Oregon St. Preview

UCLA still has an opportunity to make the Pac-10 tournament, and even avoid Arizona in the first round, but they'll need to beat Oregon St. tonight if they're to make that happen...

UCLA takes on Oregon St. tonight in Corvallis and it's a critical game in terms of the Pac-10 tournament. Oregon St. is two games ahead of UCLA in the conference standings and a Beaver victory tonight would make it impossible for UCLA to catch Oregon St. for seventh place. UCLA would still be able to overtake Washington for eighth place, but that would mean a first-round match-up with Arizona – and an almost certain early exit from the Pac-10 tournament.

In the first meeting at Pauley, UCLA had trouble with Philip Ricci and Brian Jackson. Ricci killed the Bruins inside – he's just too strong and skilled for any single Bruin defender. Ricci had 26 points and 14 rebounds, while putting both T.J. Cummings and Ryan Hollins into foul trouble. Jackson burned the Bruins from the perimeter, scoring 18 points and knocking down a couple of three-pointers. Jackson was limited by foul trouble – a problem throughout his career – and he only played 26 minutes in the game. UCLA's chances will improve considerably if they can get Jackson into early foul trouble again.

The third Beaver who hurt UCLA in that game was Jimmy Haywood. He scored 14 points and made several big plays at the end when UCLA was making a run. Haywood is an erratic shooter – he's shooting 33% on threes this year – but he's quicker than any Bruin guards and he can cause problems if you let him get in the lane.

Oregon St. doesn't have a lot of depth, but power forward David Lucas had a productive game off the bench in the first match-up. Lucas had 10 points and gave the Beavers another big body to take up space when Jackson sat due to his foul problems. Lucas had his best game of his career last weekend, when he had 14 points and 8 rebounds in a win at Washington.

Despite the victory at Washington, Oregon St. has not been playing good ball lately. They've lost four of their last five, including a bad loss at Washington St. – which was playing without Marcus Moore. That may be the only game Washington St. wins this season. Prior to their recent skid, Oregon St. had been on something of a roll, winning four straight, including a sweep of the Southern California trip.

Oregon St. doesn't have a lot of talent, but in their game at Pauley they appeared to be buying in to first year coach Jay John and playing well as a team. They looked more organized and energetic than they had under former coach Ritchie McKay. The three seniors – Ricci, Jackson and Haywood – seemed to be the unquestioned leaders on the court and everyone appeared to understand their roles.

Oregon St. is third in the conference in field goal percentage defense, but UCLA managed to shoot 47% against them in the first meeting. Where UCLA lost the game was on the boards – Oregon St. had a 39-31 edge in rebounding.

UCLA made seven of fourteen threes against Oregon St. at Pauley and that figures to be a key statistic in this game. The Bruins just don't have much of a low-post game and they depend on their ability to shoot a high percentage beyond the arc. They've been hot lately, with Ray Young and Jason Kapono going a combined twelve of twenty four in the last two games.

UCLA has shown improved ball movement, and shot selection, in the last couple games. Ray Young isn't exactly playing point guard – other than to bring the ball up court – but he is playing with confidence and shooting very well. Of course, as we've seen over the course of his career, Young is not a consistent shooter and there's no way of knowing whether his current hot streak will continue.

As we mentioned, this game is critical to UCLA's Pac-10 tournament hopes and one would think that they come out focused and ready to play – especially since this would appear to be the winnable game on the trip. Saturday in Eugene figures to be a much tougher task.

UCLA didn't practice yesterday, which is somewhat surprising given the importance of this game to their postseason chances. It will be interesting to see if the Bruins are prepared, and ready, for the Beavers in Corvallis.

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