Let's start this discussion with the standings.
UCLA is in sixth place at 6-5 while Stanford, Oregon State and Oregon are in a three-way tie for third. It just so happens that the Oregons visit Pauley this week, and Stanford is at Utah. The week after, Utah and Colorado go to Oregon, and Berkeley visits Stanford while UCLA heads out to Arizona. The Washingtons then USC come to Pauley after that. The Oregons still have to go to the Bay Area, and Stanford still has to go to Arizona.
That loss at Berkeley hurt. UCLA could have been alone in third place if this weekend plays out the way I think it will. Instead, the Bruins have to play their way back into the four-way tie for third place. They have the tie-breaker with Stanford, but need the Oregons to lose in the Bay Area assuming for the moment that UCLA and the Oregons both split with the Arizona.
That Arizona State game is looming as the next big road challenge. If we get there, if everything falls in place, a big if, then this becomes the game, ala Stanford last week, that decides UCLA's fate for the post-season.
One more observation before we get to Oregon State. UCLA's conference team stats actually look worse than the standings. When you look at this, you might wonder how world can the Bruins dream about third place (using statsheet.com, and I'm purposely avoiding the advanced interpretive statistics for the moment):
1) FG% - 11th place
2) FT% - 12th
3) 3FG - 8th
4) Blocks- 10th
5) Team Points Per Game - 5th
6) Points Per Game Allowed - 4th
Odd. The defense is better than the offense.
On the positive side:
1) Rebounds - 1st
2) Offensive Rebounds - 1st
3) Defensive Rebounds - 6th
4) Steals - 2nd.
5) Turnovers - 2nd
6) Fouls - 1st
When you dig behind these stats into the individual games and players, you see that the averages are heavily influenced by two very bad games: Utah and Oregon, and that the three players taking the most shots, Norman Powell, Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton, have the worst FG% of the starters.
The eye test says that this is an inconsistent team. We know what the winning formula is: play inside-outside with Tony Parker and Kevon Looney, and let Norman take his man to the hole off the dribble. The team didn't do this until three games in, Tony Parker missed two games, Kevon and Tony have disappeared on the road from time-to time, the bench doesn't contribute offensively, the play-calling and execution at the end of games has been horrendous, and finally, the guards always seem to be a happy trigger finger away from playing individual games.
That said, if I'm really digging deep to find a statistical explanation, for me it lies in the number of possessions per game and the floor percentage (a measure of how often you score, any type of score, on a possession). The Bruins have progressively slowed the ball down. They rank 10th in possession per game, but rank 3rd in floor percentage.
Slowing it down keeps the score close in a tough match-up. Combining the high rankings in offensive rebounds, steals, fouls and turnovers, the Bruins, perhaps shockingly, are actually making the most of their possessions. Remember, this is a bad PAC-12.
I know -- I'm stretching it. What's your statistical theory?
By the way, Oregon State, a known slow team, ranks last in possession per game, and last in floor percentage. They are 8th in turnovers, 12th in offensive rebounds, 5th in fouls 8th in turnovers, and 4th in steals.
The game is in Pauley, so the Bruins win. My concern is about motivation. I discussed above why there is still motivation for the team, but it is slipping away game-by-game.
Last time out, at Oregon State, Tony Parker was injured, and Gary Payton II stole the show with 18 points, 7 rebounds and 5 steals (Malcom Duvier was actually the game high scorer with 19 points). Without Tony, the Bruins scored only 19 points in the first half as the guards flailed around from the outside. Late in the game, Steve Alford tried to get Looney in the post, but he's not a post player.
They will play zone, and we will mix it up. In man, Isaac Hamilton will cover point guard Malcom Duvier, and Norman Powell will cover Gary Payton II. Oregon State has nobody to cover Tony Parker.
Ideally, you play against a zone with a man at the foul line, except that Oregon State plays 3-2, which would open things up for Tony. Wayne Tinkle will probably change this, and go to 2-3 which may open things up for Kevon at the elbow.
Oregon State is 1-4 (win at Washington State) on the road and UCLA is 4-0. Every game except Arizona is a must win game now. Fortunately, they are at home the rest of the way except for the Arizona trip. Are they still motivated? Can they focus enough to stick to the offensive plan? Will they not let a close game slip away with stupid play-calling?
I think they want revenge tomorrow. I call this a win for UCLA.