While there were so many variables that contributed, there is a definite trend with UCLA, even going back to last season, in terms of the games in which they struggle.
Most often, UCLA struggles against teams that play good defense and limit their own turnovers. Oregon, a bit surprisingly, played decent defensively. The Ducks, in fact, have the fourth-best scoring defense in the conference, behind Washington State, UCLA and USC, giving up just 63 points per game. UCLA's offense is limited, without a potent inside game, and a lack of great athleticism at its wing positions. It needs open looks (like the ones it got all game against Washington) and transition points.
Last season, when UCLA didn't get open looks in its halfcourt offense and transition points, it relied on its defense to win games (the game at Washington State last season, which UCLA won 50-30, was a thing of beauty in that regard). But this season, UCLA hasn't consistently shown that type of stifling defense and, as we said in our Oregon game review, with its limited offense, it will need to get back to that level of defense if it hopes to make a significant run into the post-season.
Given these two predominant factors among opponents – good defense and low turnovers – there are some remaining games to be wary of on UCLA's schedule.
Top Ten Scariest:
#1 -- The game @ Washington State stands out as the toughest game remaining on the schedule. The Cougars, with the win over Arizona Saturday at home, which takes them to 14-2, are definitely for real, and they've done it by playing a tough D, not turning over the ball (11 per game) and severely limiting their opponents' transition scoring – all the things that give UCLA fits. UCLA will have to win this game with its defense, like it did last year. The way UCLA's D is playing right now, and how UCLA played against Washington State at Pauley Pavilion, this is the game that looms as the most likely loss on the conference schedule.
#2 -- @ West Virginia shapes up as a very tough one. The 25th-ranked Mountaineers play a very tough defense, allowing their opponents to shoot just 38% from the floor. They also don't turn over the ball, averaging just 11 turnovers per game. The game, on its own, will probably be a tougher one than the game @ Washington State, but the WSU game is more significant because of its Pac-10 implications.
#3 -- @ USC. With its athletes, USC plays great man defense, giving up just 35% from the field. But why it slips to #3 on this list is the 17.5 turnovers USC commits per game and its turnover margin (-1.56), both worst in the conference. UCLA will struggle to score in its halfcourt offense against the Trojans Saturday, but it should get some points in transition off USC turnovers. No matter, it's going to be a war, and UCLA will have to bring its A game on defense to win.
#4 -- @ Arizona will be tough, just given that the Wildcats and their crowd will be jacked up. Arizona's D, though, hasn't been great, with the second worst scoring defense in the conference, allowing 73 points per game. It's also in the negative column for turnover margin, at -.092 (UCLA leads the conference at +5.36). Because of their personnel and lack of depth, they play zone almost exclusively, and it's not a great one. They are, like Washington, a team trying to out-score you to win, and UCLA generally does well against those types of teams.
#5 -- USC at Pauley. Again, everything stated above, plus the rivalry heightens the intensity of the game. USC is a program feeling like it's on the upswing, and at Galen or Pauley, it's going to be a battle.
#6 -- Oregon at Pauley. The Ducks are a different team this season than in recent years, playing solid defense, executing well on offense. While Oregon turnovers weren't a big factor in the game at MacCourt, the Ducks are usually sloppier with the ball, especially on the road, which should help give UCLA an edge in this one.
#7 -- @ Washington. Washington is just a great match-up for UCLA. In the conference, the Huskies have the worst scoring defense (78 points per game), second worst field goal percentage defense (44.5), and second worst turnovers (17.6) and turnover margin (-1.5). The on-the-road factor should shave 6-8 points off UCLA's margin of victory from the game at Pauley. Plus, UCLA might have a bit of a letdown since they face WSU first and then Washington.
#8 -- Arizona at Pauley. Whenever you face a top ten in the country you can lose. But UCLA has many advantages against Arizona, and it will likely exploit them at home in Westwood.
#9 -- While the Bay Area teams aren't among the top tier in the conference, they shouldn't be overlooked. Cal is the better of the two, even though, in the defensive and turnover statistics, they're about the same. On the road in the Pac-10 is always a struggle, and Cal has some match-ups that could be difficult for the Bruins (and similar to Oregon): a point guard in Ayinde Ubaka who could give Darren Collison problems, and a big that in Ryan Anderson that likes to step away from the basket.
#10 -- @ Arizona State. Don't laugh. ASU, in its Princeton-like style under new head coach Herb Sendek, gives up only 64 points per game by slowing it down. It doesn't have the talent yet to pull it off, but picture Washington State a couple of years ago. Plus, UCLA plays ASU first on the Arizona road trip and it could be caught looking past the Sun Devils to the game against Arizona in Tucson.