Bruins face crucial game against Oregon
Ben Howland is not tip-toeing around the magnitude of Saturday afternoon's matchup with his No. 24 Bruins (15-3, 5-0 Pac-12) and No. 21 Oregon (15-2, 4-0 Pac-12).
"This game's very important," Howland said. "I don't think it's lost upon anybody."
So important, the Bruins nearly got caught looking ahead and came out flat against Oregon State on Thursday night. UCLA snapped out of it and was able to run past the Beavers, 74-64.
Oregon, on the other hand, led USC by 10 points with just under three minutes left in the second half but scored just one point the rest of the way to narrowly escape Galen Center with a 76-74 win.
When the Bruins and the Ducks step onto the new Pauley Pavilion floor on Saturday at 1pm, they'll do so as two of the three remaining teams that are undefeated in Pac-12 play. Washington is the other.
The last loss for the Bruins came on Dec. 1. They've since won 10 in a row, including a win over then-No. 7 Missouri. Howland says Oregon is the best team his Bruins have played since that overtime upset of Missouri.
The Ducks are ranked nationally for the first time since 2007 under head coach Dana Altman, who's in his third season.
As far as balance goes, it's tough to look around the country and find a team as balanced as the Ducks. They have five players that average double figures in scoring. They're led by Damyean Dotson's 12 points per game and rounded out by Dominic Artis' 10.1 points per game. Both are freshmen and Artis was a one-time UCLA commit.
"They have great balance," Howland said. "Any one of those players can go off and hit 20 on a given night."
That balance makes the Ducks hard to guard. The UCLA defense, that has played well as of late, will have their hands full on Saturday with an Oregon offense that can attack from many different angles.
"This is especially hard because (of) their offense," Howland said. "They have so many different, little, quick hitters off of it that it's hard to prepare for in such a quick turnaround."
Not only would a win against the Ducks keep the Bruins undefeated in Pac-12 play, it would also represent a win over a top-30 team in the RPI, which looks good on an NCAA Tournament resume.
As Howland said, this game is "very important."