#12 UCLA Women's Basketball (20-6, 12-3)
Opponent: #7 Oregon State (23-3, 14-1)
When: 6:00 PM PST, Sunday, February 21, 2016
Where: Gill Coliseum, Corvallis, OR
Audio: Bruin Live Audio
Video: Pac-12 Networks
Live Stats: Oregon State StatBroadcast
The first time UCLA and Oregon State met this season, the Bruins pulled off a big upset when they beat the Beavers 71-51. Of course that game was at Pauley Pavilion and the Beavers were without star point guard Sydney Wiese, but nevertheless the Bruins thrashed Oregon State on that occasion.
It will almost certainly be a lot closer tonight. The 12th-ranked Bruins won't be able to rely on 26 Beaver turnovers this time around, and with Wiese back in the lineup, seventh-ranked Oregon State's offense is much better balanced and more efficient. Expect tonight's affair to be a hard-fought defensive battle that will probably be decided in the final minutes.
The Beavers have few weaknesses, but their bench hasn't been very productive this season. If any of their starters pick up a few early fouls, the Beavers could be in trouble.
Oregon State has won 13 straight since that loss to the Bruins. The Beavers winning streak includes victories against Arizona State and Stanford as well as a pair ov wins against the underrated Ducks. The average margin of victory for the Beavers in games this month is nearly 18 points/game. In other words, the Beavers aren't just good, they're hot too.
The Bruins are riding a modest four game winning streak after an important win in Eugene on Friday night. UCLA beat the Ducks 77-72 behind a 23 point performance from Nirra Fields. Fields also pulled down eight rebounds and played tough, opportunistic defense. Jordin Canada added 20 points of her own including a couple of big baskets in the final minutes to seal the victory.
Fields and Canada form one of the best backcourt pairs in the country. Tonight they'll meet another terrific duo in Wiese and Jamie Weisner. If Monique Billings can battle to a draw with Oregon State's star center Ruth Hamblin, tonight's game may well be decided by the matchup between the backcourt duos.
There's a lot at stake for both teams tonight. Oregon State is currently tied with Arizona State atop the conference standings, and with just two games left in the Pac-12 regular season, can't afford another loss.
The stakes are just as high for UCLA. The Bruins are still in contention for the Pac-12 regular season title, and although they need help to win it, they must beat the Beavers tonight to keep their title hopes alive. In addition, UCLA probably needs to win two of its remaining three games to secure a top-16 seed in the NCAA Tournament, which would ensure that the Bruins would play in Pauley Pavilion in the first two rounds of the tourney. That's not an easy task considering the fact that UCLA has a game remaining against Arizona State as well as tonight's game against OSU.
Finally, although it's a much smaller consideration, UCLA will want to finish ahead of perennial Pac-12 power Stanford this season. The Bruins currently are one game ahead of the Cardinal in the standings, and with the tiebreaker in hand, a win tonight would put the Bruins in a very strong position to finish above Stanford.
At the very least, this will be a really good test of the Bruins' ability to compete with the best teams in the nation heading into the NCAA Tournament. So far this season, the Bruins have stepped up every time they've faced elite competition. They narrowly lost to #2 South Carolina in November and a week later they took #3 Notre Dame to overtime before losing. In January the Bruins beat both Oregon State and Stanford at home by twenty points. More recently, UCLA lost by four to #8 Arizona State in Tempe.
The question tonight is not whether the Bruins can compete with the Beavers but whether the Bruins can beat the Beavers. The Bruins have proven that they can win tough games on the road. The Bruins have proven that they can beat elite teams. Tonight they get a chance to prove that they can do both.