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UCLA seeks wins in Oregon

Weekend victories against Washington teams prime Bruins for game against Pac-10's last-place team

Freshman forward Tyler Honeycutt plays during the Bruins' win over Washington Thursday in Pauley Pavilion, UCLA's second straight conference victory.

Freshman forward Tyler Honeycutt plays during the Bruins' win over Washington Thursday in Pauley Pavilion, UCLA's second straight conference victory. Tiffany Cheng

Freshman forward Tyler Honeycutt has experienced the feeling and wants no part of it ever again.

The feeling of having your back against the wall, of not living up to the expectations of fans and boosters, and then having to explain why.

Those are the feelings of a team in the midst of a five-game losing streak, and Honeycutt is relieved that his team is not the one going through it.

That team would be Oregon (10-9, 2-5 Pac-10), who the UCLA men’s basketball team (9-10, 4-3) will face tonight in the Bruins’ final game at storied McArthur Court.

The Ducks, who started the season 10-4, come into tonight’s game the losers of five consecutive games, dropping them into a tie for last place in the Pac-10 standings with Oregon State, the Bruins’ opponent on Saturday.

UCLA can identify with the precarious situation the Ducks presently find themselves in; the Bruins have a five-game losing streak of their own this season. In the opening game of the 76 Classic on Nov. 26, the Bruins lost to Portland 74-47, a humiliating loss that started a losing streak that would drop the Bruins’ record to 2-6.

“That was probably the lowest of our lows and we definitely don’t want to get back there,” Honeycutt said. “We’re at a high peak right now so we want to continue with that.”

But with two critical wins last weekend at home over the Washington schools, the Bruins have built a modicum of momentum. The team has an opportunity to even its overall record tonight and currently sits in a five-way tie for second place in the Pac-10 with a record of 4-3.

That the Bruins are now heading out on the road, into one of the more hostile arenas in the country, does not affect Reeves Nelson.

“I don’t think it really matters where we play right now,” the freshman forward said. “I think we’re pretty focused on getting two wins wherever we go next.”

If the Bruins hope to push their modest winning streak to three games they will have to repeat a defensive performance that limited Washington State’s star Klay Thompson to 13 points on 5-for-17 shooting, and the Cougars to 35.6 percent shooting for the game.

At his press conference Tuesday, coach Ben Howland said that the Bruins need to stop Oregon’s senior guard Tajuan Porter the same way they did against Thompson.

“Porter, who’s a nightmare for you to zone, especially at home there,” Howland said. “His range is about 30 feet and in and he’s a great three-point shooter.”

At just 5-foot-7, Porter is able to get through the gaps and into the lane and break down the defense, Howland said.

“He makes it hard because you got to play out on him because he’s such a good shooter, which makes it even more readily easily available for him to drive,” Howland said.

Porter is averaging 12.5 points per game and is shooting 36 percent from three-point territory this season. Howland said that the addition of former junior college point guard Malcolm Armstead has allowed Porter to play the two-guard, a position he is more accustomed to playing.

“When (Porter) was a freshman and (Aaron) Brooks was a point guard, I thought that was Porter’s best year and I think he’s had another year like that from the standpoint of having a true point guard,” Howland said. “He plays to score first and look to shoot.”

For senior guard Michael Roll, the key to stopping Porter is simple.

“Just kind of keep him uncomfortable,” Roll said.

Tonight’s game will be the last the Bruins will play at legendary McArthur Court in Eugene; the arena will close at the end of the season.

With the court known as one of the toughest places to play college basketball due to a ferocious crowd known for heckling visiting players, the Bruins understand the emotions accompanying tonight’s game.

“We don’t expect to go up there for any cupcake wins,” Nelson said.

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