UCLA seemed primed for another Pac-10 title run after a dominant effort against Oregon State in its league opener. The Bruins, as it turns out, have had a tougher time than expected.
Clinging to faint hopes of earning a share of the Pac-10 crown, the 20th-ranked Bruins look to continue their dominance of the Beavers on Thursday night.
UCLA (22-7, 11-5) won three straight outright Pac-10 championships entering this season. The Bruins then won their conference opener 69-46 over Oregon State (13-14, 7-9) on Jan. 2, their eighth straight victory in the series and a performance that suggested they were well on their way to continuing their streak of league titles.
But UCLA has its most losses in conference play since going 11-7 in 2004-05, and the best it can do is tie No. 16 Washington for a share of the top spot.
“We wanted to do something special, to make history, but it’s hard to do those things,” senior guard Darren Collison said. “We understand what’s No. 1, and that’s the NCAA tournament. We want to win this whole thing outright. Really, nobody remembers who won the conference championship.”
To earn a share of the regular-season title, UCLA has to win this game and beat Oregon on Saturday while hoping Washington State tops Washington later that day. The Bruins, however, seem more focused on trying to make their fourth straight trip to the Final Four.
“It’d take something big for us to get a share of the title,” senior swingman Josh Shipp said. “For us, it’s about getting momentum now and going into the tournament with as high a seed as we can.”
A stretch of three losses in four games last month dropped the Bruins out of first place. They’ve since won two straight, including 72-68 over California on Saturday night.
The Bruins will now try to avoid their first loss to the Beavers since Dec. 31, 2005, when Oregon State won 85-80 at home. UCLA has beaten the Beavers by an average of 22.2 points during its run in the series.
UCLA used tough defense to dominate January’s meeting, forcing 20 turnovers. The Bruins are allowing 63.7 points a game on the season but have surrendered an average of 75.8 in their last six.
Oregon State is averaging just 60.2 points and hasn’t reached 70 since a 77-62 win over Stanford on Jan. 24. The Beavers lost 79-69 to Oregon on Sunday despite shooting 51.0 percent (26-for-51) for the game and leading 43-29 early in the second half.
Oregon State had won three straight.
“They got used to winning games and they feel like they should win games,” coach Craig Robinson said. “So you know, lesson learned.”
Sophomore guard Calvin Haynes, who leads the Beavers with 15.5 points a game, had 16 in the last matchup with UCLA. He was the only Oregon State player to reach double figures in scoring.
The Bruins lead the series 84-33.