It is not just Bruins Nation that has been "hard" on Steve Alford the last couple days, it is the Pac-12 Conference schedule makers. UCLA opens Pac-12 play tonight against arguably their most difficult opponent and the toughest for Steve Alford.
Alford has never swept Oregon in a season series and is 1-3 in the last four games. While he did go 2-1 his first season against Oregon, he has struggled since with some quite frankly ugly losses against Oregon the last couple seasons. Oregon under coach Dana Altman, unlike say Arizona under Sean Miller, has been a tough matchup, in part, because Alford's teams have historical performed better against defense oriented teams such as Kentucky and Arizona, then offense oriented teams such as Oregon.
Further, Oregon is much better than their record. Both Oregon's two losses came early in the season in which their star Dillion Brooks did not play or was limited. Brooks is back to full health now and this is not the team that last to Baylor and Georgetown.
Good news for the Bruins is Thomas Welsh is back. Welsh will be important in this game to drag some of Oregon's shot blockers away from the rim. This is a game where Welsh could be one of the difference makers.
The news is more mixed for Oregon. While Brooks is finally a 100%, Chris Boucher is battling a high ankle sprain. He is practicing now. He will be a game time decision. While the money is on Boucher playing will he be limited and/or will he be a 100%? Boucher is Oregon's second best player and a key against the Bruins if he can matchup against TJ Leaf. Boucher is not only Oregon's leading scorer, he also averages an outstanding 3.2 blocks per game.
Boucher and Jordan Bell (8.3 rebounds and 2.5 blocks) have given Oregon a real defensive presence that is unique in college basketball. The twin bigs do own the paint and have given Oregon an effective defensive ranking of #19 by KenPom. This is unusual for Altman's Oregon teams which usually are more of offensive juggernauts. Boucher's health will be a key to this game as Bell and Boucher together on the inside are tough.
Of course, Welsh can effectively draw one of those away from the basket. Again, this is a game where Welsh's range could cause problems. On the other side, TJ Leaf would likely be matched up with Boucher who can hit threes as well as play inside. Welsh will be matched up with Bell. Welsh may have problems with fouls as Bell has shot the second most free throws on the team and is adept at drawing fouls.
A couple quick notes on TJ Leaf. Leaf was outstanding against Kentucky's athletic bigs. Leaf, for the most part, has avoided foul trouble this year. However, this is a Pac-12 road game. The SPTRs can be intimated by the Oregon crowd. TJ may be the guy to watch this game. It is almost a lock that GG, Welsh, and Ike Anigbogu will be in foul trouble. UCLA can likely withstand that, not as sure on Leaf.
Oregon like UCLA plays three guards. Dillion Brooks has shown signs of returning to last year's form of being one of the best players in the Pac-12. Dillion is a difficult matchup with guard skills and a forward's body. Lonzo Ball will likely match up on him. Especially if Boucher is hurting, look for Brooks to try to take over the game for Oregon.
Tyler Dorsey is another good scoring guard. Dorsey is not a point guard but he does lead Oregon in three point attempts and percentage (among regulars). Dorsey, a very good athlete, will be a tough cover for Isaac Hamilton. When he is in the game, Aaron Holiday will match up with Dorsey.
The ancient one Dylan Ennis is another guard who sees a lot of time. The 25 year old Ennis is on his third college team and is Oregon's jack of all trades. A bit of a defender, point, rebounder, etc. Bryce will likely draw this assignment.
The fourth guard who plays a lot is freshman Payton Pritchard. Pritchard is another pseudo point who is still learning the college game at this level. He is shorter and will definitely match up with Bryce when he is in the game.
Steve Alford has not swept a Pac-12 road trip during his three years at UCLA. Oregon was the preseason favorite to win the conference and if Boucher is healthy a top team in the country. The Oregon crowd will be wired, loud and obnoxious.
But one thing Oregon does not have is Lonzo Ball. Ball could be the X Factor not just on offense, but even on defense against Brooks.