Will this be a first? Oregon is 3-0 at home in the conference and just beat Southern Cal 89-81. Steve Alford has never swept a road trip in his time at UCLA but did beat Oregon State Wednesday in the first game of the trip.
Last year the game at Oregon was one of the most embarrassing conference losses in UCLA history and was a turning point for the season. After Oregon shot 62% for the game (including 16 of their first 20) that was similarly nationally televised on CBS (today at 1 pm on CBS), Norman Powell let loose in the locker room about the complete lack of defensive effort of the team. The team started playing defense better and squeaked into the NCAA tournament.
This year a key defensive problem is discussed by Jack Wang in an extremely interesting article that explains why the Southern Cal loss to Oregon and UCLA's destruction by Southern Cal may not mean much. UCLA is a bad matchup for teams that play fast.
Against teams that rank top-100 nationally in adjusted tempo, according to Ken Pomeroy's statistical rankings, the Bruins have a 2-6 record. Against teams below that, they are 10-1, with the lone loss coming to Washington State.
As for the Beavers? They were the slowest opponent UCLA has faced this season, clocking in at No. 263 with 67.5 possessions per 40 minutes.
This obviously isn't a perfect measure, but the data at least echoes how the Bruins' transition defense has looked according to the eye test. It also helps explain how the team convincingly upset Kentucky, Gonzaga, and Arizona.
Fortunately for UCLA, most of the Pac-12 isn't running at a breakneck pace. Washington is far and away the leader, ranking fifth in the NCAA at 78.0 possessions. Next in the league is USC, which ranks No. 45 with 72.8.
In other words, lesser teams that run will beat UCLA. "Better" teams that don't run, UCLA has a chance against. (Oregon is not a great running team this year.) I think the other factor would be three point shooting. Gonzaga, Kentucky and Arizona have one or zero good three point shooters. UCLA's transition and three point defense is poor.
From the official notes, Isaac Hamilton certainly has earned this shout out:
- Junior guard Isaac Hamilton ranked sixth in the Pac-12 in scoring (16.6 ppg), through Jan. 21 ... Hamilton was tied for first among all Pac-12 players in field goals made (122) ... he has shot 49.2 percent from the field (122-for-248).
- Hamilton has scored in double figures in each of the team's last 15 games, totaling at least 20 points in six games
However, just like last season the key is defense. The big question is Noah Allen and Gygory Goloman versus over Prince Ali and Jonah Bolden. GG has passed Bolden and Allen may have passed Prince because they are both better defenders right now. This is interesting because Ali and Bolden are better athletes with much more potential.
Last year's game at Oregon has largely been forgotten even though it may have been the worst defensive game in UCLA history. This year UCLA does not have Norman Powell to inspire defense. Will GG and Noah be the answer on D?