The Bruins come into this game in a much different state than the Ducks do. The Bruins defeated Oregon State handily on Thursday night while the Ducks blew a big second half lead to lose a very important game to the USC Trojans. Thursday night's outcomes should have a lot to do with the outcome of Saturday's contest as Coach Ben Howland was able to rest all of his key players while Oregon coach Ernie Kent played three of his starters for at least 30 minutes and another played for 29 minutes. UCLA is looking to sustain the momentum they gained with Thursday's win over the Beavers and last Sunday's win over USC so that they can position themselves for a high seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament. Oregon, on the other hand, is now fighting for their post-season lives knowing that another loss on the L.A. trip would leave them at 6-9 in the Pac-10 and 15-12 overall. That would put them squarely on the wrong side of the proverbial "bubble" when it comes to selection for the Big Dance. Will the Bruins look to dominate the Ducks from the opening tip? More importantly, which Oregon team will show up, the one that can shoot other teams out of a game with their athletic guards and wings, or will the Ducks simply mail in this game because of the gut-wrenching nature of their defeat at the hands of the Trojans?
The best thing about the Oregon State game was it allowed Howland the opportunity to play some of the reserves for more minutes than usual. Howland has been a master the past two seasons in getting his team to peak as a unit and as individuals as the calendar turns to March. On Thursday, Howland got stellar play from Lorenzo Mata-Real and James Keefe.
Tracy Pierson pointed out in his OSU game review that Kevin Love playing in the low post with Mata-Real presented an intriguing prospect because they would have the ability to offensively make teams pay for doubling Love and defensively own the paint and the boards. Mata-Real has been a "good soldier" this season, not causing any stir with regard to losing his starting spot of the last two years to Love or because of his diminished playing time. Mata-Real has brought a great work ethic to the floor whether he has played for 25 minutes or ten in a given game.
Keefe, on the other hand, has started to show Howland and fans what they hoped to see from the Bruin sophomore, namely good rebounding, solid defense and a nice offensive game with a shooting range out to the three-point line. On Thursday, Keefe was able to corral 7 boards while scoring 6 points, including hitting his only attempt from beyond the arc. He did this in 15 minutes of play, which is more than the 11 MPG he had been averaging. Granted, it was only against Oregon State, but Keefe is clearly becoming more comfortable with the system on both ends of the floor and Howland has got to be gaining more confidence in him as the post season approaches.
The Ducks, on the other hand, have got to be questioning themselves after Thursday's loss. The team has no real leader, in the Arron Afflalo mold, although senior Malik Hairston apparently is the self-appointed leader of the team. The most complete player on Oregon has got to be senior forward Maarty Leunen, but he had a heck of a time trying to guard Love when the teams first met in Oregon last month. Senior Bryce Taylor is up and down, while diminutive sophomore guard Tajuan Porter can get hot from outside, but he doesn't do much else. In fact, Porter has more of a tendency to shoot the Ducks out of games than he does to hit big shots. Oregon is a team with holes beyond leadership. Their style of play is reminiscent of Duke's style, with the spreading of the floor, the dribble penetration and the kick-out passes for open looks off the penetration. The problem is that Oregon, while athletic and quick on the perimeter, doesn't shoot as well as Duke, isn't as well coached as Duke and, for all the criticism Duke takes about their "pretty boy" demeanor, Duke is tougher than Oregon.
Offensively, expect the Bruins to continue to do the things that make them successful, namely getting touches for Love. The Bruin freshman has shown that it doesn't matter where he gets the ball, in the low post or out on the perimeter, he is a danger anytime he touches it in the offensive halfcourt. His ability to pass from any position as well as his significant outside shooting ability causes opposing posts to have to guard him away from the basket. In Oregon's case, expect Kent to match Leunen on Love, but also expect to see bulky sophomore Joevan Catron on Love at times. Regardless of who guards Love, he can expect to see numerous double teams. Catron should be more of a factor in this game than he was up in Oregon. In the game at Mac Court, Catron was playing for the first time since an injury sidelined him early in the season. He wasn't as effective on either end of the court as he should be on Saturday. However, Love has shown his talent against more significant competition, namely at Stanford and against Michigan State.
On the perimeter, Darren Collison and Russell Westbrook should look to take advantage of their symmetry and strength against Porter and Taylor, while Shipp will be able to pull Hairston away from the hoop. As long as the Bruins keep their spacing and get Love the touches he needs to make the offense hum, the Ducks should have a great deal of trouble shutting down the Bruins.
Defensively, the Bruins still showed a tendency to get lax on hedges and defensive rotations against Oregon State. Oregon has the ability to make the Bruins pay more than the Beavers did. UCLA will have an obvious advantage on the boards and it is critical that the Bruins hold Oregon to one-shot possessions. Oregon has shown a clear tendency to get deflated when their shots aren't falling or when they are held to one shot per possession. The danger is that Oregon has a style of offense that has given UCLA trouble in the past -- the spreading of the floor and the dribble penetration. If Collison, in particular, can keep Porter out of the lane consistently then Oregon could be looking at getting blown off the floor. The rest of the defense is pretty straight-forward.
The wild card in this game is Bruin forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. Luc was out for the first meeting and his presence was missed. His availability adds a new dimension to the Bruins on both ends of the floor. Catron is too slow to guard him, and if Kent matches Leunen on him then Love has a big advantage on Catron in the low post. Kent can counter with posts Mitch Platt or Ray Schaefer, but neither get many minutes and there is a reason for that.
Oregon has got to be reeling coming into the game. The Ducks basically imploded in the second half against USC. The Trojans were out of that game. Their body language was poor and they honestly looked tired and somewhat defeated. Yet Oregon still found a way to hand the Trojans the game. The Oregon players have to be fully aware that their best chance at a win this weekend was at USC. Now they take the fact that they blew that game into Pauley Pavilion to face the Bruins. Oregon may come out like a wounded, cornered animal, but the Ducks haven't shown a predilection for mettle in these types of situations. If the Bruins bring close to their "A" game, they should win this one going away.