Last month, the Bruins visited Corvallis and lost to the Beavers by 13 points, 79-66. It was UCLA’s first loss under interim coach Murry Bartow after three victories. So, that game brought Bruin fans back down to earth as the euphoria of Steve Alford’s dismissal and the 3-0 start to Pac-12 play started to wear off.
Since that game, the Beavers have gone 5-4, but they’ve won two straight as well as four of their last five games and five of their last seven. On the other hand, UCLA has lost four of their last five games.
If one thing has changed for the Beavers since conference play began, it might be the play of two of Oregon State’s top three players. When UCLA played the Beavers last month, Tres Tinkle was averaging 20.5 points per game. He is still doing that in conference play. But, the Thompson brothers have stepped up their game. Stephen Thompson Jr is averaging 18.0 ppg in conference games while his brother Ethan Thompson is now averaging 15.1 ppg in conference games.
Back when I previewed the game in Corvallis, I wrote that Kylor Kelley would start if Tinkle couldn’t. Well, Kelley has actually started all 12 Pac-12 games Oregon State has played. So, I expect he will start tonight. Zach Reichle is the likely fifth starter with sophomore Alfred Hollins likely being the first guy off the bench.
When the teams met in Corvallis, the difference was a combination of better field goal shooting and better free throw shooting. Since UCLA is no better than they were a month ago when it comes to shooting from the line, the Bruins will need to do a better job shooting two-pointers than Oregon State does. Specifically, UCLA needs to stop Tinkle and Stephen Thompson Jr. if they want to win this game.
Unfortunately, I’m not sure how likely that is. I hope I’m wrong.