That's pretty much what has been happening to the Oregon Ducks this season.
After two winning seasons in a row where it rode a group of talented veterans, the Ducks have fallen back to Earth at 8-21 overall on the season, and a dismal 2-15 in the Pac-10. Before beating Stanford and Oregon State consecutively, they had lost 15 games in a row.
And if you want to go with the duck-flying-into-the-wall analogy even further, you could apply it to their game against USC Thursday night. The Ducks were down by just three with five minutes left, but then fell apart, losing 80-66.
The Ducks now come gasping into Pauley Pavilion. A young, inexperienced team that has been beaten up all season, they didn't have much in the tank across town Thursday and you'd think they're probably running on empty today.
There is also some other issues that might be playing with the heads of the Ducks. There is plenty of sentiment in Eugene calling for the dismissal of Head Coach Ernie Kent. Of course, it's all been said before. A few times.
So, in other words, you wouldn't say that Oregon has much going for it against the Bruins today.
The Ducks are in the bottom three in just about every Pac-10 statistical team category, save three-point shooting percentage.
Probably two of the worst stats would be the scoring defense and the field goal percentage defense. Oregon allows 76 points per game, which is worst in the Pac-10 and 313th among 330 teams in the country. They allow opponents to shoot 48.9% from the field, last in the conference and 328th in the country.
Within the conference they've allowed opponents to shoot 52% from the field.
That's not a great recipe when you're facing the team (UCLA) that has the best field goal shooting percentage in the nation at 50.3%.
Oregon still employs the speed game, running up and down at a frenetic pace and trying to get an open look before the defense can get set. It works, at times, when you have talented, experienced players executing it. But Oregon doesn't have that this season.
Perhaps out-of-control guard Tajuan Porter isn't the guy to be leading this type of attack. It's staggering that Porter has 71 turnovers compared to 49 assists on the season. As he's relinquished control of the offense to young point guards Garrett Sim and Kamyron Brown this season, his assists have dipped compared to the previous seasons but remarkably his turnovers haven't. So, even with touching the ball less, he's turning the ball over just as much. He's averaging 15 points per game, but it's been inconsistent scoring throughout the season. He can go off for 30 in one game, and then score 6 in the next.
Porter did score 24 points against UCLA in its first match-up in Eugene and single-handedly kept the Ducks close. It was a matter of UCLA's season-long issue – staying in front of opponents' guards, and an overall poor job of defense and rebounding. We'll see if Darren Collison, who had a bit of a rest against Oregon State Thursday, will be up for the task of limiting Porter this time.
Oregon's spread offense – which creates space for penetrators to create – did some damage against the Bruins in the last meeting. UCLA was, though, without Malcolm Lee in that one, so he could see more playing time today trying to limit Oregon's dribble penetration.
Oregon is a poor rebounding team, with a -3.3 rebounding margin for the season, but UCLA did one of its poorest jobs of rebounding all season against the Ducks the first time.
Sim starts at the point, and he's had some speed bumps in his freshman season. Freshman post Michael Dunigan appears to be just about out of gas. A college basketball season is a long haul for a freshman post, but in the last two games he's averaging 6 points and just 1 rebound in 17.5 minutes. Power forward Joevan Catron has seemingly always been a tough match-up for the Bruins, being a strong 6-6 and 235-pounds, and probably still will be this time. In the last UCLA/Oregon game, Nikola Dragovic was still coming off the bench, so Dragovic, who is a less physical defender than James Keefe, will get the Catron assignment. LeKendric Longmire, the sophomore wing, has probably been Oregon's best player over the course of the season, scoring in double figures in his last four games and just about the only one of the starters not appearing fatigued as the season has been winding down.
Oregon has been boosted by the play of freshman post Josh Crittle (6-8, 260), who has stepped in when Dunigan has disappeared. In 16 minutes Thursday, Crittle scored ten points and had 8 rebounds, with six of them being offensive boards. Freshman wing Matt Humphrey (6-5, 185) exploded against Oregon State two games ago, scoring 17 points, but then had a forgettable game against USC Thursday night. As we said Brown, gets minutes at the point off the bench, and freshman forward Drew Wiley (6-7, 200) has been getting consistent minutes off the bench.
Really, the thing to watch in this game is if the Bruins play better defense and rebound better. You'd think they would, mostly because Oregon will probably be just one UCLA offensive run away from folding.
Not only is UCLA playing to stay alive for a Pac-10 championship, but it's Senior Day, the last time Darren Collison, Josh Shipp and Alfred Aboya will play a game in Pauley Pavilion. Thrown in that UCLA will honor the 1969 National Championship team at halftime and you'd have to think that the Ducks will hear one of the liveliest crowds at Pauley Pavilion all season.
Kent has actually complained that Oregon has had to face UCLA on its Senior Day four of the last eight years. And that's probably a legitimate complaint.