Oregon brings a very different look to the UCLA game, one which the Bruins haven't seen in a few weeks. The Ducks don't start anyone taller than 6'9", and only play one other player that is even 6'8". In terms of style, the Ducks will benew for UCLA this season, being the first team the've faced that likes to get up and down the floor, and they have a half-court offense with a different structure to it.
This game had some real national attention building at the beginning of the week, but some steam has been taken out of it for two reasons. Obviously, the first is the loss to USC that knocked Oregon from the ranks of the unbeaten. Pundits on ESPN, FSN and in print were speculating on which one of the final three unbeatens (UCLA and Clemson being the other two) would be the first to lose. The Oregon part of that conversation is now at an end. The second reason is one which has been known for some time, that Oregon will be without their most complete player in 6'6" junior Malik Hairston. Hairston has been out for the past 9 games, and it's not a stretch to suggest that, with a relatively healthy Hairston, the Ducks don't lose to USC on Thursday. The Ducks do have several other dangerous players, though, and because this game is on the road it has the making of being the toughest test of the year so far for the Bruins.
The Oregon attack is led by senior point guard Aaron Brooks (6'0" 160 lbs.), who has clearly been the most important player on the Ducks this season and probably their best, too. He leads the team in scoring at 17.6 PPG, in assists at 4.8 APG and can even rebound well for his size, averaging 3.7 RPG. Although Brooks' shooting percentage is relatively low at 47% (and only 36% from behind the arc), he has had the propensity to hit some big shots this year, as was the case Thursday against the Trojans. If Brooks has a fault or two, they are: He tends to play out of control at times and, as a senior, you would think that he would have gotten past that by now; when he starts making bad decisions the team tends to play rather poorly, and when things aren't going Brooks' way, whether it's because of officiating or his teammates missing what he perceives to be easy shots, Brooks tends to pout and his focus drifts when he lets this happen. In short, you would expect more composure and maturity from a senior. Matched up against Brooks will be Darren Collison. It will be Collison's job to keep Brooks from driving and still keep a hand in his face so that Brooks can't hit the three. This will be a game where Collison's quickness on defense may truly be appreciated. Collison doesn't have to stop Brooks, only slow him down. If he does that, then the entire Duck offense will suffer greatly. Brooks is also a very good free-throw shooter (except for Thursday's late misses against USC, which probably had more to do with the 40 minutes that Brooks played than anything else), averaging 83% for the season.
Since Hairston's injury, Coach Ernie Kent has been playing a three-guard starting line-up. The traditional ‘2' guard spot has been manned by junior Chamberlain Oguchi (6'5" 195 lbs.), who is more of a shooter rather than a scorer, with more than two-thirds of his 91 shots this season coming from behind the arc (where he is only shooting 29%). Being more of a spot-up shooter, expect Coach Ben Howland to put Josh Shipp on Oguchi. Although he has been better defensively as the season has progressed, Shipp is still the least accomplished perimeter defender in Howland's system compared to Arron Afflalo and Collison. Oguchi is the easiest guard to defend in Oregon's three-guard attack, thus it would only make sense to see Shipp on him. Oguchi is averaging 10.3 PPG, one of six Ducks averaging in double figures.
The third guard is junior Bryce Taylor (6'6" 205 lbs.). Taylor is physically the strongest of the guards and he likes to get into the lane for drives and pull-up jumpers. He is also a very effective three-point shooter, averaging 41% from behind the arc. Taylor is second on the team in scoring at 16.3 PPG and, of Kent's available players, he is second on the team in rebounding at 5.8 RPG. Taylor is a very good athlete and will be a significant challenge to Afflalo. Taylor also shoots 77% from the line, so it will be up to the Bruin leader to stop Taylor's drives without resorting to fouling him. Taylor also has the capacity to be the Ducks' best defender, so it will be interesting to see if Kent puts him on Afflalo or if he opts to start him on Shipp. Either way it presents Oregon with a match-up dilemma because both Afflalo and Shipp are much stronger than Oguchi, who would be matched up on the Bruin who isn't guarded by Taylor. Afflalo and Taylor are old nemeses, too, having faced each other a couple of times in the SoCal CIF playoffs.
Kent is using his ‘4' player this season in much the same way that Howland does, opting for a player who can face the basket and shoot the three, but also be comfortable posting up. For Oregon, that player is junior Maarty Leunen (6'9" 215 lbs.), who has turned into a very good rebounder, averaging a team-leading 10.5 RPG, and a more than competent scorer, averaging 12.1 PPG. Leunen does only average 48% from the floor and still has trouble with the mid-range jumper which, in Oregon's offense, he gets often during the course of a game. Leunen does average 38% from behind the arc. Of the Ducks' starters, Leunen is the "worst" free throw shooter at 73% from the line. Leunen is deceptively quick and has developed a nice drop step when he gets the ball in the low post. His match-up with Luc Mbah a Moute bears watching in that he can match Luc in strength and is closer than you would think to matching Luc in speed. Where Leunen has trouble matching up with Luc is in lateral quickness. Look for Leunen to lay off of Luc when he receives the ball in the high post, daring him to shoot the mid-range jumper. But Leunen will need help if Luc starts driving to the basket.
The lone traditional post player is senior Adam Zahn (6'8" 230 lbs.). Zahn does all of the dirty work for the Ducks, setting screens, diving for loose balls and he does a very nice job of boxing out on shots even though he only averages 2.6 RPG. Zahn only averages 5.1 PPG and is typically in the game to give Kent and the Ducks some traditional size in the paint. Zahn, however, only averages 11.5 MPG as Kent often looks to go with a four-guard offense. Keep in mind, though, that Zahn's minutes were shortened against a very soft non-conference schedule where most teams didn't have any real size to begin with so not having Zahn's size on the floor didn't hurt the Ducks. In the past two games, against Oregon State and USC, both of whom had size, Zahn has averaged closer to 18 MPG. Kent also has junior Mitch Platt (6'10" 275 lbs.) available to give the Ducks size for a few minutes, but Platt hasn't played in the past two games.
Off the bench, Kent has been rotating in three players, starting with freshman guard Tajuan Porter (5'6" 160 lbs.). Porter will be the quickest player on the floor on Saturday and Collison and Russell Westbrook will have to use their length advantage to force Porter to move laterally. Porter is actually the third-leading scorer for the Ducks at 14.3 PPG and second on the squad with 37 assists on the season. The odd thing about Porter, who receives starter's minutes, averaging almost 30 MPG, is that his shooting percentage form beyond the arc is much better than his overall shooting percentage. He is 45% from ‘3', while only 38% form the floor. He obviously has trouble with his mid-range jumper and his size causes his problems when he gets deep into the lane. Porter sprained a toe and sat out a couple of games and, since returning for the last three games, hasn't been near the same. In his first nine games, he average 18 points a game and has only put up 2.6 points per game since returning. In his first three games of the season, he hit 21 threes, and has only hit two in his last three games.
Also on the Duck bench are freshman Joevan Catron (6'6" 225 lbs.), and sophomore Churchill Odia (6'6" 205 lbs.). Although both average between 14 and 15 MPG, and are both basically guys that give the big six a rest, Catron does average almost 5 RPG in his 15+ minutes (meaning he's rebounding this season at the same rate as Leunen). Neither one of them is a real scoring threat, although Odia does average 35% from behind the arc.
Oregon's offense will present UCLA with a different look since they run a 4 out/1 in offense, especially when Porter is in and Zahn is out. This tends to spread the defense and gives Oregon some nice looks from the 10-15 foot range. The thing about Oregon is that they aren't very patient in the offense, tending to jack up threes early in the shot clock. Take Thursday against the Trojans for example. Oregon had 15 more shots than the Trojans, but of their 71 shots, 31 were from behind the arc. Consider that fact: they had 15 more shots than the Trojans and had only 4 turnovers…and they still lost at home. Now, if Oregon's three-point shooting is on, and Porter finds the form he had early in the year, they can be deadly and shoot an opponent off the floor. But the chances of that happening against a good defensive team like the Bruins are remote. Oregon simply isn't a disciplined offensive team. Oregon also likes to run, and that suits the Bruins quite well.
The Bruin bench will also give UCLA a decided advantage. Oregon had four starters play 32, 36, 38 and 40 minutes on Thursday. Fatigue, if it's a factor, will be more of one for Oregon. Alfred Aboya, Mike Roll and, to a lesser extent, Ryan Wright, James Keefe and Westbrook, gave the Bruin starters some significant rest against the Beavers. That may prove decisive on Saturday, especially in the second half.
Oregon does have the advantage of playing at Mac Court, and it was buzzing on Thursday. But that may be the only advantage. If you saw the body language of the Ducks and heard them in the post-game press conference, you sensed that this was a very dejected team. Part of it was the way they lost, but part of it was the sense that the Ducks felt they gave USC their best shot and they still lost. Now they have to face the #1 team in the country. Even if the Ducks had one more day to prepare I would say that those emotions would dissipate, but the Ducks are playing UCLA about 38 hours after the USC loss, and that's tough to overcome mentally even for a mature team. Call it a feeling, but I get the sense that this game may be easier for the Bruins than I thought it would be before Thursday night's games. Finally, the Ducks have to play without Hairston who is arguably their best player. Oh, yeah, then there's the sideline match-up; Howland versus Kent…