Washington State Preview

With the suspension of Klay Thompson and the potential loss of Reggie Moore, the Bruins' match-up advantage over Washington State is now overwhelming. So it's all about whether UCLA can finish off the regular season with a superior effort...

Coach Ben Howland's UCLA basketball team now faces its most critical game of the season on Saturday when they take on the Washington State Cougars in Pullman. The Bruins are coming off a disappointing loss at Washington while the Cougars are coming off a much needed victory over USC. Both games took place on Thursday night and really only gives both teams a few hours to prepare for an opponent that is very different than the one they just faced.

UCLA's loss to Washington was disappointing because the Bruins played defense well enough to win the game. Forget the final score, but rather look at the statistics from the game. The Bruin defense held the Huskies to 36% shooting, outrebounded them by three and generally had Washington out of sync offensively all game. It was on the offensive end where the Bruins lost. I am not talking about the missed bunnies, of which there were more than a few, or the dropped passes at critical times. Those things, while possibly important, are not as critical as the flow of the game or game-wide tendencies. In this case the Bruins lost the game because they simply allowed Washington to take them almost completely out of their offense. Think about how many times the Bruins had to initiate the offense with the first pass in the halfcourt coming near the halfcourt circle, or how many times the high post received the first pass a good 10 feet outside the three-point line. The Husky pressure forced the Bruins to receive pass after pass going away from the basket with their backs to the paint. Rarely did the Bruins try and utilize backdoor cuts or hard, weakside screens to free up themselves.

Luckily for the Bruins they are not going to face that kind of pressure on Saturday. Pundits say that basketball is all about match-ups, and most of the match-ups in this game favor the Bruins. Unlike Washington, which has an athletic/quickness advantage over UCLA at almost every spot on the floor, Wazzu relies more on impeccable execution and their length, particularly in the backcourt.

That backcourt length starts with Washington State's best player, junior Klay Thompson (6'6" 202 lbs.). Thompson may be the biggest offensive threat in the conference, but luckily for Howland and the Bruins they have arguably the best defensive player in the conference in Malcolm Lee to match up with Thompson. Lee spent most of Thursday night simply shutting out, not down, but out, UDub's talisman, Isaiah Thomas. Thompson has had off days against the Bruins in the past, having usually taken a high volume of shots to get anywhere close to his season points per game average. For instance, Thompson scored 26 points against the Bruins when the two teams opened the Pac-10 season. However, Thompson was only 6-17 from the floor. The Bruins are better defensively than they were when these teams first met and Thompson is coming off a 39-minute performance against the Trojans. However, all of this has become moot as Thompson has been suspended for the game because of a marijuana possession charge. This is a huge blow to Wazzu's chances.

Point guard Reggie Moore (6'1" 180 lbs.) was pretty subdued the first time these teams met, scoring only five points, ,but he has been much better since he was suspended for a game earlier in the season (for a marijuana-related incident, too). He sprained his ankle in the first few minutes of the USC game Thursday night and didn't return. Coach Ken Bone stated that Moore would be reevaluated on Friday but the likelihood of him being ready for the Bruin game remains in doubt. If he can go then expect both Lazeric Jones and Jerime Anderson to take Moore.

If Moore can't go then expect Bone to play junior college transfer Faisal Aden (6'4" 185 lbs.) in his place, as Bone did earlier in the season when Moore was out. Aden has become known as a three-point specialist, but that would be incorrect. He has actually attempted about 1/3 of his total shot attempts from behind the arc while Thompson, known more as a scorer, has attempted almost half of his shots from behind the arc. Aden clearly is a jump shooter and that's probably where the misevaluation stems from. He has only attempted 47 free throws on the season, as opposed to Thompson's 152.

Here's where Thompson being suspended dramatically helps the Bruins: if Thompson were available, Lee would have to guard him, and Tyler Honeycutt would have to defend Aden, and that's not a great match-up for Honeycutt. Now, Ben Howland can use Lee on Aden, who has a quick release, and Honeycutt definitely matches up better against junior guard Marcus Capers (6'4" 185 lbs.), who is Wazzu's defensive specialist and doesn't score much. When UCLA has the ball, expect Capers to guard Lee when Wazzu is in a man defense. Besides defense, Capers' best ability is to hit the boards. In many ways he has taken on the defensive and rebounding role of former Cougar Kyle Weaver.

The two post players are juniors DeAngelo Casto (6'8" 255 lbs.) and Abe Lodwick (6'7" 208 lbs.). Casto really is Wazzu's only inside force. He is the team's leading rebounder, but he has had some horrific games in the past against the Bruins. He simply gets caught up by UCLA's size and length and/or UCLA's ability to help and double team. Casto isn't a very good passer out of the post and that exacerbates the situation. In the first meeting against the Bruins Casto only went for 8 and 6 and was ineffective for large portions of the game. Josh Smith and Anthony Stover should cause Casto fits, if they can stay out of foul trouble and get Casto to commit early fouls.

Lodwick is the glue guy of the squad, not really having the statistics to justify being in the starting line-up but bringing intangibles to the squad. He is at a match-up disadvantage when facing UCLA's Reeves Nelson and Brendan Lane, or even Honeycutt, for that matter, if Howland decides to go with a small line-up. Although Lodwick played 32 minutes in Los Angeles against the Bruins, Bone hasn't been shy about inserting sophomore Brock Motum (6'10" 230 lbs.) into the line-up. Motum gives the team more length and scoring in the post but the team's suffers because Motum doesn't do the little things that Lodwick does to make the team successful. Regardless of whether its Motum or Lodwick, the Cougars will be at a disadvantage at the ‘4' against Nelson and Lane. The problem for Bone will be if Moore can't play. Aden and Motum are usually just about the entire bench for Bone and if Moore can't go then Capers has to move to the point, where he's not completely comfortable, and Bone has no other guards on the bench he truly trusts for big minutes. However, there is a good chance that someone like freshman Dre' Winston (6'1" 166 lbs.) or fellow frosh Patrick Simon (6'8" 214 lbs.) will have to play major minutes especially if both Thompson and Moore are out.

There are several things that are heavily in UCLA's favor going into this game. First of all, excluding Thompson, there is a significant difference in talent between the two rosters. That's not to say that Wazzu is without talent but mainly to point out that Wazzu loses virtually every individual match-up on the floor.

The Bruins also enjoy the advantage of length and athleticism in this contest and that should count for quite a bit, especially on the defensive end. Even though the Bruins aren't quick, they are long and can use that length and court vision to great advantage against a team that simply isn't going to pressure the ball the way Washington did.

Bone is going to try and mix defenses as he did when Wazzu beat Washington at Hec Ed last weekend. The Bruins will see some man but it will be the kind that only pressures the ball enough to keep the opposition from getting open looks for beyond the arc. Otherwise, the Wazzu man defense is primarily a lane-denial defense. The Bruins will also see a relatively active 2-3 zone, and the likelihood is that they'll see more of this than the man defense simply because of the presence of Smith. When the Bruins faced Washington's zone in the second half on Thursday they generally got a good look at the basket out of it (except for Jerime Anderson's turnover in the lane on a drive late in the second half) and that's because the Bruins weren't facing serious ball pressure. The Washington State defense, especially their zone, is going to be more like the Washington zone than Oregon State's pressure zone. The lack of pressure will go a long way in allowing UCLA's offense to function better than it did on Thursday.

The final factor was thought to be Wazzu playing for its NCAA Tournament lives on the final Saturday of the season. The crowd was expected to be into the game and the Cougars were probably going to play at an inspired level. They probably still will, at least at the beginning of the game, but with the certain loss of Thompson and very possible loss of Moore there's only so far the crowd can take the Cougars.

This will be an interesting gauge of how the Bruins respond to what happened on Thursday night. There is every probability that the Bruins will come out flat knowing they probably threw away a chance at a share of the conference title. Conversely, the Bruins may come out with the bit between their collective teeth, angry at the way they threw away a game they know they could have or even should have won.

Either way, it will be a major upset if the Bruins face a Wazzu squad missing arguably their two best players and lose to that kind of shorthanded team. With Lee on Aden and possibly Moore for a bit, if Moore does in fact play, Wazzu just doesn't have much firepower. The rest of the match ups, including the respective benches, are enormous advantages to the Bruins.

By winning the game, the Bruins will guarantee that they will be no worse than the #2 seed in the Pac-10 Tournament next week. That means the Bruins would play either Oregon or Stanford (if both the Cardinal and Ducks win then it will probably be the Ducks because of how they both did against USC; If they both lose then it will depend on if USC beats UDub. Basically if USC finishes ahead of Cal then that helps Oregon while Cal finishing ahead of USC helps Stanford).

Considering where many thought the Bruins were going after the loss to Montana or even the loss to Arizona in the desert, UCLA has really grown and developed into fairly formidable team. Throw in WSU being without its best talent, this final game of the regular season should probably be the second time Tracy Pierson misses on his pre-season game-by-game prediction.

Washington State 62

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