The Bruins will be facing a team that they match up well against, but that won't be the story of the game. As most Bruin fans know, UCLA is coming off a gut-wrenching 71-69 loss to Washington on Thursday night in Seattle. What made the loss so emotionally draining is that the Bruins had a ten-point lead and the ball with roughly five minutes left in the game. That's when Josh Smith, who had a very good offensive game, missed an admittedly tough lay-up that would have put the Bruins comfortably ahead. That's when Washington started a 13-0 run and effectively won the game. Washington finished the game on a 16-4 run. Certainly the game was poorly officiated, particularly in the last five minutes, but the fact still remains that for the fourth time in the conference season the Bruins played well enough to win on the road and squandered the game by allowing the home team to go on one decisive run.
The Bruins and coach Ben Howland have seen this before, at Stanford. There the Bruins were in a dogfight with the Cardinal and had two chances to win at the end but ended up losing by one. Ironically, in three of UCLA's four close conference road losses, the Bruins found themselves down one at the half, including against the Huskies.
While Washington State presents the Bruins with a real opportunity at a conference road victory, the game, unlike some others this season, really will come down to one factor: whether the Bruins can emotionally recover to play a solid game. The last time this sort of set-up took place, after the Stanford game, the Bruins simply melted in the second half of a blowout loss at California. Luckily for the Bruins, Washington State isn't nearly as good or athletic as Cal. Still, the fear of a major emotional letdown is ever present. Quite frankly, this Bruin squad has yet to show the tenacity and emotional toughness necessary to recover from such a loss as the one the Bruins suffered against the Huskies.
If there is good news for the Bruins coming into this game, it's that A) the Bruins won't be facing world-beaters and B) the Bruins won't be facing a fully healthy Wazzu squad.
Ken Bone's Cougars, much like the rest of the Pac 12, is much better at home than on the road. Last weekend the Cougars lost at Arizona State while earlier this season they swept Cal and Stanford at home. The Cougs will certainly present a tough test for the Bruins as the home team but Pullman isn't one of the more difficult places to play in the conference. Further, this isn't one of the better Washington State squads from the past decade. The talent level was sure to drop with the departure of Klay Thompson to the NBA after last season but things got worse for the Cougars last week when 2nd-leading scorer and three-point shooter Faisal Aden went down with a season-ending ACL tear. That made this game much more manageable for the Bruins as Wazzu wasn't an offensive juggernaut to begin with.
The surprise for the Cougars this season has been the play of junior big man Brock Motum (6'10" 245 lbs.). The Australian native has blossomed this season into an inside/outside threat and become the Cougars' leading scorer at 16.8 PPG. He's also the leading rebounder at 6.6 RPG. He shoots over 50% from the floor and 40% from beyond the arc. He is without question the biggest individual threat on the Cougar roster. Unlike Washington, where the relative offensive rawness of Husky center Aziz N'Diaye allowed Josh Smith to basically ignore him when he got the ball outside of ten feet, Motum demands defensive focus out to the three-point line. That means that as good of a game as Smith had against UDub, he might revert to the player who has hurt his team rather than help it because of his inability to guard Motum outside. If there is a silver lining, it's that Motum is a much better shooter with his feet set and he's not terribly quick so if the Bruins can force him to put the ball on the floor with regularity then they should be able to limit the damage he causes.
Bone starts a three-guard line-up and the other forward is senior Abe Lodwick (6'7" 215). While not much of an offensive threat, Lodwick understands Bone's systems at both ends of the floor. Most concerning for the Bruins is Lodwick's 44% shooting from beyond the arc. He demands that whoever is guarding him gets out to the three-point line. That means that one of the Wear brothers will be pulled away from the basket on a consistent basis. Adding to the concern is that Travis Wear sprained his left ankle late against the Huskies on Thursday and will more than likely be at less than 100%.
Wazzu's three-guard line-up is led by junior point guard Reggie Moore (6'1" 178 lbs.). Moore's scoring is down this season (at less than 9 PPG) but he takes good care of the ball (123 assists versus only 59 turnovers) and he is a more than capable shooter from deep (39% from beyond the arc). What makes Moore so dangerous in this game is that he is quicker than either Jerime Anderson or Lazeric Jones. We wrote in the Washington preview that the Bruins would have trouble staying with UDub's Tony Wroten and Abdul Gaddy in the backcourt. In actuality Jones and Anderson did a decent job on those two Husky guards so it does provide hope that, between the two of them, they can slow down Moore's ability to run the offense.
The real danger in the Wazzu backcourt may come in the form of freshman DeVonte Lacy (6'3" 206 lbs.), who is third on the roster in scoring at 9.8 PPG. Like his teammates, Lacy is a decent-to-good three-point shooter (36% from the arc). He has the ability to get hot from outside and the Bruins will need to keep track of him if they want to keep Wazzu from scoring in bunches.
Senior Marcus Capers (6'4" 179 lbs.) is the final starter and he is strictly a defensive specialist. More than likely Capers will be assigned Jones when Wazzu is on defense and Capers is capable of shutting down the UCLA senior. While Capers doesn't score much, he is shooting over 55% from the floor so the Bruins can't simply ignore him. Still, any points the Cougars get from Capers is really a luxury. Capers and Lacy will split point guard duties when Moore is out of the game.
Since Aden went down, Bone's bench is very thin. While Bone played nine players in Wazzu's Thursday night win over USC, only junior Mike Ladd (6'5" 195 lbs.) got significant minutes. He is strictly a three-point shooter and isn't quick. His minutes are indicative of just how thin the Cougar bench is. If Wazzu's starters get into any significant foul trouble then even an emotionally spent Bruin squad should be able to not only stay in the game but also pull away for the win.
Because of Wazzu's thin bench the Bruins should expect to see a lot of zone and the Bruins need to do a better job of attacking it than they did against Washington on Thursday night. One of the reasons that UDub went on that late 13-0 run was because the Bruin offense stagnated against the Husky 2-3 zone late. The Bruins need to be patient and work the ball inside where they will have an advantage on the Cougars.
Even though UCLA is coming off that tough loss to Washington and the scenario the Bruins face is eerily similar to the weekend in the Bay Area, there are some significant differences. First and foremost, Washington State just isn't as good as Cal. That in and of itself helps the Bruins. Further, Wazzu is definitely hurt by the loss of Aden. That would be like Cal having lost Allen Crabbe for the game the Bruins played in Berkeley. It gives Howland and his players one less (major) concern to worry about. Finally, the home court advantage that Wazzu "enjoys" is nowhere near as intimidating as what the Bruins faced at Haas Pavilion. While the Bruins have struggled mightily on the road this year, the bottom line is the crowd is much less likely to get to the Bruins simply because Beasley Coliseum is just not as loud and crazy as, say, Washington's Hec Ed. Also, Wazzu struggles with getting people to the game. Against USC on Thursday only 4,000 showed. While UCLA can expect a larger crowd, the chances of a sellout are remote.
This game is key for the Bruins as they seek to try and maintain some semblance of positive momentum on the season. Even though UCLA is better at home, it's two next home games are against Stanford and Cal, which are tough games, so stealing a win in Pullman would be a big boost. It's a matter of whether the UCLA players understand the game's importance, and if, after the Bruin backcourt logged over 30 minutes each in Thursday's game, have enough left in the tank.
There are a few advantages the Bruins should enjoy. They should be the better rebounding team (the Bruins out-rebounded the Huskies, which is saying something) and the Bruins don't turn the ball over often. If they can continue to do that, coupled with Wazzu's lack of depth, then the Bruins can finally get the road monkey off their collective backs.
Washington State 61