It is nice to have a ten game win streak and be 5-0 in PAC 12 play. But keep in mind the teams UCLA has beat have a combined record 4-18. Cal is the only even mediocre one of the group and when we played them they were really hurting. First the best news of the night was before the game, when Jamaal Wilkes jersey was retired. Wilkes was honored and Kyle Anderson summed up what it should mean to play to UCLA:
Freshman Kyle Anderson: "It's just a great impression. To put these four letters across our chest, UCLA, is a great honor. You have to play hard every minute out there because you're part of a tradition that's so rich."
Of course this is the Ben Howland Bruins of the last five years. So that means a bad start as this article details: "Bruins overcome slow start, win 10th in a row."
If not having a killer instinct and allowing opponents to re-enter ball games was a conversation at the beginning of this current win streak, the first half on Thursday night allowed for talks to begin about the Bruins playing down to their competition.
There wasn't much energy for the Bruins to begin the game. They were sluggish as the Beavers stormed out of the gate to make their first four shots and jumped out to a 9-4 lead prompting UCLA head coach Ben Howland to call a timeout barely three minutes into the game.
"It was very tough (to get up for this game), especially everybody speaking about this Oregon game on Saturday," Kyle Anderson said to FOX Sports Radio.
Even Howland was forced to admit the "killer instinct" problem with finishing games, first the details:
The victory was the 10th in a row for the Bruins. It's a streak that might make for some smiles and pats on the back at other places, but when you do it in front of a man who was once part of an 88-game win streak, those back slaps become slaps back to reality.
And that's kind of what the Bruins (15-3, 5-0 Pac-12) are facing right now: The grim reality is they haven't yet accomplished anything. Despite the 10-game streak, UCLA's longest since 2008-09, they are an unproven commodity.
Of those 10 wins, the only one that really stands out is the 97-94 overtime victory over Missouri. Others have come in nail-biting fashion against inferior competition, and the Bruins have shown a disturbing tendency to let down late in games after building a big lead.
And as Howland summed it up:
"We get to where we relax and take our foot off the pedal a little bit," Howland said. "We've got to learn to be able to power through that and not let teams come back on us. That's happened the last three home games."
The Bruins had a pretty good in spurts but not a consistent game.
About the only thing that could be called smooth Thursday was former UCLA player Jamaal Wilkes, whose number was retired at halftime. Bookending the ceremony was a Bruins' performance that was herky-jerky.
UCLA got it done in spurts.
A 10-0 first-half run put the Bruins ahead and led to a 37-26 halftime advantage. A 11-0 run early in the second half put some distance between them and the Beavers.
UCLA led by as many as 20 points in the second half. Oregon State never looked capable of overcoming such a deficit. The Beavers (10-7, 0-4) could only get as close as 10 midway through the second half.
"We had a couple down moments," Wear said. "Once we figure out how to play for 40 minutes, we're going to be a much better team."
Travis Wear had a sixth straight double-digit scoring effort with 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting. Two of his seven rebounds also came on offense, the first time he's had multiple offensive boards since grabbing four against Missouri.
"Nobody in our team, in our family is surprised by how he's playing. It's not a surprise at all," Howland said. "What's really an advantage for him is he's a four matched up with a five man trying to guard him. There's no five man that can guard him out on the perimeter. He's too good a shooter. He's too skilled."
Travis is unique. He has improved his defense but is still a Center that does not rebound particularly well. However, he does shoot the mid-range jumper very well. Of course the star of the night was Shabazz.
Player of the game: Muhammad scored 13 of his 21 points in the second half, in which he made five of six shots. It was a marked turnaround for UCLA's leading scorer, who averaged 10 points and made only nine of 29 shots in two games at Utah and Colorado last week. He was headed for another subpar performance Thursday with just eight points on 3-of-8 shooting in the first half but turned it on in the second half and recorded his seventh 20-point game of the season.
Stat of the game: Larry Drew II had nine assists and three turnovers. This marks the fifth time in the past six home games that he has reached nine assists with three or fewer turnovers.
What it means: The Bruins taking care of business at home against one of the lower-tier teams in the conference doesn't mean all that much in the grand scheme of things, but to do it with an important showdown with Oregon looming Saturday shows a level of maturity. Oregon and UCLA are two of the front-runners in the conference right now; it would have been easy to get caught looking ahead, so staying focused on the task at hand is a good sign for a young team.
Next up for UCLA is Oregon who like UCLA hung on to beat a bad SUC team. Oregon is a good team, ranked for the first time since 2007. They have beat ranked Arizona and UNLV. But they are not a very good team by any stretch and really are playing only their fourth road game, with a nice win in a tourney over UNLV, a loss to a mediocre UTEP and wins over bad OSU and USC teams. The UNLV game was a bit different. It was in a preseason tournament in Las Vegas. Yes it was a road game but it was not a regular road game because of the nature of it being a tournament game.
So yes Oregon is an "elite" team by PAC 12 standards this year but they are only a good team. And if UCLA is going to be a good PAC 12 team, they have to defend their home court and beat the Ducks. The game has added importance, as it is on CBS in front of a national audience. This is a game UCLA should and must win.
Before Thursday's games, Oregon was the second best offense team in the PAC 12, trailing UCLA in both points per game and field goal percentage. Oregon also has some statistical advantages, leading the conference in offense rebounding (UCLA is 4th) and second overall in rebounding. Oregon also is the top in scoring margin, which means at home at least they have put away the bad teams. The rebounding in particular could present problems for UCLA. They also have five guys that average ten or more points as happened against USC.
Oregon is led by EJ Singler. It seems like he has been there forever. Singler is actually having an off year shooting (38%) but still does a little bit of everything. Very telling for Oregon, he is averaging the most assists of his career. A sign this is a better Oregon team.
Oregon starts a freshman backcourt. Damyean Dotson is the off guard. Damyean is shooting 50% from the field and averaging almost 12 points a game. He is 6'5" and also pulls in almost 4 rebounds a game. He weakness is he does not go to the line enough and is a mediocre 32% from three.
The other part of the halfcourt may make some Bruins fan cry, Dominic Artis. Artis was briefly coming to UCLA but changed his mind and chose Oregon. Artis is a true point guard. Like many freshman he sometimes makes mistakes. He is also only shooting 39%. However, his speed could give the Bruins problem and he has been shooting better recently. He will be an interesting player to watch. Will the older and wiser Larry Drew II be able to deal with the quicker Artis?
Oregon's second leading scorer is a bit different, it is Tony Woods a 6'11" Center. Woods was honorable mention and an all-defensive team selection for the PAC 12 last year. He shoots 55% and block shots. He draws fouls. But he is relatively a bad rebounder for his height, he actually has more offensive rebounds than defensive.
The fifth starter right now is Carlos Emory. Emory is 6'5" a small forward who moves Singler to four when he is in. Emory is a good shooter and comfortable shooting the three.
Off the bench comes Oregon's rebounding beast, 6'7" Arsalan Kazemi. Kazemi is averaging nine rebounds a game in only 25 minutes a game. Kazemi is strickly an inside player. Kyle Anderson may be in for a tough game on D. He is likely to be matched up at least some of the time with the crafty Singler and maybe the rebound machine Kazemi. This will be the time to see what the Freshman has learned on D.
In the backcourt, Oregon is not as deep. Jonathan Loyd is a quick and streaky but often out of control as a backup point. Artis and Loyd will play together at times, which means Oregon will be really quick but out of control.
So what does it all mean? Oregon is not a great team but they are not bad. UCLA can't "hang on" as they did against Oregon State or end poorly as they have done most games this year. UCLA got a big break in the schedule in not playing these guys on the road. They need to win to take advantage of it.