Oregon St. (10-6, 0-3) at #24 UCLA (14-3, 4-0) / Pauley Pavillion / 6 PM PST / ESPNU / KEJO 1240 AM / KEX 1190 AM
Oregon St. starts their first road trip of the Pac-12 season, and first since before Christmas, with a visit to renovated Pauley Pavillion to take on 24th ranked UCLA. The Beavers didn't visit LA except for the Pac-12 Tournament last year, and in turn, won't see the Bruins or Trojans again this year unless its in the post-season.
The evening will also see UCLA retire Jamal Wilkes' jersey, sure to be a special moment for Bruin fans.
Last year, Oregon St. swept their home series against the LA schools, starting with an 87-84 win over UCLA, which snapped a 3 game losing streak, and a 13 game losing streak against the Bruins, as Jared Cunningham and Devon Collier delivered a 1-2 punch of points, with Cunningham posting a game high 21 points, and Collier right behind, with 20.
This season, UCLA got off to a struggling (by their standards) start, which included the departure of Josh Smith and Tyler Lamb, and led to calls from many of their fans and media for coach Ben Howland's head, never mind his job.
Enter freshman guard Shabazz Muhammad after an NCAA inquiry into his eligibility that ultimately proved unfounded, and after a little time to get reorganized, and here we are, 2 weeks into the Pac-12 season, and the Big Bad Bruins have broken into the rankings, are undefeated in conference play, and alone in first place. We have all seen this before.
Muhammad has quickly become the Bruins scorer, averaging 18.2 points per game, and is the 4th leading scorer in the conference, despite missing 3 games and then having to get up to speed in the early games back. He's boosted UCLA to be the highest scoring offense in the Pac-12.
And he doesn't have to be the scorer for UCLA to win, though his potential to do so has a lot to do with others having good nights. Examples came on last weekend's Bruin trip to Utah and Colorado.
Against the Utes, Muhammad had 6 points, but Travis Wear, Larry Drew II, and Jordan Adams all had 12 point nights, and the balanced Bruins got out of a blizzard in Salt Lake City with a 57-53 win. Across the divide in Boulder, Muhammad had 14, and Drew was shut out, but T. Wear came to life for 23 points, and Adams added 18. That and 6 of 8 free throw shooting in the last 45 seconds resulted in a 78-75 win over the Buffs.
The Bruins aren't all just about scoring, though, as UCLA also leads the Pac-12 in assists, turnover margin, and assists to turnovers ratio. All good indicators that they take care of the ball, and aren't especially vulnerable to defense.
Balance and a productive offense won't be easy things for Oregon St. to overcome, especially on the road, and without both Eric Moreland, who was averaging an 11.1 rebound 10.8 point double double a night before being suspended prior to last weekend's games against the Arizona schools, and some of their guard depth in the form of Victor Robbins.
Both Moreland and Robbins were suspended for unexplained violations of team rules by head coach Craig Robinson, and Robinson said both will sit out the UCLA game, before returning to availability Saturday at USC.
Without Moreland's shot blocking and inside production, Oregon St. dropped both games last weekend by 10 points, 72-62 to the Sun Devils, and then 80-70 to now #7 Arizona.
It's always a tall order for Oregon St. against UCLA, whom the Beavers haven't beat in LA in 10 years (overall, the Bruins lead the series 88-35), and it will be especially so tonight, without Moreland. A big night from Ahmad Starks, who had 18 points in the loss to Arizona would help in a game that could take a lot of points to win.