Opponent: Oregon (11-0, 0-0)
When: 2:00 PM PST, Saturday, January 2, 2016
Where: Pauley Pavilion, Los Angeles, CA
Audio: Bruin Live Audio
Video: Pac-12 Networks
Live Stats: UCLA StatBroadcast
On Wednesday, the Bruins handed Southern Cal its first loss of the season. UCLA (9-3, 1-0) will get the chance to repeat that feat today against the unbeaten Oregon Ducks (11-0, 0-0).
UCLA Throttles Southern Cal
On Wednesday night, the Bruins had the pleasure of opening the Pac-12 season with a 78-73 win over the Trojans, propelling themselves to the top of the conference standings and dropping the Trojans to the bottom of the conference standings. UCLA led at the end of each quarter and was ahead most of the way, but couldn't manage to build a double-digit lead and hold it.
Monique Billings had another outstanding game, scoring 23 points on 10-15 shooting, and collecting a dozen rebounds. Jordin Canada played the entire 40 minutes, scoring 22 and dishing out 8 assists. In her first game back after her suspension for a violation of team rules, senior Nirra Fields was relegated to the bench, but she made a big impact when she was on the court, scoring 19 and adding 6 boards and a pair of steals.
The only serious negative takeaway from the game is that, once again, Kacy Swain's contributions were limited by foul trouble. That's a problem that the Bruins can ill-afford given their lack of experienced, quality depth in the frontcourt.
Scouting the Oregon Ducks
The Ducks are a well-rested team ahead of this afternoon's tip-off. Oregon last played on Monday when it hosted and beat Seattle University, 82-62.
Aside from a season-opening 79-77 win against (then) #22 North Carolina in Chapel Hill, Oregon's unbeaten start to the season isn't surprising. The Ducks played just one game away from Eugene during the nonconference portion of their schedule, and the played only one ranked team (North Carolina). The only common nonconference opponent of the Bruins and Ducks is UC Riverside. UCLA beat UCR by 14 in Riverside while Oregon beat the Highlanders by 14 in Eugene.
It's pretty hard to assess a team that plays such a soft schedule. Nevertheless, Oregon seems pretty similar to USC in terms of talent and experience, and the Ducks have followed a similar path to the Trojans in the way they built their unbeaten record in nonconference play. If anything, the fact that the Ducks have stayed at home for the past two months leads me to believe that they are probably slightly behind the Trojans at the start of Pac-12 play. However, as is always the case in games like this, matchups will be crucial.
Like the Bruins, the Ducks use a two forward, three guard starting lineup. Senior forward Jillian Alleyne (6'3") is simply one of the best players in the Pac-12. She leads the Ducks in scoring (18.9 points/game) and rebounding (13.8 boards/game), averaging a double-double for the season. She's flanked by 6'5" redshirt junior Jacinta Vandenberg from Australia. Despite her height, Vandenberg is not a particularly strong rebounder, and she averages 7.3 points/game.
Oregon has some of the most accurate three-point shooting guards in the country. As a team, the Ducks are converting three-pointers at a 42.7% clip, and there really isn't a weak link among the group. Sophomore Lexi Bando (5'9") is the sharpest of Oregon's sharp-shooters, hitting 46.6% from deep and averaging 12.7 points/game. Senior Lexi Peterson (5'11") is the Ducks' highest scoring guard (15.2 points/game), and is particularly good at taking the ball to the basket. 5'10" freshman Maite Cazorla is Oregon's point guard, She has a sterling 4+ assist-to-turnover ratio, and she leads the Ducks in steals. Senior Kat Cooper (6'0") is the fourth guard in Oregon's guard rotation and provides plenty of scoring punch off the bench as a three-point specialist.
The achilles heel of the Ducks is free throw shooting. Oregon is shooting just 64% from the charity stripe, which could prove costly in a tight game. Also, aside from Cazorla, the Ducks are turnover prone. That should suit UCLA as the Bruins love to press in order create an uptempo, open court game.
What to Expect
Given Oregon's ability to score from the perimeter, UCLA will probably have to play quite a bit more man defense than usual. UCLA's guards are better than average defenders, but the Bruins aren't deep in the front court, so Oregon might try to attack inside through Alleyne in order to get Billings and Swain in foul trouble.
Although I don't expect Coach Close to go away from her preference for aggressive, full court defense, the Bruins will have to be very diligent in picking up Oregon's guards on the perimeter in transition. The Ducks will be bombing away all game, whether in their half court set or in transition. UCLA can't afford to be slow in closing out on Oregon's perimeter shooters.
Each of Oregon's three starting guards average about 30 minutes/game. If UCLA applies a lot of pressure throughout the game, the Bruins may force the Ducks to go to their bench more than usual. That would be a big plus for the Bruins as Oregon's bench is very turnover prone.
If Billings and Swain stay away from foul trouble and are productive on offense, the Bruins will likely hand the Ducks their first loss of the season. On the other hand, if UCLA gives Oregon's guards too many looks from the perimeter, the Bruins could be in real trouble.