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January 30, 2014

UCLA trying to shoot down high-flying Ducks

UCLA has prided itself this season on its prolific offense, but for the first time in conference play, it's about to face a team that has a higher scoring average.

In their first game of a three-game road trip, the Bruins will face Oregon on Thursday, which is the only team in the Pac-12 that averages more points per game (85.9) than UCLA (84.3).

Like UCLA, Oregon runs a fast-paced offensive scheme that allows guards like junior Joseph Young (17.3 points per game), sophomore Damyean Dotson (10.8), and seniors Jason Calliste (11.8) and Johnathan Loyd (8.3) to flourish.

"This game on Thursday looks like it's going to be extremely quick … so our transition defense is going to come to a test as well as our half-court defense," UCLA head coach Steve Alford said. "They put a lot of pressure on your defense 'cause they can really score the ball."

Defense may prove the determining factor in the game, but UCLA will rely heavily upon its own guard play to outduel the Ducks offensively.

Sophomores Jordan Adams (17.3 ppg) and Kyle Anderson (15.5), junior Norman Powell (10.8), and freshman Zach LaVine (12.0) all flaunt double-figure scoring averages. With freshman backup point guard Bryce Alford in the mix as well (7.8), UCLA's top five scorers are all guards.

"We got to lock up on defense," said LaVine, who is expecting family from his home state of Washington to be in attendance. "They have a lot of explosive players and we have to key in on them and just focus on us executing our game plan and doing what we do and knocking down shots."

Although Oregon surpasses UCLA in scoring average, thanks in part to three 100-point games, the Bruins eclipse the Ducks in a pair of stats that often display a broader backdrop to a team's success: scoring margin and scoring defense - both of which are currently dominated by the Pac-12's and nation's No. 1 team, Arizona.

UCLA allows an average of 70.6 points per game, whereas Oregon allows 76.2, and the Bruins are scoring 14.3 points more than their opponent against the Ducks' 9.8-point scoring margin.

"When you got two teams that like to play up-tempo, it's which team gets better shots, which team gets to the free-throw line, which team does a better job defensively [that] is usually going to be the team that comes out victorious," Alford said.

Last time the Bruins hit the road - their first Pac-12 games away from Pauley Pavilion - it was rocky.

Although UCLA managed to pull off a victory in Colorado with the Buffaloes' best player, Spencer Dinwiddie, sidelined, its normally free-flowing offense was stagnant (39% FG, 24% 3P FG), which spilled over into its ensuing loss against Utah.

"Our first road trip, I thought we did a really good job of defending. We did a really good job of taking care of the basketball," Alford said. "We just got a little bit hurried in the Utah game offensively, and we can't allow the pace of the game to get us in a hurry."

Following its sweep of the Bay Area schools in Westwood, UCLA will face an Oregon team that's in recovery mode.

After climbing as high as No. 10 in the nation with a 13-0 start, the Ducks lost five straight conference games, only recently snapping their losing streak by defeating 1-7 Washington State.

A win over UCLA would be a key step in the right direction for Oregon, but the Bruins are determined to begin their three-game road trip with a smooth start.

"I think we've had some pretty good road tests, so I think we just have to build off that and keep going," Anderson said. "It's all about going in there and handling business. It's a business trip."

Business opens for UCLA at 6 p.m. in Eugene, Ore., on Thursday.


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