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UCLA lets golden opportunity slip away at Oregon State

Feb 2, 2014, 5:20 PM EDT

adams AP

Figuring out the Pac-12 race after No. 1 Arizona, which lost at California on Saturday night, has been a difficult task to this point in the season. While the Golden Bears and UCLA have been locked in a struggle for second place in the Pac-12, there are five other teams within a game of those two teams. UCLA’s game at Oregon State on Sunday afternoon represented an opportunity for the Bruins, with a win giving Steve Alford’s team sole possession of second place and placing them just a game out of first.

Unfortunately for UCLA, the combination of their worst offensive performance in conference play and Oregon State freshman guard Hallice Cooke resulted in a 71-67 defeat. Cooke scored a career-high 20 points (14 in the second half) on 7-for-9 shooting, leading five Oregon State players in double figures.

Craig Robinson’s team hasn’t been the most consistent group but they don’t lack for talent, with Roberto Nelson, Eric Moreland, Angus Brandt and Devon Collier the leaders on most nights. On Sunday Cooke and Moreland (11 points, 14 rebounds and five assists) proved to be especially problematic for the Bruins, who had to navigate an 0-for-9 afternoon from Jordan Adams and 38.6% shooting from the field as a team.

UCLA nearly stole this one too, with their move out of the 2-3 zone and into a trapping defense unsettling Oregon State down the stretch. But they were unable to get over the hump offensively, with Adams’ frustrating day being capped by a dubious offensive foul call with 15 seconds renaming and UCLA trailing by just one point. Much of what UCLA does depends upon the effectiveness of Adams and Kyle Anderson, with Adams being their most productive perimeter scorer and Anderson being the versatile option who can score and make sure his teammates get quality looks as well.

Anderson finished with 18 points and nine rebounds but dished out just two assists, with the struggles of his teammates obviously impacting the assist count. UCLA can adjust on days in which their supporting cast struggles, but this isn’t the case when it comes to Adams and the inconsistency of those other players is the reason why. Adams struggled against Oregon State, and the end result was UCLA’s failure to cement its status as the second-best team in the Pac-12.

And given the unknown status of Arizona’s Brandon Ashley, UCLA entered Sunday with a great opportunity in front of them even without a second meeting between the two teams on the schedule. The Bruins didn’t take advantage of this, and they’ve only got themselves to blame.