Howland needed a split this weekend and lost the easy game. To win the Pac-12 and keep a hope of the Pac-12 title alive he needs to lose no more than one or at most two more games. Tonight at the surreal "Matt Arena" it is a thus a must win. Is it the beginning of his last stand? The Bruins must play defense against a deep but not necessarily good Oregon team tonight because it was bad defense that cost them the game against Oregon State:
"We scored enough to win," Howland said. "We did not get enough [defensive stops]."
That tough to acknowledge for a coach who preaches defense first, second and always; the Bruins ranked no lower than 16th nationally in points allowed during three consecutive Final Four runs (2006-'08) under Howland. . . .
What they saw, Howland said, was "they did not do a good job of staying in our stances. They saw our intensity level has to be ratcheted up. We need to control the tempo."
The Bruins had improved defensively during the three-game winning streak before playing Oregon State, holding Arizona, Arizona State and USC below 60 points.
While it is not fair to single out one player, it was certainly bad post defense that caused the problems against Oregon State. And any discussion of the post begins with UCLA's potentially best but so far only most inconsistent player Josh Smith:
"Right now, Josh has got to help us more than he's doing right now defensively," Howland said. "He's got to be more of a presence for us in there on the defensive end of the floor. We know when he's in there and we're trying to get him the ball offensively, but we need him to step up and play better defense for us."
Howland pointed out that Smith, a 6-foot-10, 305-pound center, has no blocked shots in five conference games. In comparison, backup Anthony Stover has seven blocks in Pac-12 games despite playing less than half the minutes as Smith. Travis Wear, starting in place of Smith the last four games, has six blocked shots in conference games.
Howland said Smith's ongoing conditioning issues were "a big part" of his defensive deficiencies. Thursday against Oregon State, the Beavers' starting post players combined to score 33 points on 14-for-21 shooting and Howland called out his post defense after the game.
"We got hurt today at the post," he said. "I thought Stover was the one guy who gave us good post presence defensively. He was the one guy."
As Howland says, there is a solution to the bad post defense. Anthony Stover:
3 keys to a Bruins win: No. 3 -- More Stover
The Bruins need to find more minutes for backup C Anthony Stover. He's been bringing a boost of energy off the bench throughout the season and appears to deserve more than his current 10 minutes a game. With fellow frontcourt mate Joshua Smith struggling, Stover could be the answer.
Coach Ben Howland said that he needed to play Anderson and guard Lazeric Jones less to keep them fresh. Jones played 37 minutes and Anderson 36 against Oregon State.
The game Saturday is setting up as a nightmare for Howland because of tired players and lack of preparation time. Howland acknowledged that and said:
On today's light practice:
"We have a number of guys who played major minutes. We watched film for about an hour. Hopefully we'll learn from that. And we'll obviously go through Oregon stuff. These early games on Saturday are tough because you don't have the preparation time."
It will be interesting to see if Stover and Powell play more minutes than their averages today of 8 and 17. They both need to for this is an Oregon team that plays 11 players more than 10 minutes a game and is truly a balanced team:
Six different Ducks have led the team in scoring this season: Devoe Joseph (six times),Garrett Sim (six times), E.J. Singler (four times), Olu Ashaolu (two times), Johnathan Loyd (once) and Tony Woods (once). Ten of UO's 11 scholarship players have reached double-figures in scoring. The leaders in that category are Singler (15 times), Sim (13) and Joseph (12). In addition, five different Ducks have dropped 20 or more points in a game this season (Sim three times, Singler twice, Ashaolu, Joseph and Loyd once).
Oregon is also a team full of older players:
Devoe Joseph, a senior guard, is leading the team in scoring with 15 points per game in his first season with Oregon after playing three seasons at Minnesota. Senior Olu Asholu, a senior forward, is second on the team in rebounding after transferring from Louisiana Tech and Tony Woods, the 6-foot-11 junior starting center, is a transfer from Wake Forest.
"They've added some really good players that have experience," Howland said. "Two are fifth-year seniors and one is a fourth-year junior. "They're a much improved team."
Senior guard Garret Sim (12.4 points per game) and junior forward E.J. Singler (12.2) are also playing well and give the Ducks plenty of experienced players across the board.
There is no point in previewing this team because they are really deep and interchangeable. The Bruins lack time to prepare but must win this game. Howland knows that he must win this game and is focusing on it.
NO FIRESIDE CHAT: Howland called off the fireside chat he has traditionally held with reporters at the team hotel in between games on the Oregon trip, presumably because he couldn't afford to spend the time away from game preparations.
CBH needs his team to play better defense, will he player Stover more? He needs Jones and Anderson to not break down from too many minutes, will he play Powell more? He knows this is a must win game and to win the Bruins must play defense.