UCLA beat Oregon yesterday, 72-63. With Oregon State losing to USC, UCLA, Stanford and Oregon are now in a three-way tie for third. While the Bruins travel to the Arizona desert this week, Oregon hosts Utah and Colorado, and Stanford plays at Colorado today and hosts Cal on Saturday. So far, so good.
Oregon has been a thorn in UCLA Basketball's side for three seasons now, and they've done it with no height, transfers and mediocre star power. Shooting has been their signature, but they run, hustle and press under Dana Altman.
This year's team isn't known for defense (11th in points per game allowed), but I have to give them credit for the job they did fronting Tony Parker. A good entry pass is hard enough, but going over the top of an undersized defender is rare in college basketball, and the Bruin didn't attempt it at all. Tony finished with 9 points and 7 rebounds. Fortunately, Kevon Looney had 18 points and 11 rebounds, mainly operating out of the elbow.
Remarkably, for the second straight game, the Bruins shot at high percentages: FG - 50%, 3FG - 44% and FT - 81%.
Oregon kept it close in the second half, in part, because they stifled Tony. The Bruins did try to play inside-outside, but struggled with it. Late in the half they continually went deep into the shot clock, even getting called for a shot clock violation. A 60 possession game between UCLA and Oregon seems unheard of - even Oregon State was a 62 possession game.
The second half score was UCLA 31-23. The UCLA lead was 5-7 points for most of it, and I was on pins and needles because a lead that size is never safe with a team like Oregon. That said, it was perhaps my favorite half of the season. I won't argue with you if you say: what about the second Utah or the second Stanford or the first Cal? I like that under pressure, the Bruins showed grit. In the latter part of the second half, the Bruins outhustled the Ducks for loose balls, got the turnovers under control, and won the rebounding war. Points in the paint were UCLA 34, Oregon 16. FYI, the Pat Riley/Patrick Ewing Knicks were one of my favorite teams (after the Showtime Lakers and the Kareem/Oscar Robertson Bucks).
The first half was a different story. After UCLA jumped out to a 10-2 start, Oregon came back and then some, grabbing an 8 point lead, at about the 10 minutes mark. After a timeout, the Bruins stiffened on defense, and went into the locker room at halftime leading 41-40. Steve Alford later said they were "over-rotating" so he had them play more straight-up man with less helping.
Transfer Jalil Abdul-Bassit, averaging 8.8 points for the season, scored 24 points (7-12 from three) for the Ducks and Joseph Young added 18. The open looks they were getting from the perimeter were reminiscent of the first game in Oregon. Joseph Young had a different defender on almost every possession, and the Bruins, mainly Bryce Alford, lost Abdul-Bassit in the shuffle.
Once again, Norman Powell didn't play the opposing team's hot hand, and further, the 3-2 zone featuring Looney was rare. We saw it with Golomon in the first half, but it took until 10:12 of the second half to put Looney there.
You know something is strange on defense when Tony is covering Oregon's second best player and scorer, 6'7" Elgin Cook. That said, Cook was held to 5 points.
In the end, the game ball has to go to Norman Powell. He scored 23 points mainly in transition and dribble-penetration. The Ducks did a good job on Parker, Hamilton and Alford, but no one could cover Norman. And then there was the play of the year. You can see it here courtesy of Jeff Eisenberg (ht DCBruins).