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February 2, 2007This time, they didn't give it back. In the season's biggest game to date, UCLA gave perhaps its most complete performance in conference play, jumping on 9th ranked Oregon early, and not stepping off the gas pedal, coasting to an impressive 69-57 victory.
UCLA (19-2, 8-2) shot a sizzling 57 percent from the field and held a powerful Duck offense to just 37 percent. It was a dominant performance, in spite of the relatively narrow 12 point margin, this game was never in doubt following a Darren Collison three-point jumper which gave the Bruins a 17-6 edge just six minutes into the contest.
Arron Afflalo continued his hot streak on the offensive end, hitting four three-point jumpers in six attempts and finishing with a team-high 17 points.
As was expected, Afflalo also took the assignment of guarding Oregon star Aaron Brooks, the 6-foot guard who single-handedly beat the Bruins up in Eugene just one month ago.
Brooks is too quick for Afflalo, and blew by him upon occasion on Thursday. He also hit some very difficult three-point shots, but the Bruin All-American held him to just 14 points on 13 field goal attempts; something of a victory considering Brooks is the conference's leading scorer and will more than likely be the league's player of the year.
The difference this time around was that when Brooks made it into the paint, Bruin big men were sitting there waiting for him and other Duck penetrations, blocking eight shots as a team and playing terrific help defense all evening long.
With the help of three long range jumpers from Brooks, Oregon (19-3, 7-3) cut the deficit to a manageable nine points at halftime, but they never were able to get the margin beneath that number, as UCLA ran out on a 7-0 spurt to begin the second session and never looked back.
UCLA's intensity and focus remained at a peak level throughout this contest, something we haven't seen from the Bruins since the Washington game at Pauley on New Year's Eve. Also to UCLA's advantage was the fact that the refs let the players play. The Bruins were able to be physical and use their substantial size and strength advantage over Oregon to their benefit.
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute played his best game of the season, perhaps the best game of his career at the right time for his squad. He had 15 points, 12 rebounds, 4 blocks, 4 steals, 6-for-6 from the floor and played terrific defense on Duck big man Maarty Leunen may give Bruin fans reason for optimism regarding The Prince's off and on health issues. Luc played hard on Thursday night, showing that active aggression we're all used to seeing from him.
A tip of the cap as well to Collison who struggled mightily on the trip up to Oregon in early January only to bounce back on this evening with a very smooth performance.
Collison managed the game masterfully; attacking Oregon's defense, which was constantly switching between man-to-man, zone and match-up zone, with tempered aggression. Collison looked for his shot more tonight, something Ben Howland has been preaching to him during the week, and connected on 2-of-3 three-point attempts, finishing with 12 points and four assists.
UCLA showed a tremendous amount of focus on Thursday night. It is the type of intensity for the full forty minutes which Bruin fans have been waiting to see, and the effort which the team needs to bring in order to take the all-important conference crown.
The league is a minefield filled with tough squads top to bottom, and as we saw last Sunday, if UCLA isn't careful they'll find themselves taking a bad loss which could hurt the ultimate goal of the regular season; a No. 1 seed for the NCAA tournament.
Perhaps the loss to Stanford was a wake up call much as the defeat at the hands of USC was last season. Perhaps this team was going to bring this same intensity for this game anyways with a loss already on the board against the Ducks earlier this year.
Either way, this is how the team should play all of the time, and as we round into the home-stretch of the season, the leaders of the team like Afflalo and Michael Roll have to take it upon themselves to get their teammates to bring this tenacity into every contest.