There’s a pretty easy explanation why UCLA beat Oregon State Thursday night, 74-64.
The Bruins are just better than the Beavers.
This was a game that wasn’t dependent too much on tactics, or even intensity and effort. Just about every Bruin, to the man, was better than the Beaver that he was facing. They could shoot better, rebound better, pass better, take care of the ball better, make better decisions and, yes, even play better defense. There wasn’t one match-up on the floor where you thought Oregon State had the advantage. There wasn’t much OSU could do tactically to prevent a loss.
Perhaps the one match-up that might have been in question going into the game was the one between OSU’s Devon Collier and UCLA’s Kyle Anderson. The junior Collier, after all, is a 6-7, long, well-built athlete, who had strung together 11 straight games of scoring in double figures, and was coming off a double-double against Arizona (13 points, 15 rebounds). But Collier looked completely pedestrian in contrast to Anderson, who guarded him for a good portion of the game and, for the most part, shut him down (9 points, 7 rebounds, 4 for 9 shooting).
Then, on the other end of the floor, Anderson was the main force of UCLA’s offense, either scoring himself (17 points), or creating and dishing for others. When UCLA went on a run at the beginning of the second half, Anderson was the catalyst to UCLA’s offense for a string of possessions, which included him hitting a three-pointer, making a superb bounce pass in traffic to Shabazz Muhammad for an easy lay-in, laying off a nice dish to Travis Wear for another lay-in, and then pump-faking a three-pointer to create space and pass to David Wear under the basket for a lay-in. In that span, he also created a turnover and defended Collier in the post well. A couple of minutes later, he kept alive an offensive rebound for a putback (had 9 rebounds on the night), then on another possession made a nice spin and finish in the lane.
UCLA was up 65-48 and Oregon State was being taken to the UCLA Anderson School of Ballin’.
Anderson is getting more and more confident, and he’s on the ball more, creating at the top of the key with his slow but shifty moves, or looking smoother in his outside shot. The scout on Anderson, so far since he’s been in college, was definitely to allow him to shoot open outside looks, and OSU left him open, but he made OSU pay for that. If he can continue to do that, and now begin to draw defenders out to him, it will give him more opportunity to create off the dribble and more space in the paint to find teammates with those pretty passes.
Muhammad led all scorers with 21 on the night, and played a pretty typical game for him. He was bigger and better than anyone who attempted to guard him, and was relentless around the basket.
Travis Wear had another good offensive game, carrying the Bruins early when they were pretty lethargic, both offensively and especially defensively. He appeared to be the only Bruin who was awake at the beginning of the game. He finished with 17 and 7.
A big contributor was Norman Powell. UCLA started off the game poorly on defense, with various Bruins allowing their Beaver to drive right around them and then not providing any help defense. Jordan Adams was clearly having an off-night, on defense and offense, and Coach Ben Howland used Powell for most of Adams’ minutes in the first half. Powell gave the UCLA defense the energy boost it needed, slowing down OSU’s Roberto Nelson, enabling UCLA to get some stops and force 9 Beaver turnovers in the first half. He also contributing offensively, hitting a big three which gave UCLA its first lead.
Tony Parker showed flashes, like he has all season, in his very limited minutes (5). The freshman center shows some considerable potential, especially on how he's improved defensively -- in this game being quick in rotations, and getting a couple of blocked shots out it. Give him credit for cleary keeping a good attitude and hustling for the short time he's on the floor.
Oregon State used a couple of different zones and man defense, but none of it really worked against the prolific Bruins. OSU’s 1-3-1 trap was perhaps the worst match-up against UCLA’s offense, since that zone tends to allow some space just around the elbow, and UCLA has a great collection of mid-range shooters that exploited it. Oregon State’s man defense was a bit better, but not much, and the Bruins executed well for most of the night.
The Bruins didn’t blow out the Beavers mostly because of the same old reason – defensively they just weren’t consistently very good. UCLA had a number of defensive lulls, and those were effective enough in keeping the score from getting out of hand. It could have been much closer if OSU didn’t play such a sloppy game, too, and much of that is due to its undisciplined lead guard, Ahmad Starks. Starks is a decent outside shooter, but is streaky, and he was streakily pretty bad Thursday night, taking a number of bad shots that were off-balance or from 26 feet. What was interesting was that Starks, who usually isn’t a dribble-driver type, actually did take Larry Drew off the dribble a number of times early, with Drew providing lackluster on-ball defense. But Starks, inexplicably, stopped doing that and settled mostly for outside jumpers.
The Bruins aren’t ever going to be an excellent defensive team, because of their lack of team athleticism, but they have had moments of concerted effort and focus on defense at times this season. If they can find that more consistently, they’ll blow out poor teams like the Beavers. It’s funny, with a different type of team like this under Howland, one that out-scores its opponent, you think, since they’re scoring so much, that they are blowing out teams, but then you look at the score and see they’re only up by 10, because the other team is scoring, too.
Even though, in this game, as I said, UCLA was bound to win since it was better than OSU in every match-up, the Bruins are getting the edge in games because of the Early Offense. And it’s not that they’re necessarily getting breaks, but they are getting open looks in semi-transition, once opposing defenses have more or less gotten back and are in that short transition phase of matching up. This is where Jordan Adams (well, not Thursday, but most of the time), Muhammad, Wear, and even Powell – and now Anderson – have gotten some easy points, mostly because they’re shooting exceptionally well. Those extra 10-15 points per game has generally been the difference, and it obviously (if you just look at the final score) was the difference in this game. Without it, and with UCLA incapable of getting enough stops on defense, UCLA would be completely reliant on its halfcourt offense, and the game against OSU would probably have been a grind-it-out, down-to-the-last-few-minutes type of affair. Howland deserves a get a great deal of credit, for getting out of the comfort zone he had established for the previous nine seasons and instituting the Early Offense, because without it, this team isn’t 15-3.