The No. 10 UCLA Bruins (12-1, 1-0 Pac-12) are still riding on the strength of their Battle 4 Atlantis championship run from before Thanksgiving. In the span of three days, they defeated South Dakota State (currently No. 58 in the NET), Tennessee (No. 19 in the NET) and Marquette (RV, four points) for three of their four best wins of the season. The other came in nail-biter against crosstown rival USC (No. 43 in the NET) more recently (Dec. 15).
Those are four quality wins, but 75 percent of them came a while ago and none were over a team that is currently ranked. Perhaps a more telling aspect of UCLA’s resume is its one loss; it came against No. 1 South Carolina by just nine points on Nov. 29. The national consensus seems to be that the Bruins, based on that result, might be able to hang with anybody.
Some of UCLA’s numbers tell a different story though. Can it really duplicate keeping it close against the best teams in the country when it struggles in certain categories, particularly 3-point shooting? Its efficiency from long range is a poor 26.8 percent (283rd in the country).
The Bruins’ next opponent, the Oregon Ducks, may be seven spots lower in the rankings at No. 17, but they have some excellent numbers and are battle-tested having faced three teams that are currently ranked, compared to UCLA’s one. The Ducks are 1-2 in those contests.
UCLA and Oregon (10-2, 1-0 Pac-12) meet Friday night in Eugene at 9 p.m. ET (Pac-12 Network).
The Ducks are second in the nation in both opponent free throw rate (10.1 percent) and assist/turnover ratio (1.68). So they are among the best of the best when it comes to not sending teams to the line and when it comes to running smooth offense. Individually, Te-Hina Paopao is 12th in the country with an assist/turnover ratio of 2.82.
UCLA may have a concerningly-low 3-point percentage, but it has a superstar who knows how to score when it counts and Paopao and company will have to deal with her. That would be Charisma Osborne. She is shooting just 29.9 percent from three, but averages a team-high 18.1 points per game. She also averages a team-high 6.5 rebounds despite being the second-shortest player on the roster as a 5-foot-9 guard.
The backcourt of Osborne and freshman Kiki Rice will be going up against the backcourt of Paopao and Endyia Rogers, the last of whom is tied for ninth in the nation with a 3-point percentage of 50 (26 makes). The clash of these guard tandems should make for an epic Pac-12 showdown. Rice, the No. 2 ESPN Hoop Gurlz recruit, is shooting just 3-of-21 from distance, but has phenomenal distributing skills and is only going to get better as a shooter.
The frontcourt stars are freshman Grace VanSlooten and Phillipina Kyei for Oregon and Emily Bessoir for UCLA. VanSlooten leads the Ducks with 16.3 points per game to go along with her 6.8 boards. Meanwhile, Kyei (8.6 points and 11.3 rebounds per game) creates a mismatch as she is 6-foot-8 and the Bruins’ three tallest players, including Bessoir, are all 6-foot-4.
No. 10 UCLA Bruins (12-1, 1-0 Pac-12) vs. No. 17 Oregon Ducks (10-2, 1-0 Pac-12)
When: Friday, Dec. 30 at 9 p.m. ET
Where: Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene, OR
Key to the matchup: UCLA’s defense. Oregon has the advantage in most categories. It has slight edges in rebound and turnover margin and is way ahead in field goal percentage and 3-point percentage. UCLA is the better defensive team; it has to have a good night on that side of the ball to make up for its offensive disadvantages. The Bruins allow just 57.1 points per game (40th in the country) and just 35.4 percent shooting from the field (27th in the country).