 again: That's what a 1-2-2 does, it encourages teams to shoot long 3s and 3s off the dribble, which are lower percentage shots than spot-up 3s. That's why UCLA leads the Pac-10 in 3-point FG% defense: The team gives up a lot of open 3s, but few high percentage open 3s, because the Bruins' control of the paint limits dribble penetration by the guards and outside/inside plays with the post players.

OSU lacks the quickness to disrupt UCLA's motion offense. OTOH, the Beavers have been shooting like maniacs from behind the arc, so UCLA's 1-2-2 might not be so effective either. And the Bruins often disrupt their own offense all by themselves…

Prediction: UCLA 75, Oregon State 68.

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