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OSU at UCLA Preview: Who Will be the Leading Scorer Tonight?

Who is going to lead the Bruins in scoring today?  Before you answer realize that every Bruin starter has led the team in scoring this year in a game (counting Smith as a starter for this purpose and post).

And every player but Tyler Honeycutt has led or tied for lead in scoring multiple times.  Oh, but Tyler had the highest scoring game of the year with 33.

Think about that. Did all five starters on any of CBH's Final Four teams lead the team in scoring during the season?  How about Wooden's legends?  Even on Harrick's championship team, I don't remember Zidek being a leading scorer in a game.   I have not checked and could easily be wrong but the point remains it seems unusual for a team to be so balanced. 

And I can make a case for any of the five leaders being the leading scorer tonight.  On the recent final four teams you had to think Kevin Love or Arron Afflalo  were the favorites to lead the team in scoring on most nights.  This team, two of the leading scorers (Nelson once and Jones two times) have had games were they did not score at all.

Put it this way: if you are Oregon on Thursday night and you could shut down or have one player have a bad game you would probably chose Josh Smith.  You don't match up with him real well on defense and he had led the Bruins in scoring the two previous games.  Done.  And what happens? The "defensive specialist" Malcolm Lee goes for 25.  BTW, this is not a shock at Lee has led or tied for the scoring lead eight times this year. 

More on the Oregon State game this afternoon after the jump.

Our preview from last time is here.  Of course Malcolm was awesome on Jared Cunningham completely shutting him down.  But there are a couple notes worth mentioning.  UCLA is  playing defense much better generally now but of course CBH has his share of worries:

Oregon State uses a pressure defense and has a roster filled with long, athletic players, so it's no surprise they Beavers lead the nation in steals.

"They’re a hard team to play against," said Howland, whose team committed 21 turnovers in the last meeting with Oregon State. "I think Oregon State is very dangerous. They worry the heck out of me."

. . . The Bruins have held their last four opponents to less than 40 percent shooting and only three opponents in the last 10 games have shot better than 40 percent.

"We’re getting better defensively and that’s been gratifying," Howland said. "We’re getting better slowly but surely. It takes time and our field-goal percentage defense has shown that. ... Any time you hold a team below 40 percent from the field, it gives you a good chance."

Turnovers are a worry but keep in mind a couple things.  Tyler Honeycutt, UCLA's TO leader has 16 assists to only five turnovers in his last four games, which include two aggressive pressing teams.   This is not the same team that played Oregon State the first time. 

A detailed and comprehensive preview is available for free over at BRO.  I will highlight a few parts of this preview which predicts UCLA to win 69-53:

The top player for the Beavers continues to be sophomore guard Jared Cunningham (6’4" 182 lbs.), who leads the team in several statistical categories. He is the team’s leading scorer at 13.7 PPG, the leading three-point shooter at 37% and is the runaway leader in free throws attempted and made, being 124-156 for 75%. However, the Beavers, the losers of five of their past six, can trace their recent lackluster play to the fact that Cunningham is just simply getting worn down. He’s only averaging 29 MPG so its not as if he’s out on the floor game-in and game-out with little rest. The problem for Cunningham is that teams are being terribly physical with him each night and it appears to be taking its toll. Against USC he looked a step slow and this was magnified by the fact that USC clearly made slowing him down a priority. When the teams first met in January, UCLA’s Malcolm Lee essentially shut down Cunningham, holding him to five points on 1-9 shooting from the floor. . . .

OSU center Joe Burton (6’7" 280 lbs.) doesn’t represent as much of a match-up challenge as Oregon’s Joevan Catron. Because Burton is strictly a low-post player, expect Smith and Stover to be matched up against him. Smith got into foul trouble against the Ducks because their line-up is a bad match-up for him. Catron was able to pull him out of the paint and force Smith to guard on the perimeter consistently. When teams have done that to Smith this year, that’s when he’s gotten into foul trouble (That’s why playing some zone would help Smith and the Bruins with regard to fouls, but I digress). The point is Robinson isn’t Oregon’s Dana Altman, who clearly had a game plan to get Smith in foul trouble, and OSU doesn’t have the personnel to consistently put Smith in untenable defensive positions. Burton can’t draw fouls on Smith like Catron did. Expect Smith to not be in the kind of foul trouble he was in on Thursday. Burton, too, isn’t a guy who would be able to exploit those fouls, shooting a woeful 46% from the line, which has kept his scoring average at a modest 7.1 PPG. . . .

Although the personnel match-ups will have an impact on the outcome of the game, in reality that impact should be minimal. The Bruins have more talent at every position and on paper should win the game very easily. But as the Ducks showed on Thursday night, that’s why they play the games.

I hope BRO is right but the reality is as CBH said to a question form Jon Gold in post entitled "Howland wants one breezer:"

I asked Ben Howland last night about the team seemingly finding a 'fifth gear,' the ability to not just get back into a game but to sail past the other team, like the Bruins did last night, and his answer was very revealing about the wear-and-tear of the season.

"I sure hope so," Howland responded. "But I'd love to have an easy game where we're in control the whole game. I'm just praying we have a game like that sometime. Every one is tooth and nail. I just thought this was a trap game coming into it. I'm just really thankful that we're able to come back and win the game tonight."

Here's hoping a game with an Oregon State team we have dominated lately is the breezer but predicting that may be harder than picking the leading UCLA scorer tonight.  

NOTE:  In responding to this post please first predict who you think will be the leading scorer for UCLA and how many points they will have.  Then spout off on whatever you want.

Go Bruins!