UCLA (10-7, 3-2) at Oregon St. (11-7, 1-5) 7:30 PM PST at Gill Coliseum / FSN Nationwide / ROOT Sports NW / KEJO 1240 AM / KPAM 860 (Streamed)
The UCLA Bruins visit Gill Coliseum tonight to take on the Oregon St. Beavers in a game televised nationally by the Fox Sports Network of regional stations and their affiliates, including ROOT Sports. This weekend's series is the only time the LA area schools and the Oregon schools will meet, due to the Pac-12 scheduling rotation.
The teams are in about the same place, as far as their overall record goes, but are headed in diametrically opposite directions of late. Oregon St. opened the season 10-2, but have since dropped 5 of 6 in Pac-12 action. UCLA started off 2-5, a stretch that ended with a 69-59 loss to the same Texas team that the Beavers had beaten 100-95. But since then the Bruins have won 8 of 10, including their last 3, though all of their wins except one over Chaminade in Hawaii have been somewhere in greater Los Angeles. (UCLA is renovating Pauley Pavillion, and so the Bruins have played in 4 other buildings in the area.
UCLA demolished cross-town rival USC 66-47 Sunday night in the Galen Center, behind a 19 point effort from Travis Wear. With the 13 points his brother David delivered, the Wear twins wore out the Trojans with a combined 32 points and 15 rebounds. The boards contributed to an overwhelming 44-19 rebounding edge UCLA had over USC.
Meanwhile, Lazeric Jones sliced through the USC backcourt for 15 points and 5 assists. And the Bruin defense held the Trojans to 36% shooting.
After loosing consecutive overtime games, Oregon St. avoided being in any position to make it close at the end at Arizona St. by allowing the Sun Devils to shoot 65.5% in the second half, including a half dozen 3 pointers. The Sun Devils' 45 point second half pushed them to a 76-66 win over the Beavers. Oregon St. was never closer than 7 points over the last 7 and a half minutes of the game.
Chanse Creekmur was the biggest problem for Oregon St. in Tempe. Creekmur connected on 6 of 7 three pointers, for a game (and career) high 24 points. There were other hot shooting Arizona St. performances as well, as Ruslan Pateev put 5 of 6 shots down, for 10 points, and Kyle Cain came off the bench to hit 8 of 13 shots, for 16 points.
The combination of hot Arizona St. shooting and poor Oregon St. defense negated a 21 point effort by Devon Collier, which was supplemented by 41 points from the Beaver backcourt, as Ahmad Starks and Roberto Nelson both posted 14 points, and Jared Cunningham was right behind, with 13 points.
Cunningham just missed a double-double, with a game high 9 rebounds, tieing his career high.
Cunningham also had 4 steals, which moved him past Seth Tarver, Eric Knox, and Deaundra Tanner into fifth place all-time on the Oregon St. career steals list.
The key to Oregon St. turning around their recent skid has to be better defense, especially after the break. The Sun Devils and 'Cats combined to shoot 64% in the second half. For the Pac-12 season, the Beavers have allowed opponents to shoot 57% in the second half. Being the #5 scoring team in the country hasn't meant much with those opponents consistently able to shoot at a historic high rate.
To further understand the problem, consider that in Oregon St.'s last 3 losses, 3 players have had career nights from 3 point range. Stanford's Aaron Bright, a 44% 3 point shooter the rest of the season, hit 4 of 5, 80%. Arizona's Brendon Lavendar has shot 20% the rest of the season on 3 pointers, but made 5 of 6, 83% against the Beavers. And then came Creekmur's 86% night for Arizona St., from a player who has shot 3s at a 36% rate otherwise.
UCLA is on pace to perpetuate the problem too. While the Bruins are only 105th in the country in field goal percentage, shooting 45.4% for the season, they shot 51% against USC, and 54.4% against Arizona St., in their last 2 outings.
Turnovers To Be Key
The key statistics to watch will be turnovers, and then what comes of them. Oregon St. leads the Pac-12 in take-aways, and UCLA leads the conference in not turning the ball over. The game will probably wind up in between in this area of extremes, but if either team can move the needle very far their direction from the middle, that team stands a very good chance of getting the win.
How well the Bruins shoot becomes less significant if they don't take that many shots. If scoring opportunities are about equal, UCLA's efficiency becomes very effective. If the Beavers can convert numerous extra possessions to points, or even fouls (Cunningham has taken more free throws than UCLA's top 2 players at getting to the line combined), they can cover up for their defensive struggles once teams do take a shot, and potentially get some Bruins into foul trouble, and therefore matchup trouble.
Last Time Around
The Bruins took both of last season's contests, and have beaten the Beavers 13 consecutive times, dating back thru 2006. It was a lack of offense instead of defense that hurt Oregon St. last year, when they lost both contests by a combined 13 points, though the slow starts that marked last year have been an issue at times this season as well. UCLA took a 9-0 lead to start the game at Gill, and Jones co-led the Bruins, along with Reeves Nelson, to a 62-57 win.
Nelson of course was dismissed from the UCLA team by head coach Ben Howland early this season, which coincided closely with the Bruins turnaround.
In the rematch in LA, the Beavers started cold out of the gate offensively, falling way behind, and never caught up, ultimately losing 69-61. Collier and Roberto Nelson were Oregon St.'s leading scorers that day, but with only 10 points each.
Oregon St.'s last win over UCLA came in the 2005 Pac-12 tournament, when the Beavers beat the Bruins 79-72. 2005 was a good season for Oregon St. in the series, as the Beavers' last win at Gill over the Bruins came Dec. 31, 2004, an 85-80 New Year's Eve party win.
Though some of the faces for both teams are familiar, the character of both teams has changed drastically since last year. Yet here we are, with the Bruins favored once again to beat the Beavers, and extend the longest losing streak to any given conference opponent Oregon St. has.
Here's the place to critique the progress coach Craig Robinson has made this week in shoring up the Oregon St. defense, and assess the impression they are making nationally.