After a couple of days of lose or go home, we've finally reached the finale. It is now, win and you're in.
Oregon's NCAA tourney hopes may have been in jeopardy prior to their playing in the Pac 12 tourney, but tonight they have a chance to end all doubt. Win one last game and you're guaranteed a spot. That is what is on the line for a team that hasn't seen the NCAA tourney since 2008.
After beating the Cinderella Utah Utes 64-45 Friday night, the Oregon Ducks have put themselves in the tourney championship game against the conference champion Ucla Bruins. There is little to be said about the Bruins that hasn't already been said. Ucla struggled early in the year while waiting for Shabazz Muhammad to become eligible, and after some players, including Josh Smith and Tyler Lamb, left the team.
While the Bruins boast talent up and down the line up, they have continued to be inconsistent all year. They beat an Arizona team that is playing some great ball right now on Friday, but lost just a week ago to WSU in conference. They beat Missouri in overtime a month after losing to Cal Poly at home. It is safe to say you never know what Bruins team is going to show up when you play them, but you have to prepare for the wealth of talent they're going to throw at you.
Shabazz Muhammad earned Freshman of the Year award in the Pac 12 and is pretty much a lock to be a lottery pick in the NBA. Kyle Anderson is 6'9" but handles the ball like a point guard and will draw whatever forward you have guarding him away from the hoop or whatever guard you have down into the post. The Wear twins can hit from anywhere within the 3 point line and Larry Drew II makes the whole thing run yet is capable of taking over himself.
One weapon they won't have tonight is Jordan Adams who unfortunately broke a bone in his foot and will miss the rest of the year. Adams was a dynamic scorer and physical on defense, but if you think that is going to slow Ucla down given what they have gone through this year, think again.
The one thing Oregon has going for them in this game is their depth. This is the third game in three nights for both teams. Ucla outlasted a weary ASU team on Thursday, and Arizona faltered late letting them back into the game on what looked like tired legs of their own. Oregon had to go to overtime on Thursday to put away the huskies, but a comfortable win against Utah allowed them to play a lot of their bench and keep guys from heavy minutes. Oregon is going to have to do whatever they can to keep the tempo of the game and the pace of play high, and make Ucla uncomfortable with their depth.
Also with Jordan Adams out, Norman Powell will likely start, but he doesn't present the size and physicality match up that Adams did. Dotson is going to have to play well again, as this is probably the one area of the team that Oregon holds an advantage talent wise. Singler and Emory are going to have their hands full chasing Muhammad all around the court and Kazemi and Woods are going to have to be strong on the boards to keep the Wear twins and Anderson off the glass.
Scoring wise, it's going to come down to finishing in transition both inside and out, and then playing within Oregon's offense to get points.
Make no mistake, one of Ucla's biggest scoring threats just went down for the season before a tourney championship game. That is going to be on the minds of the players, and it is definitely going to effect rotation and depth of Ucla's line up. Altman needs to do whatever he can to attack that vulnerability. That means shuttling in guys at every break and keeping guys fresh to keep pressure on the Bruins. That means switching up defenses against the Bruins between man and zone because they just lost their second best outside shooter.
For Oregon to win this game they have to get back to playing the level of basketball they were playing the last time they beat the Bruins. We've seen glimpses of it this week in Vegas. Saturday night provides the perfect opportunity to put it all together and win one last game. Win and you're in.