When UCLA first faced Oregon State several weeks ago, I wrote that the Beavers were in a state of disarray following the firing of Coach Jay John. I talked about how bad they were as a team and individually. I even stated that the Beavers had only two real Pac-10 level players on their roster. I basically wrote that OSU was as bad as it was going to get in terms of opponents for the Bruins. Boy, was I wrong.
The only drama to this game is: Will the Bruins get out of Pauley Pavilion without another injury? That's it…that's all. The Bruins will win this game and they will win it by a very wide margin. It's difficult to comprehend, but Oregon State has actually gotten worse since they first played the Bruins.
I think it's pretty safe to say that OSU interim head coach Kevin Mouton won't be around Corvallis much after the end of the Pac-10 Tournament. Since taking over for the fired John, Mouton has guided the Beavers to a winless record (0-7), and the scores have gotten progressively worse since John's release. Other than a five-point loss to California two weeks ago, the Beavers have been getting crushed, culminating in a 38-point home loss to Washington this past weekend. The game, however, wasn't the entertaining part of the weekend for Beaver fans.
Facts have come out that OSU's player arrived at Gill Coliseum to begin their shoot around before Washington was done with theirs. The Huskies had apparently made it known that they were holding a closed practice. One thing led to another and disparaging remarks almost became fisticuffs. To top it off, the reports further suggest that OSU's senior forward Marcel Jones called the hotel room of a Husky player and challenged him and his teammates to come out of the hotel for a fight. This is absolutely a team in disarray. Whichever Pac-10 team has the 2-seed in conference tourney should plan on playing the 7-seed long before the 7/10 game actually takes place. The Beavers basically rolled over and played dead at home and far from possibly getting better, it almost certainly will get worse.
I have really been having trouble about how to approach this preview because Oregon State is that bad. In fact, they have finally appeared to have packed it in mentally, which was just a matter of time. When the Bruins played in November against Idaho State and Youngstown State, at least they played opponents that UCLA knew were going to give it their best shot at winning. OSU may not even give the Bruins that. Keeping that in mind, let's look at what UCLA can do to use the game as a springboard to the game on Saturday against Oregon and then the rest of the Pac-10 regular season.
Offensively, the Bruins need to continue to feed the ball into the post to Kevin Love. UCLA's offense flows pretty seamlessly when the ball works its way through the freshman. Both Washington and USC, UCLA's last two opponents, made a concerted effort to keep the ball out of Love's hands. The Bruins, especially guards Darren Collison and Russell Westbrook, must be patient enough to work the ball around and get the ball in the paint, or at least let Love touch it, even if it's on the perimeter. Love has shown the ability to be dangerous out to the three-point line. However, it's not just his shooting ability that makes Love dangerous, but his passing ability is excellent for a man his size. When Love touches the ball his teammates tend to move and screen better in the offense, resulting in many good looks at the basket. Although the Bruins shot poorly against the Trojans, they did have some very good looks that they simply didn't hit. This has arguably been the case for the past two games, but remember, it was only two weeks ago that the Bruins looked very efficient on offense at Washington State. If they are going through a bit of a shooting slump then better now than in two or three weeks. Interestingly, I noticed that the Bruin offense was moving the ball well as long as they got post touches, even if it wasn't Love getting the ball inside. The rotation and movement when the Bruins were able to get the ball into Lorenzo Mata-Real was pretty good, too. While definitely not the passer that Love is, Mata-Real has some nice post moves, especially the little baby hook he uses, to be an effective player down low.
Chances are that OSU is going to throw a lot of zone UCLA's way even though the Bruins have proved better at breaking zones down than going up against man defenses recently. The key for the Bruin players is to understand that the principles against a man or a zone are the same: get the ball into the low or high post, keep moving around using screens (yes, screens are effective against a zone, especially on the baseline and using the short corner), and use passing to beat the defense as the ball moves faster than the man guarding you or the player receiving the ball. When the Bruins pass the ball crisply they are a force on offense. In short, the Bruins need to use this game as a confidence builder, to re-establish the play that made them successful against Wazzu, Arizona and Stanford.
Defensively, the key to the Bruins is defensive rotation. As Tracy Pierson pointed out in his USC game review, the Bruins are often slow on their backside rotation, leaving opposing players, especially in the post, open for easy looks. The Bruins defense has been predicated under Coach Ben Howland on the doubling of the opposing post on the initial entry pass. What's made that so effective the past three years hasn't been the double team itself but rather the rotation that the Bruins were and can be very good at that forces the opposition into turnovers, difficult passes and poor shots. Again, the Bruins can and should use this game as a way to get their collective "swagger" back on the defensive end. When the Bruins move well on the defensive end they also tend to rebound very well, thus holding the opposition to one shot per possession. It's key that UCLA get back to proper and quick defensive rotation as Oregon is going to move the ball more quickly on Saturday and they have much better outside shooters than does Oregon State. With every game now being key (the Bruins own a ½ game lead over Stanford atop the conference), the Bruins need to start playing their best basketball.
As I said earlier, the Bruins could bring their ‘C' game and win going away against a clearly dispirited Oregon State squad that doesn't match up with the Bruins at any position or on the bench. The key is how Howland and the Bruins will use this game to better prepare them for the remaining 5 conference games. With Oregon on tap on Saturday and a tough trip to the Arizona schools looming, look for the Bruins to start putting it together for the stretch run.
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