January 4, 2009

Hoops Preview: UCLA

Oregon played well for 35 minutes against USC but then followed it up with a baragge of bad shots, poor help defense and the kind of play that looked like what they are, a bunch of young players still trying to put it all together. The worse news is that here comes UCLA. Having already faced North Carolina and Texas on a neutral court you'd think Oregon would be ready for the kind of talent UCLA will bring to Mac Court. Maybe, maybe not.

Take a look at what Ben Howland's brought into his program this year. Jrue Holiday, Drew Gordon/[db], join the nation's best returning point guard [db]Darren Collison, sharp shooting guard Josh Shipp, and all everything Michael Roll to form the most talented group in the conference from top to bottom. "Every kid it seems is an All-American and everyone is good enough to step on the court right away and make a difference," said Oregon Assistant Coach Kenny Payne, "there's a reason they're picked to win the conference by everyone. They've got talent and experience at the most important position, they play defense with a passion, and they've got legitimate scorers all over the floor."

Up front UCLA pounds teams with the likes of Alfred Aboya and Nicola Dragovic, and the versatile game of James Keefe. All bring Final Four experience to the court and the talent to instantly impact the game with toughness, length and, having played in Braun's system for a while now, an instinct for how to make their teammates better. The last of those is the biggest thing Oregon still seems to be searching for. Where does Sim find Porter in rhythm? Do Dunigan or Catron get it on the block first and if so, where do the spot-up shooters go to find their spots? Who's the go-to guy at crunch time? There are a lot of unanswered questions still for the Ducks, who've still only played 13 real games together. UCLA worked those things out years ago amongst most of its key players and it's likely to be the biggest difference on Sunday.

Clearly, this is a game Oregon isn't favored to even be in by the middle of the second half. Still, Coach Payne talked about how they'll prepare for the Bruins and try to get a win. "They're a very talented group, everything they do is done through their defense and rebounding. We have to make sure we screen to get good shots and attack close out as instead of settling for shots. Defend the block and make sure we don't give up easy post moves or drives and make it a drive they have to make another pass to get a shot out of. Traditionally they have struggled more against he zone and we have to play that well and shut down some of the other stuff that they do the same as USC."

Darren Collison is probably the nation's best point guard from baseline to baseline and he'll lead a team that's truly loaded with All-American talent. "It's gonna be a great test for our guys. Nobody expects us to do anything. So we are the underdog and we like it that way. And that's one of the good things about being young, sometimes they're and it's good that our guys know they just have to go out and play."

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