As Tracy wrote in his Oregon review, good teams know how to win when they aren't playing well. UCLA did not play well on Thursday night at Oregon, at least on the offensive end, but still came away with a win at one of the toughest road venues in the conference, McArthur Court. OSU's Gill Coliseum is not the imposing facility that Mac Court is, but because Oregon State presents the Bruins with specific match-up issues, this shapes up to be a tougher game. Back when the conference season first started, the Bruins were defeated at home by a Cal squad that gave UCLA fits because of their interior presence. In many ways OSU mirrors Cal, but there are some substantial differences.
The Beavers' best player this season has been senior guard/wing Chris Stephens (6'2" 195 lbs.). Stephens has proven to be OSU's best scoring threat, averaging 14.5 PPG and 49% on his three point shooting. He has done a better job this season of getting to the basket (51% shooting from the floor), but he is still more of a shooter than a scorer, and in that way he is reminiscent of Richard Midgley of Cal. Stephens is more athletic than Midgley and is more effective on defense than Midgley is, but he is still averaging more turnovers than assists and he is rebounding at only 2.6 RPG. Cal was able to beat the Bruins because as the Bruins sagged into the post to help on Powe and Hardin, Cal had both Midgley and Omar Wilkes to shoot the open jumpers that were made available by the post double-teaming. Further, they had Ayinde Ubaka to break down the Bruins by getting into the lane and hitting short jumpers as well as distributing. Stephens appears to be the only real threat OSU has from the perimeter, (outside of Sasa Cuic, but he's a post). This is a real difference when considering that OSU is as big of a match-up problem as Cal. Arron Afflalo and Cedric Bozeman will more than likely share the duties of checking Stephens and the combination of strength and length that they bring should bother Stephens to some extent. Plus, Stephens will have to guard either Afflalo or Jordan Farmar and that will take away from his offensive game. If Stephens' shot isn't falling, expect him to try and get to the basket because he is shooting over 90% for the year from the free throw line.
At the point, OSU will start sophomore Wesley Washington (6'3" 175 lbs.), who is Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei and originally committed to the University of Minnesota out of high school, but never played a game for the Gophers, Washington has been thrust into the starting role because of the injury to senior PG Lamar Hurd, who will be out until around PAC-10 tournament time. Washington is a decent distributor of the ball, and not a shooter, so the Bruins must keep him in front of them, particularly Farmar. Washington isn't a true point, more like a poor-shooting two gaurd, and since picking up the slack of Hurd's minutes his play has been spotty and his decision-making has been marked by indecision. He is really a freshman in terms of playing time and this will be an opportunity for the Bruins to really get after a young and inexperienced player who may not be able to battle through the adversity. Washington's job is simple, however, to get the ball into the posts, and he has done a good job of that the past two games.
One of the starting forwards is sophomore Marcel Jones (6'8" 215 lbs.), another Mater Dei alum. Jones is the "garbage man" of the OSU lineup, having few sets called for him but generally being in the right place at the right time. He averages 8.7 PPG, but most importantly he has become far and away OSU's best rebounder at 7.3 RPG, which is surprising since Jones was never a great rebounder in high school. Jones will shoot the three enough to make him a legitimate threat at the arc so that Mike Roll and Cedric Bozeman, whoever is matched up against him, will not be able to drop into the post and help either as much as they might like or as quickly. Jones is long and fairly quick and works hard on the defensive end. Expect mike Roll to have difficulty getting his shot off when Jones defends him. Bozeman may have better success as he is bigger and longer than Roll, has a quicker first step to the basket and may be able to get Jones into some foul trouble as Jones can play undisciplined at times.
At the power spot, OSU will go with senior Nick Dewitz (6'8" 230 lbs.). Dewitz started the year very slowly when he was expected to challenge for all-conference honors. In the past several weeks, however, he is playing some good basketball and will look to continue that against Luc Mbah a Moute. This will be a great individual match-up to follow. Luc is longer and quicker than Dewitz, but the OSU man is stronger. Dewitz can play with his back to the basket or face up and shoot the three, while he's only shooting 31% from the arc but it's been better lately. Mbah a Moute has to look to drive the baseline against Dewitz because of the quickness disparity, which will be an advantage for the Bruins. Dewitz is both the second leading rebounder on the team at 5.1 RPG and the second leading scorer at 11.8 PPG.
At the center spot will be junior Kyle Jeffers (6'9" 258 lbs.). Jeffers is a banger, pure and simple and his game has stepped up from last year. He will be stronger than any other Bruin post, but he will give up some significant length to Ryan Hollins. Jeffers is averaging 6.3 PPG and 4.3 RPG and does a great job as the designated screener in OSU's patent offense (motion variation). Jeffers does tire fairly easily and with the combination of Hollins, Ryan Wright and Alfred Aboya, the Bruins should have enough bodies to at least cause Jeffers to possibly tire easily.
Off the bench, the Beavers bring primarily three players. The most important two are sophomore forward Sasa Cuic (6'10" 253 lbs.), and senior point guard Jason Fontenot (5'10" 168 lbs.). Cuic will play a lot of minutes in this game not because of his size, but because of his versatility. Cuic is a typical European big man in that he would rather play facing the hoop. In fact he would rather shoot three pointers, where he is averaging 46% from beyond the arc, which is better than he is shooting from inside the arc. He is big and long, but he can be forced to disappear from games when his shot isn't falling and if he is being banged around a bit. But when he's on, he can turn into the best offensive option for the Beavers. Fontenot is a very quick point guard who will probably play more than Washington will play. Fontenot, if he's under control, could really cause the Bruins fits because of the difficult for the Bruins to keep him out of the lane, being able to supply the role that Ubaka did for Cal. The difference is that Fontenot isn't the player that Ubaka is. Ubaka could shoot, but Fontenot is shooting less than 29% from both the floor and behind the arc.
This will be a game of match-ups in a different way than the Oregon game. OSU Coach Jay John and Coach Howland will engaged in a game of chess to get the best possible line-up on the floor for given match-ups. For instance, with Fontenot on the floor, the Bruins will certainly have to play Darren Collison in response. The key will be whether Howland can keep John on his heels. It will also be key for Afflalo to have a better offensive game if, for nothing else, to keep Stephens occupied on the defensive end of the floor.
As I stated before, OSU doesn't have the second perimeter shooter that Cal did, unless you count Cuic. OSU also doesn't have the penetrator/shooter that Cal did in Ubaka, not to mention that Powe and Hardin at Cal are a better combo than anything OSU can throw at the Bruins. Oregon State is coming off a disheartening loss to USC on Thursday, but they have been playing well lately. At the beginning of the month, they beat the Bears at Cal, and took Arizona in Corvallis, and almost edged out a win against Washington in Seattle before beating Washington State in Pullman. So, this isn't Oregon, by any means, but a much better club, and you can expect them to be fired up for the Bruins. On the other hand you can assume that the Bruins won't have as poor a shooting night as they did on Thursday. This one has the makings of a tight game but the key will be the Bruins defensive effort. UCLA has shown that they are the best defensive team in the conference. And UCLA has to be aware that, with a win over OSU, they could finish the first half of the conference schedule alone in first place.
Oregon State 60