GAME NOTES: Two of the top teams in the Pac-12 Conference square off in the City of Angels on Saturday afternoon, as the 21st-ranked Oregon Ducks come calling on the 24th-ranked UCLA Bruins.
At 15-2 overall and 4-0 in conference, Oregon is enjoying its finest season in recent memory. The Ducks were recently rewarded with their first appearance in the Top-25 since 2007, and they are in the midst of a six-game winning streak, with their most recent triumph also coming in Los Angeles on Thursday night when they slipped past USC in a 76-74 final. The win improved their record in true road games to 3-1, and they are off to their best start in conference play since opening the 1973-74 Pac-8 slate also at 4-0.
There were plenty of questions surrounding the UCLA Bruins after the first weeks of the season as the team was 5-3 heading into a Dec. 8 clash with Texas. Coach Ben Howland's club silenced the critics by topping the Longhorns, 65-63, starting a run of 10 consecutive wins that culminated with Thursday's 74-64 defeat of visiting Oregon State. The Bruins are 5-0 in conference for the first time since 2003-04, and they are 11-1 this year at newly-renovated Pauley Pavilion.
UCLA owns a commanding 81-31 advantage in the all-time series with Oregon, but the Ducks have won the last two meetings.
Oregon coach Dana Altman recorded the 60th win of his tenure at the school in Thursday's narrow victory at USC, as five Ducks scored in double figures, led by Damyean Dotson with 16 points. E.J. Singler added 14 points and handed out seven assists, and Carlos Emory, Tony Woods and Dominic Artis all tallied 10 points. Artis dished out six assists, helping the Ducks log 16 helpers on the night. They managed just a 42.9 percent shooting effort, making good on 7- of-19 3-point attempts, and they grabbed 41 rebounds, 11 of which were credited to Arsalan Kazemi, compared to just 30 for the Trojans. Oregon hit its season average right on the button in the recent win, as the team puts up 76.4 ppg by hitting 46.4 percent of its total shots, both of which rank it second in the Pac-12. Balance is the key for the Ducks, as five players net between 10 and 12 ppg. Dotson (11.8 ppg) leads the pack, and three of the top four are hitting roughly 50 percent of their field goal attempts. The Ducks own the league's second-best rebounding margin (+9.2), and they are No. 1 in steals (151).
UCLA is the top scoring team in the Pac-12, averaging 78.5 ppg behind a league-best 47.8 percent shooting effort. The Bruins average a conference-best 17.3 apg, and they also sit at the top of the heap in assist-to-turnover margin (1.57) as well as turnover margin (+2.5). Shabazz Muhammad is the team's leading scorer, and his 18.2 ppg ranks him fourth in the conference. Muhammad also pulls down 5.0 rpg, and his .467 3-point FG percentage is tops in the league. Jordan Adams (15.6 ppg, 3.9 rpg) has also been highly productive, and Travis Wear (12.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg) rounds out the unit's double- digit scorers. Kyle Anderson (9.9 ppg, 8.9 rpg) is among the league-leaders in rebounding, while Larry Drew II is the Pac-12's top assist man (146). Muhammad tallied 21 points and six rebounds, Wear added 17 points and seven boards, and Anderson also scored 17 points while grabbing a game-high nine rebounds to help power UCLA past Oregon State a couple of nights ago. The Bruins drained 6-of-12 3-point attempts, and capitalized on 17 Beaver turnovers.
This should be a wildly entertaining game between two teams that no one come tournament time will want to face. The Bruins will lose again eventually, and the Ducks just may be the team to turn the trick. That said, expect Muhammad to do most of the heavy lifting and for Howland's troops to register their 11th straight win.