Oregon Preview

UCLA travels to Eugene tonight to take on an Oregon team in the middle of a controversial season that has played better as of late. Mc Arthur Court is one of the toughest places to play, and the Ducks haven't lost a Pac-10 game at home yet this season...

UCLA travels to Eugene on Thursday to take on an Oregon Duck (10-9, 4-3) team that has been playing better as of late. Will the Bruins learn a thing or two from their loss on Saturday to West Virginia? Or will the Bruins finally get beat in a PAC-10 road contest? Perhaps most importantly, will Cedric Bozeman be effective in his limited minutes, coming back from his shoulder injury and tendinitis?

Those who think that Bozeman's return will be the cure-all for all of the Bruins' shortcomings, well, you will be disappointed. Bozeman will add depth and a strong defensive presence, not to mention a stronger rebounding presence, but he will probably do little, at least in the next week or two, on the offensive end. He was barely averaging in double figures when he went down, and Bozeman isn't exactly the most aggressive player to begin with. Factoring in the injury, I think it would be safe to assume that Bozeman will not jump right into the action and try to score as much as he can. If the Bruins can get 8-12 points out of Bozeman for the next few games, that will help significantly because its safe to also assume that whatever player he will be guarding won't be going off on the Bruins. All of this assumes that Bozeman won't be limited in the 8-10 minutes he's been cleared to play per half.

The last time UCLA went on the road for a PAC-10 weekend twosome was when they went to the desert to beat both Arizona and ASU. It was also the last weekend that Josh Shipp was playing for the Bruins and the complexion of this Bruin team has changed dramatically. No more Shipp, no more Lorenzo Mata…but they still have Coach Howland. What the West Virginia game showed was that the reason that the Bruins were successful against the Arizona schools, and Nevada and Michigan for that matter: because they were prepared. That's coaching. You have to assume that the Bruins will be prepped properly for each game from here on out. The question is whether the Bruins will be able to successfully carry out the game plan.

The game plan for Oregon should be the same as it was for Washington and USC, the two PAC-10 teams that Oregon is most similar to. Oregon likes to run much in the same way the Huskies do and, like the Huskies, Oregon has a good deal of individual talent. The Ducks suffer on the offensive end and from poor rebounding much the same way that USC does. In short, the Ducks aren't as good as Washington, but they are probably better than USC. So the game plan will probably revolve around solid man defense with good help and limiting the Ducks to one shot. The focus of the defense will probably be to go under screens for the most part and force Oregon to beat the Bruins from outside. Oregon shoots only 33% as a team from beyond the arc, and it's only that high because sophomore Malik Hairston (6'6" 200 lbs.), is shooting 45% on his threes. On the offensive end, look for the Bruins to use ball screens to set up dribble penetration with quick passes in the lane to the Bruin post players. The Bruins should expect to see some 2-3 zone out of the Ducks and need to be prepared to attack the wing seams in order to beat it. Finally, as Washington showed last weekend, keep the Ducks off the boards (the Huskies won the rebounding battle by 13) and the Ducks find it very difficult to win. However, of all the recent games that the Bruins have played, this one will more than likely come down to individual battles rather than schemes.

Hairston is the Ducks' leading scorer (15.2 PPG) and second leading rebounder (4.9 RPG). He is a dynamic scoring wing who many teams would love to have, as evidenced by Howland's heavy recruitment of him two years ago. He takes more shots than any other Duck and averages almost 50% from the field. This is a player that is almost crying out for a healthy Bozeman. Even if Bozeman doesn't score much, his defensive abilities can really disrupt Oregon's only real scorer. Plus, with Bozeman in the game, it frees up Arron Afflalo to focus on the offensive end. Afflalo is coming off his worst game this season and perhaps in his Bruin career. Part of the reason for that is fatigue; fatigue that has been brought on by Afflalo having to expend himself at both ends of the floor. If Afflalo is no longer responsible for the opposition's best offensive player, it follows that his offensive game will begin to come alive again. So, while Afflalo will probably be assigned to guard Hairston quite a bit, you can probably also expect Bozeman to give Afflalo some defensive relief on him.

At the point, Oregon starts junior Aaron Brooks (6'0" 165 lbs.), who is the leader of the Ducks, but his numbers are way down from last year. Brooks is averaging only 11.7 PPG and 4.5 APG, both down from a season ago, attributed to merely because Brooks is taking more shots. The key to stopping Brooks is keeping him in front you on defense. He is quick and loves to create and he knows how to get to the basket. But his shooting has been les than average, shooting at only 39% from the floor for the year and a dismal 29% from behind the arc. If the Bruins force Brooks to beat them from the outside, they'll probably be in good shape. Brooks is also a player who lets his offensive play dictate his defensive intensity, so if Brooks is cold at the outset, expect Jordan Farmar and Darren Collison to eventually have huge lanes to the basket as the game goes on. Brooks will be a tough match-up for Farmar, but he will have help from Collison, and Afflalo will probably mark Brooks, too. Farmar and Afflalo will have to use their superior strength to muscle Brooks out of the lane. Finally, Brooks is prone to turning the ball over, averaging less than 1.5 assists to turnovers.

At the second guard spot, the Ducks start sophomore Bryce Taylor (6'5" 205 lbs.). Taylor is the third offensive option for the Ducks, but he would be the first on many teams, this season averaging 9.8 PPG. Taylor is another athletic player who loves to get to the rack. The Bruins will probably work under screens to keep Taylor in front of them as he only shoots 26% from behind the arc, even though he is a better outside shooter than that number indicates. Taylor is actually a fairly simple player; keep him out of the lane, keep a hand in his face when he spots up and make him work on defense and he is a non-factor. When Mike Roll is in the game, on defense Taylor will have to chase Roll like crazy. When Bozeman is in the game, I can see the Bruins posting him up on Taylor since Bozeman has a significant strength advantage and is a very good interior passer.

Another wing player that has been starting recently is the coach's son, junior Jordan Kent (6'5" 205 lbs.). If you notice the information on each player, you'll see that Oregon has a lot of similarly built players. In short, Kent is a poor man's Taylor. He likes to get to the basket but, different from Taylor, he will rarely shoot threes (only 3 attempts all season). He is a poor shooter and an even poorer free-throw shooter (18% from the line). But he is a better defender than Taylor and brings a good work ethic and more energy to the floor than either Taylor or Hairston. In short, Kent is Oregon's Sean Farnham. He will start but only play about 18 minutes.

In the post, Oregon will start junior Adam Zahn (6'8" 225 lbs.), who doesn't play much but does a nice job with his minutes, averaging 4.5 PPG and 3.3 RPG in about 15 MPG. If he plays a lot then the UCLA posts will be at a distinct advantage as they are longer and more athletic than Zahn. Zahn will step outside and shoot the occasional 3-point shot. Sophomore Maarty Leunen (6'8" 215 lbs.) will probably get the most minutes in the post, being the Ducks' leading rebounder at 6.9 per game and averaging a shade under 8 PPG. He can play both the low post and facing the basket. He shoots well over 50% from the floor and has taken 45 threes on the year, although he's only making 30% of them. He is skilled with both hands and plays thicker that his 215 lbs. Leunen has quick hands and makes good defensive reads, being third on the team in steals. He'll give the Bruins some problems in the post. He has been limited by a moderate ankle sprain.

Oregon will play up to 10 players, although Hairston, Leunen, Brooks and Taylor are the only ones who average over 24 MPG, with Hairston and Brooks averaging over 30. Of the remaining guys coming off the bench, Ivan Johnson and Roy Schafer are the post players. Johnson, in particular, can really do damage in the low post where his 255 lbs. can take up a lot of space, combined with good athleticism. He's been out for a few games this season, because of some mystery suspension by head coach Ernie Kent, but the JC transfer (who Oregon picked up at the last minute in the fall) can really be a beast at times. Schafer is a big body (6-10, 235) with some talent who many were expecting to step up this year as a sophomore and anchor the middle for Oregon, but it hasn't materialized, and he's been relegated to very limited minutes, especially recently with the emergence of Johnson. The guards off the bench are senior Brandon Lincoln and sophomore Chamberlain Oguchi. Neither is truly a point, but more along the same lines as Taylor and Hairston and Kent. Lincoln, who provides time at the one to give relief to Brooks, is a good 3-point shooter, averaging 41% for the year, but he has only taken 27 shots.

The personnel match-ups favor UCLA. The coaching match-up favors the Bruins, too. The style match-up probably favors the Bruins as they tend to play more under control and disciplined than Oregon. But, there are some ominous factors. At some point, a team that plays up-tempo is going to run down the Bruins. And beat them pretty badly. The game is at McArthur Court, which is among the toughest places in the country, let alone the conference, to win. Just ask Arizona. In fact, Oregon is undefeated at home so far this season in conference play, having beaten Oregon State, ASU and Arizona. Among their 9 losses this season overall, only two have come at Mac Court, one to Georgetown, which just upset #1-ranked Duke, and then the upset to Portland State. But there is history on the Bruins' side, having won at Mac Court last year.

If the Bruins rebound well and early, and just run their offense decently for the first 15 minutes, it is entirely possible the Bruins will go up and stay up on the Ducks in this one. While a blowout is unlikely, if Oregon ends up winning this game it's because the Bruins played nowhere near their capabilities. The Bruins have learned to play tough defense, and that wins many games. Their offense is efficient enough to beat many teams handily, and even though they lost by 4 to WVU on Saturday, the Mountaineers are a definite Final Four contender and Afflalo and Roll combined for only 4 points. It's highly unlikely that will happen again. UCLA is better than the Ducks and Oregon is having an under-achieving season under hot-seated Ernie Kent. After playing better for a couple of games they were blown out at Washington last Saturday, 78-59. This is a game that the Bruins should win.

Oregon 64

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