Friday, January 05, 2007

UCLA vs. Oregon - Game Preview

By Bruin Basketball Report

All hopes for a battle between two undefeated teams went up in smoke when the Oregon Ducks lost to the Trojans on Thursday.

For the first thirteen games of the season, Ernie Kent's Oregon Ducks (13-1, 1-1) ran the table on a schedule of relatively week opponents (SOS > 250) with Georgetown and Nebraska representing the only quality teams they faced.

The two games this week at home against the L.A. schools were going to help determine whether the No.17 Ducks were for real or cheap decoys.

Perhaps looking ahead to the UCLA (14-0, 3-0) game cost the Ducks some focus against the Trojans, regardless, Oregon now enters Satruday's game against UCLA with even more to prove than they did before.

Oregon disappointed fans with their 2005-06 regular season performance going 15-18 overall and 7-11 in conference play.  However, the Ducks finished strong in the Pac-10 tournament advancing to the semifinal game against California before losing in double-overtime.

With the core of the team returning from last year's club - now a year older and experienced, some have projected at least an upper-tier finish in the Pac-10 and NCAA post-season bid for the Ducks. 

Oregon has been playing improved defense this season by applying better pressure on the perimeter.  They have allowed just 63.6 points a game on just 42.4% shooting, and average over 8 steals a game. 

The Ducks have good three-point shooters and like to spread the floor on offense.  They are 14th in the nation in scoring averaging 82.9 points and are 11th in three-point shots-made with 9.6 a game.

Oregon's early success has been accomplished for the most part without their best all-around player Malik Hairston who has played in only five contests this season.  Bothered by injuries all season, Hairston did not play against USC on Thursday and will likely not face UCLA.

"Malik will play once he is able to participate in two straight practices," Coach Kent said. "As of today, he hasn't been able to do that."

Without Hairston, some players have stepped up with improved play while others have made unexpected contributions.

The Ducks are led by Aaron Brooks (Sr, 6'0, 165) who is having the best year of his collegiate career.  He is averaging 16.5 points and 4.8 assists while shooting  44.9% from the field and 31.1% on three-pointers. 

The senior point-guard takes good care of the ball and usually makes the right decision with it although his shot selection could improve. Nonetheless, Brooks has a solid 1.50 assist-to-turnover ratio.  He is also doing it on the defensive end using his quickness and experience, he averages 1.6 steals a game.

Once considered by many a rising star after his sophomore season, Brooks had an extremely difficult junior year on and off the court in which all his statistical numbers tumbled.  It appears he's recovered and is looking to make a statement in his final collegiate year.

So far, he's scored over 15 points in all but two games this season including two 30 point performances while recording career highs in assists and field goal percentage.

If his 31 point outburst against USC is any indication, Brooks will present UCLA's Darren Collison with one of his toughest tests of the season.  Although not as quick as Collison, Brooks has excellent speed, handles the ball well, and has more experience.  Collison did not have a good first road game against Oregon State, it will be interesting how he bounces back in this game.

At shooting guard is Chamberlain Oguchi (Jr, 6'5, 195) who is averaging 10.4 points and 1.5 steals a game.  A very streaky shooter who can help or hurt his own team since he's never met a shot he hasn't liked.  Oguchi has struggled this season shooting just 34.5% from the field and even worse from beyond the arc at 29.6% where he takes over 40% of his shot attempts   He missed five games earlier this season due to an injury and is still looking for his rhythm.

Josh Shipp has improved his defensive effort over the past games, and despite Oguchi's shooting problems, will need to make sure he closes him out quickly on the perimeter.

The most improved player on the Ducks is junior guard-forward Bryce Taylor (6'5, 205).  He is averaging 16.8 points and 5.7 rebounds on 55.5% shooting and 41.5% from beyond the arc. 

Taylor has rehabilitated fully from an injury which ended his season early last February.  He has scored in double figures in 13 of 14 games this season. 

His improvement was noted during the last summer league where he displayed his athleticism above the rim and from beyond the arc.  Taylor was named Pac-10 player of the week for Dec. 11-17.

UCLA's Arron Afflalo will likely get the nod to guard Taylor.  Afflalo got into early foul-trouble against Oregon State which took him out of the game offensively in the first-half.  The Bruins can't afford to have the same thing happen to Afflalo on Saturday.

Forward Maarty Leunen (6'9, 215), another player from Oregon's excellent junior class, is having a fine season averaging a double-double, 12.1 points and and a career-high 10.4 rebounds, while shooting 48.3% from the field.  He is an offensive threat from the perimeter shooting over 40% from three-point distance. 

UCLA's Luc Richard Mbah a Moute will have the responsibility to track down Leunen on the defensive end although Leunen's perimeter shooting will take Mbah a Moute away from the defensive boards.

The Ducks will likely go bigger against the Bruins and start forward Adam Zahn (Sr, 6'8, 230) at the final starting spot.  He has come on strong in his last five games. averaging 4.7 points and 2.4 rebounds in that span

Zahn is a solid pivot man who gives the Ducks more size inside and rebounding against the Bruins.  If the Ducks decide to go smaller, they have freshman Tajuan Porter (5'6, 160) who has  already started 12 games this season.

Porter started off the season like gang-busters averaging 31 points and shooting over 55% in his first three games, but he has since come down to earth.  Bothered by a toe injury which forced him to miss two games, Porter has averaged 8.8 points on just 29% shooting over his last nine games. 

Besides Tajuan Porter/Adam Zahn the Ducks have some depth off the bench.

Joevan Catron (Fr, 6'6, 225) is an under-sized power forward but a tough low-post scorer.  He has been an unexpected contributer in just his first season for Coach Ernie Kent.  Catron is averaging 4.4 points and 4.8 rebounds in just over 15 minutes of play. 

Churchill Odia (So, 6'6, 205) has helped spell some minutes at small forward during the absence of Hairston while Mitch Platt (Jr, 6'10, 275) has given the Ducks additional depth in the low post.

The Ducks' wounds from their loss to the Trojans on Thursday still sting.  They're at home in noisy and shaking Mac Court, and feel they have much to prove against the No.1 ranked Bruins.

As for UCLA, they also perhaps looked past their opponent, Oregon State, in anticipation of this match-up. 

The Bruins should win this game, but the Ducks have a lot of talent and outside shooting, even without Hairston, to be dangerous to any team visiting them on their home court.

(photo credit: Oregon Athletics and Wire Images) 



At Jan 5, 2007, 11:23:00 AM, Anonymous DaveW said...

I expect UCLA to come out firing tomorrow like they did against Washington. They've been looking forward to this game.

At Jan 6, 2007, 12:31:00 AM, Anonymous DJ_Rob_Gordon said...

As usual, a peerless preview effort from BBR. Go Brus!!!


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