Oregon Preview

The Oregon Ducks, currently in last place in the Pac-10, got things together against USC Thursday. Their kind of athleticism usually gives the Bruins fits, but UCLA should be pumped for Senior Day...

The UCLA Bruins stayed true to form on Thursday night when they defeated Oregon State and the Beavers' 1-3-1 zone.  The Beavers didn't pressure the ball but rather the pass, and with the Bruins being a good passing team they were able to eventually put away the Ducks.  UCLA had only 12 turnovers in the game.  Jerime Anderson looked good.  Tyler Honeycutt was a man among boys.  Keep in mind, however, that the Beavers didn't pressure the ball.  Now UCLA readies itself for a completely different defensive match-up when they host the Oregon Ducks at Pauley Pavilion Saturday night in what will be the last home game ever for seniors Nikola Dragovic, Mike Roll and James Keefe.  The key to the game will be whether or not the Bruins can handle the ball pressure that Oregon is going to throw at them.

Oregon is coming off a come-from-behind win over USC on Thursday, holding the Trojans to 12 points in the second half.  While the Trojans were clearly disjointed and disinterested in the second half, the Ducks did have something to do with that.  Oregon doesn't have a lot of positives going for it; Coach Ernie Kent stands a good chance of being fired at the end of the season, Oregon's depth and talent are at a nadir (not OSU-bad from a few years ago but bad compared to other Oregon teams), and that doesn't appear it will change anytime soon, and the Ducks simply don't play well.  However, they do play good ball-pressure defense.  What kills the Ducks is what happens when the ball pressure doesn't cause a lot of turnovers.  Still, the kind of ball pressure that the Ducks can utilize has caused UCLA significant trouble this season.

When these teams hooked up at Mac Court in Eugene, Oregon, several weeks ago, the Ducks won an overtime contest that featured a miracle-like three-point shot by Roll with little time on the clock just to get the Bruins to the OT.  The Bruins didn't have a lot of turnovers that game but their collective shot selection was mediocre at best (they shot only 39% for the game), they were killed on the boards, 28-23, and Oregon got to the free-throw line 10 more times than the Bruins did.  What really was the problem that game was that Oregon's quickness on defense forced UCLA into too many three-point shots.  The Bruins took 33 of their 64 shots from the floor (that's more than 50% for those of you who are counting), and that's a recipe for disaster. 

Against OSU on Thursday the Bruins dominated the first half because they attacked the Beaver defense.  In the second half, while I agree with Tracy Pierson's analysis that OSU adjusted and closed out hard on UCLA shooters, a major reason for UCLA's increased turnovers, etc., was because they began settling for three-pointers.  Once the game got close the Bruins started attacking the OSU defense again in its weak spots and UCLA then pulled away to win.

It is imperative for UCLA to attack the Oregon defense every chance it gets.  UCLA won't have Reeves Nelson or Brendan Lane for this contest and that means the Bruins are going to be hurting for rebounding.  Granted, OSU is a better rebounding team than Oregon, but Oregon has better athletes and already beat the Bruins on the glass with Nelson healthy.

Another cause for concern is that it seems that teams are figuring out UCLA's weak spots in their zone.  The Bruins tend not to pinch their top two guards in the 2-3 zone to the middle and teams have been effective in utilizing that space to get open jumpers, drive and dish, or take the ball all the way to the rack.  The Bruins are also vulnerable to dribble penetration and Oregon can do that very well when they're on their game.

The Ducks really score by committee and they certainly don't score much, averaging only 55.4 PPG since their opening weekend sweep of the Washington schools.  The two leading scorers for the Ducks are senior guard Tajuan Porter (5'7" 155 lbs.) and sophomore guard Malcolm Armstead (6'0" 204 lbs.), who both average 10.9 PPG.  Porter is the more dangerous of the two as he can score in bunches and quickly.  However, Porter has as much of a tendency to shoot his team out of games. As an opposing coach you almost want to let him gun from outside because it wouldn't surprise you if he took 20 of them and made only 3 or 4.  Armstead is the much more even-keeled player.  He won't dazzle anyone, but he's solid at the point, averaging nearly 2 assists for every turnover he makes.  Armstead is actually the better three-point shooter of the two, averaging 35% from beyond the arc while Porter averages only 33%.  UCLA will, of course, pay special attention to sophomore wing Matthew Humphrey (6'5" 185 lbs.), who had a career-high 15 against the Bruins in the first meeting of the two schools this year, including going 3-5 from tjhree-point range.  Humphrey averages 5.8 PPG otherwise.

The other "big" player that Coach Ernie Kent has is big, sophomore post Michael Dunigan (6'10" 242 lbs.).  Dunigan is truly a mystery.  He has all the talent in the world and can absolutely dominate games, but he can then totally disappear in the same game.  The first UCLA game is a perfect example as Dunigan dominated things in the first half only to become a complete non-factor in the second half and even being benched by Kent (before he got hurt).  With UCLA suffering a major lack of post depth for this game, how Dunigan plays will go a long way to determining the outcome.

The Ducks should be ready to play in this game and want it.  They are legitimately in position to get themselves out of the 8-9 game in the Pac-10 Tournament and you can bet they'd like to enter that wide-open tourney on a high.  They know the Bruins' weaknesses and strengths and the Bruins will be short-handed.

Still, the game should come down to how UCLA does in several areas of the game.  The first is obviously how the Bruins handle the Oregon on-ball pressure.  The second is how they can cut off Oregon's dribble penetration and force them to become a perimeter team (where they only shoot 32% as a team from beyond the arc).  Finally, one has to wonder how the Bruins will cope against not only Dunigan, but also big-bodied senior Joevan Catron (6'6" 237 lbs.).  Expect J'mison Morgan to get more time this game as he is the only Bruin "big" that can really battle Dunigan and Catron.

Of course, the Ducks have some things they need to battle, too.  There is no one on the Oregon roster that can influence a game like UCLA's Honeycutt.  The Ducks' defense, beyond the ball pressure, especially on the help side, is atrocious and should lead to easy baskets.  Saturday is Senior Day and Pauley Pavilion may have its largest crowd since the Kansas game.  The Bruins should play with passion.  Finally, and most importantly, Roll was held to 3 points against OSU on Thursday and even though he had 7 assists, don't expect him to have that poor of an offensive outing again.  He will want to leave the court for the last time at Pauley knowing he did everything he could to help the team win.  He had a poor shooting game with open looks against OSU and he usually follows that up with a good shooting game.

The last two factors should be enough to guarantee that UCLA has a 9-7 conference record as they travel to the desert next week.

Oregon 59

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