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No. 2 UCLA a Formidable Challenge for Cold-Shooting Buckeyes.
By John Porentas

COLUMBUS, OH - It’s cold in Columbus today, but the Buckeye basketball team isn’t too concerned about that.

That’s because they are in the desert at Las Vegas getting ready to take on No. 2 UCLA on Saturday. If they want any chance to come out with a win they will have to heat up a little, and we’re not talking about the ambient temperature here.

The Bruins come into the game with a 10-0 record and ranked number two in the country. Their wins, and ranking, are in large part due to what they have done on the offensive end of the floor. 

The Bruins are averaging 97.9 points per game so far this season. In five of their 10 wins they have scored 100 or more points. In three others they were close with wins of 99-77 over Portland, 98-56 over U.C. Riverside and 97-92 over Kentucky at Kentucky.  One of their 100+ outings was a 102-84 win over Michigan.  

A great deal of UCLA’s scoring comes from the three point line. They lead the PAC 10 in three point shooting at 47.1 percent from behind the line and in three point field goals made averaging 11.3 per game. Sophomore Aaron Holiday is knocking down threes at a 60 percent clip, though he is not a volume shooter having made 21 of 35 through 10 games. Senior Isaac Hamilton isn’t as shy. Hamilton averages 3.1 made threes per game on 31/68 shooting good for 45.6 percent from behind the line.

Hamilton leads the Bruins in scoring at 17.7/game, but freshman phenom T.J. Leaf isn’t far behind at 17.6/game. Leaf is currently shooting 65.9 percent from the field.

The Buckeyes, meanwhile, are mired in a shooting slump from the three point range that has really blunted their offense.

“I think we’re 6 for 38 of our last threes in two games,” said Matta after OSU’s latest win over Providence.

Shooting slumps happen. Some happen because of poor shot selection, but other times shots just aren’t falling. The good news for the Buckeyes is that shot selection isn’t really a problem. They are simply in one of those shooting slumps that seem to happen in almost every season.

“Like I said, we’re getting great looks,” said Matta.

If the Buckeyes are going to have any chance at all against the high-scoring Bruins they will have to at least slow them down on the offensive end.  Nebraska did that somewhat in an 82-71 loss to UCLA as did Texas A&M when they lost to the Bruins 74-67. Slowing them down is not impossible, but close. That’s because as good as they Bruins shoot, that isn’t their entire offense.

“The three-point defense has to be there and knowing that they’re very good, but they don’t rely solely on that. They will drive to the basket, they will post the ball too,” said Matta.

They also share the ball exceedingly well. UCLA is averaging an incredible 23.9 assists per game, best in the PAC-10.

The Buckeyes aren’t going to win this game on defense. The Bruins are just too good for that, but they have to play enough defense to slow them down. Offensively, it’s simple. To have any chance at all they have to break out of their current shooting slump from three, because it isn’t likely the Bruins are going to stop making their share on the offensive end.

“That’s what they do, they do shoot it well,” said Matta.

“I quit wishing for teams to have an off-night before the game because it never seems to happen on my behalf.  I know this; our defense is going to be tested.  We’ve got to do a great job of communicating what we’re trying to do and how we’re doing it. They may make a couple and you’ve got to run back down and execute at the other end. “

Executing on the other end means getting good shots, and if those good shots happen to be threes, knock them down, something they haven’t done well lately.  Matta is hoping that the desert heat will not only warm up his team’s chilly bones, but their three point shooting as well.

“We’ve shot the ball pretty well in practice. I’ll be honest. I like the shots we’re taking. 

"They’re coming within the offense. Guys know the shot’s coming, guys know to be ready to shoot it, they just haven’t gone in for us,” said Matta."

“We’ve done a ton of shooting since Saturday’s game, that’s for sure.”

Matta is hoping that shows up Saturday against UCLA.

“Hopefully it’s a break out,” said Matta of OSU’s outside shooting.

To hang with the Bruins the Buckeyes are going to need just that. If they don't get it, they're in for a long afternoon.

The game will be broadcast on CBS and is scheduled to tip off at 3:00 PM.

Related Story: Buckeyes embracing underdog role vs. UCLA

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