Preview of Oregon State Game

While UCLA was losing to Oregon Thursday, the Oregon State Beavers were beating USC, a team that blew out UCLA a couple of weeks ago. OSU, though, is a good match-up for UCLA, but it's a question of whether this year's Bruins have some mental toughness...

UCLA returns to Pac-10 Conference action on Saturday afternoon when they visit the Oregon State Beavers in Corvallis. These two teams are coming off diametrically different outcomes Thursday night with UCLA blowing an early 13-point lead at Oregon and losing to the Ducks in overtime while the Beavers made a nice second half comeback to defeat USC by six. Oregon State will be pumped for the game, coming off the USC win, while UCLA will be asking questions after putting forth a good effort and finding it to be not good enough. Will the Bruins be able to shake off the disappointing loss or will they simply "mail it in" and not put forth a concerted effort? Once again, the question is which Bruin team will show up.

The loss to Oregon showed everything that is good about the Bruins when they play hard, but more importantly it shows the areas where the Bruins struggle. The Bruins hit 10 three-point shots, but only hit 30% of their three-point attempts as they took more than half their shots from beyond the arc. Nikola Dragovic led the Bruins with 19 points, but once again had a miserable game on the defensive end. The Bruins worked hard in the paint on offense but simply couldn't match the athleticism of the Ducks in the interior for long stretches. And, of course, the Bruins missed some critical free throws.

The biggest thing that Thursday showed was that the Bruins, once again, have trouble against athletic teams. Oregon was aggressive and that, coupled with their quickness, as well as their 2-3 trapping zone, gave the Bruins some problems on offense and on the boards. The Bruins were outrebounded by 3 and although they only committed 11 turnovers, they rushed shots and were generally thrown off a bit when trying to run their zone offense. When the Bruins slowed down and worked for a good shot they generally got one and that will be huge on Saturday because the Bruins can expect to see a zone from the Beavers. It will also help that OSU isn't nearly as athletic as the Ducks.

Oregon State was able to hold USC to 45 points because of their 1-3-1 match-up zone defense. It's not the Temple-style defense of John Cheney, but it certainly caused the Trojans headaches. The Beavers forced the Trojans to take a lot of outside and mid-range jumpers, which they missed, (why couldn't Dwight Lewis shoot that poorly at Pauley?). The key to beating a 1-3-1 is passing quickly and finding the seams, especially on the baseline. UCLA is more of a passing team while USC is more of a dribble penetration team. A 1-3-1 lends itself to cutting off dribble penetration. In that sense OSU was a bad match-up for USC while UCLA should have more success against that zone than they did against Oregon's. Something to keep in mind; all zone defenses essentially become a 2-3 after the first pass is made to the wing. The difference in most zones is where the pressure comes from on the top and then where the seams are when the ball rotates. In a 1-3-1 the main areas of weakness for the defense are along the baseline, especially the short corner. It is the one area where dribble penetration can work well. Expect to see Tyler Honeycutt running the baseline. If Coach Ben Howland really wanted to be quick on the offensive baseline he might also put Malcolm Lee there.

Coach Craig Robinson has brought an air of discipline to the Beavers after the disastrous reign of Jay John. However, the Beavers are probably the least athletic team in the Pac-10 and if they are off their game even a bit they can get smoked. Case in point; they lost at home to Seattle by 51 points. Even though they aren't athletic the Beavers are experienced and have some nice players for the Princeton-style offense that Robinson likes to run.

The offense for OSU starts with senior post Roeland Schaftenaar (6'11" 240 lbs.). Schaftenaar is very limited athletically but he has a nice shot out to the three-point line and, most importantly, he is a pretty good passer. When facing a Princeton-style offense a defending team must remember that a good passing post gets the ball in the high post and then the other four players move as if it's a four-corners offense, looking to make backdoor cuts all the time. Schaftenaar is the key and if the Bruins can force him into mistakes, which he has made this season, then OSU's offense breaks down. He has 33 assists on the season against 32 turnovers. It's the assists that are key as 33 are a lot for a post player. Schaftenaar is also only shooting 42% from the floor and that has allowed defenses to play off him. If UCLA can do that then they can clog the lane and cut off any backdoor passes and turn OSU into a dribble-drive team and/or a perimeter team, neither of which OSU does well.

The best player on OSU is junior guard Calvin Haynes (6'2" 185 lbs.). He is the team's leading scorer, (and scored 25 on Thursday against USC), and is the one real outside threat for the Beavers. He is shooting 45% from distance and is far and away the team leader in three-point attempts. On a team that shoots 31% from beyond the arc with Haynes' shooting added in, you can imagine how poor the rest of the Beavers shoot from distance. Haynes is the one athletic Beaver, although not overly so. More than 1/3 of his shots come from long range and he doesn't get to the foul line much considering he is ultimately the best offensive option that OSU has. He only has 68 attempts from the charity stripe on the season, one more than senior point guard Seth Tarver (6'5" 210 lbs.). If the Bruins can shut down Haynes in any way then it will be a long night for the Beavers.

Tarver has been solid, not spectacular in running the OSU offense. He isn't very athletic but his size creates mismatches for him to initiate the offense to the high post. He has 43 assists on the year compared to 40 turnovers. He generally does a good job of protecting the ball, but remember that in OSU's offense the point guard has different responsibilities than in most other offenses. Tarver is the preferred free throw shooter for the Beavers but he, like most of the Beavers, is a horrible outside shooter, (25% from the three-point line). He is the team's leading rebounder at 4.7 RPG. Like I said, he's not a typical point guard and this isn't a typical offense.

Beyond those three players Robinson could start any number of combinations. Senior guard Josh Tarver (6'3" 190 lbs.) usually comes off the bench but he gets about 25 MPG. He is Seth's brother and like his sibling, he understands what Robinson wants to do on offense. He's more of a "glue-guy" in that he'll dive on the ground for loose balls and play hard-nosed defense, but he is also the one Beaver who shoots over 50% from the floor and from beyond the arc, although he's only taken 6 ‘3's this season. Junior guard Lathen Wallace (6'3" 200 lbs.) is the other main outside threat besides Haynes, (53 attempts on the season), but his shooting percentage is also pretty poor, (only 38% from the floor). He is not in any way athletic and only played 6 minutes against the Trojans because he simply was an athletic liability against USC. Junior forward Omari Johnson (6'9" 215 lbs.) and freshman post Joe Burton (6'7" 270 lbs.) get the bulk of the frontcourt minutes off the bench. Johnson is the primary back-up for Schaftenaar, although he's more athletic and nowhere near the outside shooter that the Beaver senior is when he's "on" his game. Burton provides a big body and some rebounding for a team that is generally outmatched on the boards. Freshman guard Jared Cunnigham (6'3" 170 lbs.) started against USC but is generally lifted in favor of Josh Tarver after a few minutes.

The Princeton-style offense is a man-offense, but it can be used against a 2-3 zone and Robinson has done that this season. The Bruins have given up a lot of baseline space in their zone from time to time, especially on Dragovic's side, and the Beavers can exploit that with cuts to the basket. It works better against a zone where the middle defender in the bottom of the zone steps up to take Schaftenaar once he gets the ball, but after watching the Bruins against Oregon it seems that Howland relies on his two top men to pinch off the flash to the high post. Leaving the middle/low defender "home" essentially cuts off any backdoor opportunities. It's because of this, coupled with OSU's generally horrendous outside shooting that speaks volumes about what a poor match-up this game is for the Beavers and how it's a better match-up for the Bruins than perhaps any other team in the conference.

The key question is going to be whether UCLA can rebound from what was unquestionably a disappointing loss to Oregon. The Bruins played with intensity throughout the game and didn't give up when Oregon got their seven-point lead deep in the second half. That bodes well for the Bruins as it was their third game in a row where they played with the kind of desire necessary to be successful. Frankly, for all the talk of the talent gap that UCLA has this season the Bruins have a lot more talent than the Beavers. OSU's best potential player, freshman guard Roberto Nelson, wasn't cleared to play by the NCAA at the start of the season and is still in street clothes. So, if UCLA has the talent advantage and generally an athletic advantage they should win, right? That's where the mental make-up of the team comes into play. If UCLA doesn't play with some fire then OSU can and will simply out-execute them and UCLA can't afford to allow that to happen. Being 5-4 in the conference at the halfway point is a lot better than 4-5, and with the conference being so down this season the Bruins can still look to getting a high seed in the conference tournament. In order to do that, however, this is the kind of game they have to win. Oh, and the Bruins have got to make their free throws at a rate better than 54% which was their percentage against the Ducks.

I have predicted UCLA to lose every game since USC and the Bruins have gone 2-1. The match-ups in this game point to a Bruin victory. It's just that the consistency of the Bruins, or lack thereof, still sticks in the back of my head. Still, this is where the Bruins show us they are growing; winning on the road after a tough loss. The game will be low-scoring and the lack of serious ball pressure will allow the Bruins to settle down and play calmly. Finally, the Bruins won't be facing anywhere near as hostile a crowd as they did on Thursday.

UCLA 57
Oregon State 52


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