The No. 21 Oregon Ducks are not only one of the surprise stories in the Pac 12, but they are one of the top stories in the entire nation. They are 14-2 (4-0 in Pac 12), on a six-game winning streak, and they are playing their best basketball of the season.
Today though is arguably their toughest test of the season, as they travel to No. 24 UCLA to take on the Bruins in the newly-renovated Pauley Pavilion. UCLA is on quite a roll themselves after a rough start to their 2012-2013 season, but they’ve turned it around, especially as Pac 12 play began two weeks ago. The Bruins are 15-3 (5-0 in Pac 12), have won their last ten games, and are undefeated at home during conference play.
Here’s what to watch for during today’s game between two of the top teams in the Pac 12.
UCLA is looking to improve on their best start in the Pac 12 since the 2003-2004 season (5-0), coach Ben Howland’s first season as the head man. Oregon is 4-0 in the Pac 12 for the first time since 1973-74, way back when the conference was called the Pac 8. Oregon has already beat a ranked Pac 12 opponent this season but they have just one win in their last eight trips to UCLA.
Players to watch:
Oregon: Damyean Dotson- The freshman guard leads a balanced Oregon offensive attack in scoring and surprisingly he is doing his best work away from home. During their four Pac 12 away games, Dotson is averaging 19 points per game and is shooting over 60% inside of the three-point line. He’s just a freshman but he’s playing like he’s been in the conference for the last three seasons.
UCLA: Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson- UCLA has two top-tier first year players themselves and they have really come into their own as Pac 12 play got going. It took them awhile to get acclimated, and to get in shape, but both players have stepped up and led the turnaround. Muhammad, who missed the start of the season due to an NCAA investigation, is averaging over 18 points per game and is playing his best at home where he’s averaged 21 ppg during their eight game home winning streak. Anderson has been extremely effective lately averaging 12.9 ppg and 10.8 rebounds per game while shooting over 55% from the field.
Rebounding battle- Usually this would be a player, but in today’s game, look for whoever wins the rebounding battle to ultimately win the game. Oregon has a plus 9.3 rebounding margin, good for second in the Pac 12 while UCLA is just ninth in the conference with a plus 2.7 margin. The Bruins will especially have to keep Arsalan Kazemi off of the glass as he’s the league’s third best rebounder at 9.3 per game.
I think that UCLA’s home court advantage will play a bigger role in today’s game than many expect, and the Ducks will struggle a bit early on, giving the Bruins an early lead. Oregon will make their run, but ultimately it’s the Bruins game to lose.
UCLA- 82 Oregon- 75
David LaRose is one of the featured College Basketball writers for Rant Sports covering the Pac 12 and the University of Colorado. He’s also a member of the U.S. Basketball Writer’s Association of America. You can follow him on Twitter or check out his Facebook page.