Thursday, February 23, 2006

UCLA vs. Oregon State - Game Preview

By Bruin Basketball Report

The No.17 ranked UCLA Bruins play host to the Oregon State (OSU) Beavers at Pauley Pavilion Thursday night.

UCLA is heavily favored in the game, but the Bruins know they can not take any game in the Pac-10 for granted, especially with just four games remaining.

“We have a young team," UCLA coach Ben Howland said. "We can beat anybody and anybody can beat us. We could lose the rest of our games or win the rest of our games."

The team will need to bounce back from their unmotivated play against USC on Sunday. UCLA, the top-ranked defensive team in the conference, allowed USC to shoot 56% from the field on their way to a 71-68 upset loss.

The Beavers come into Pauley only 1-8 in their last nine games, and are challenging Arizona St. for last place in the Pac-10 with a 4-11 Pac-10 record, 11-15 overall. OSU has struggled since they lost their senior point guard Lamar Hurd after he suffered a severe groin injury. OSU is 2-9 since the injury to Hurd.

OSU head coach Jay John considers Hurd the leader of the team who holds them together especially on offense, and without him they’ve struggled.

In the team’s last meeting in Corvallis on January 28, the Bruins had one of their best defensive efforts of the year holding OSU to just 35.4% shooting. At halftime OSU trailed by only one point, but UCLA started the second half with a 13-4 run and never looked back. The Bruin’s physical play took its toll on the OSU players.

"You've got to credit them for what they do to people," OSU coach Jay John said. "They run you down with their defense."

It is this of level intensity on both the offensive and defensive ends of the court which the Bruins need as they head into tournament play.

“We’re going to have a real good practice today”, Howland said at yesterday’s press conference, “in terms of intensity and competitiveness.”

Howland expects his team to regain their edge which helped them to a 20-6 overall record, 10-4 in the conference, and first place in the Pac-10 tied with California.

“When you lose”, Howland said, “the important part is how you react, how you respond to adversity”.

The Bruins get their first chance to show what they’re made of against a struggling OSU team, but no one is struggling more on the team than Chris Stephens.

Stephens (Sr, 6’2, 195) entered the last game against UCLA as OSU's leading scorer at 14.5 points per game, shooting 51% from the field, and 48% on 3-pointer, but he has fallen off dramatically since.

One might call it the “Afflalo Effect”.

In the last game, Arron Afflalo completely locked down Stephens and held him to only 4 points. Since then, Stephens has not scored in double-digits in any game averaging only 5.1 points, 19% from the field, and a meager 10.5% from beyond the 3-point arc. Against Washington, John tried starting Stephens off the bench.

While Stephens’ basketball star has fallen in Corvallis, European import Sasha Cuic’s has risen.

Cuic (So, 6’10, 253) has averaged 19.8 points over his last seven games and now leads the Beavers in scoring at 13.5 points per game and shoots 49% from the field. He also shoots extremely well on three-pointers hitting at 51.7%. Against UCLA in Corvallis, he scored a then career-high 24 points.

Cuic has a decent inside game but he is most effective stepping outside and hitting from the perimeter. He was particularly effective against the Bruins on screen an pops where he would step outside after setting a screen and then hit a long jumper, but the Beavers did not exploit this often in the last game; however, we may see OSU use this more on Thursday.

Senior Nick DeWitz, (6’8, 230) had one of his worst career games against UCLA in January. In 26 minutes he scored only four points on 1-5 shooting. He did not start the game against UCLA after missing a team meeting earlier in the day.

DeWitz is averaging 11.5 points and 4.9 rebounds a game. He also leads the Pac-10 in blocked shots with 2.2 per game.

The OSU frontline also includes Kyle Jeffers (Jr, 6’9, 258) at center. Jeffers is a good interior defender, and he averages 6.2 points and 4.2 rebounds.

Sophomore Marcel Jones (6’8, 215) has been coming off the bench the last few games but still leads the team in rebounding at 6.8 and also contributes 8.4 points per game.

With a big frontline, which includes two big men, Cuic and DeWitz, with good outside shooting touches, OSU creates a potentially tough match-up for the Bruins.

Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Cedric Bozeman will likely get the starting assignments against Cuic and Dewitz. Both players are out-sized by their OSU counterparts and will need to rely on their speed and help defense from their teammates.

The Bruins may be without freshman Alfred Aboya after he re-aggravated a left hip flexor at practice on Thursday. Aboya would have been a good defensive match-up against the big OSU frontline.

Good guard play has been problem for the Beavers, especially with Hurd injured and made worst by a struggling Stephens. Turnovers have hindered the Beavers this year; they’re averaging 16.0 per game, last in the conference. They are also last in assists at 11.5 per game. Not surprisingly they have a horrendous assist-turnover ration of 0.68.

OSU plays a mix of man-to-man and zone defense; in the game at Corvallis they played mostly the former. With the way UCLA has been struggling against zone defenses this year, we may see more zones this time around.

The Bruins will be looking for stronger play in the middle. It is uncertain who will start this week against the Oregon schools. Howland has offered the starting job to the player who performs the best at practice.

"We have four players who will be competing for the starting spot; Alfred Aboya, Ryan Wright, Ryan Hollins and Michael Fey", said Howland. "We're going to base their performance at practice on rebounding, screening percentage, and block outs."

Howland is also looking for better offensive production from another player, not named Afflalo and Farmar.

Cedric Bozeman would be a good option. Howland would like to see Bozeman get to the foul line more often by attacking on offense. Currently, he averages less than 2 free throw attempts per game. Although his shoulder is still sore, it is the tendonitis in his knee which is giving him more problems at this time.

Although Howland is obviously not looking past the two games with the Oregon schools this week, he does acknowledge the Pac-10 conference title will come down to the wire. “The conference title will be determined next Saturday.”



Post a Comment

<< Back To Bruin Basketball Report Home