Thursdays’ road win over USC ensured one thing, the Ducks won’t return to Eugene winless on their Los Angeles road trip. But a weekend sweep of the LA school would make things that much sweeter.
The Ducks and Bruins sit atop the Pac-12 with Washington, as the conference’s only three undefeated teams in league. On Saturday, one team will fall and the other will retain conference supremacy.
UCLA (15-3, 5-0) is perhaps an unlikely undefeated, considering that by December 1, the Bruins held just a 4-3 record with losses to Georgetown, Cal Poly and San Diego State. But since that loss to the Aztecs in early December, they’ve been untarnished, winning 10 straight heading into Saturday.
“The games I’ve caught on TV, I’ve been really impressed with how their young guys and far they’ve come. They started slow, but that should be expected they have all of those freshmen out there,” said head coach Dana Altman Tuesday.
UCLA signed the No. 2 ranked recruiting class in 2012, bringing in the nation’s top-prospect Shabazz Muhammad, along with five-stars Kyle Anderson and Tony Parker.
“UCLA has a lot of talented guys. I think we do too. A lot of young guys on both teams, its just which team is tougher, executes on the offensive end and gets the tough defensive stops you need. It’s going to come down to a tough game,” said E.J. Singler.
Muhammad, a high school teammate of Oregon guard Johnathan Loyd, missed the first three games of the season because of eligibility concerns over impermissible travel benefits he received on his visits to Duke and North Carolina.
Since taking to the court though, Muhammad has shown why he was considered one of the elite players in his class. He’s the Bruins leading scorer, fourth in the conference in points per game, but perhaps more importantly a team leader on a team that has been searching for it.
As is often the case with young, explosive teams, the Bruins thrive in transition. With limited depth in the frontcourt outside of twins Travis and David Wear, UCLA depends on its guards and forwards to score in the open court, something they’ve down effectively over their string of victories.
“They’re really dangerous in the open floor with Shabazz, Kyle Anderson and their other freshman [Jordan] Adams,” Singler said.” When they’re in the open court they’re really tough to guard, so we need to take that out of their game.”
With so many players on both sides playing in their first season of Pac-12 basketball, it will be players like Singler, who is playing in his fourth, that will need to set the example for the inexperienced. The mindset heading to this road trip, according to Singler, must be one of focus.
“You’ve got to have a focused team, knowing that it’s a business trip. I think we have a team that does that. I think we have a focused team that knows what we have to do. I think we can be really good on the road,” Singler said.
Oregon and UCLA will face off Saturday at 1 p.m. at Pauley Pavilion. CBS will broadcast the game nationally, with Spero Dedes and Doug Gottlieb on the call.