Washington Preview

There are some Pac-12 Tournament seeding implications when UCLA hosts the Huskies Saturday. It could come down to whether the Bruins play with the focus and intensity they did Thursday...

The UCLA men's basketball team closes out its 2011-2012 regular season schedule when the Bruins host the Washington Huskies on Saturday morning at the Los Angeles Sports Arena.

The game is slated for an 11:00 AM tip-off so that the game can be broadcast on CBS. It will be the last home game for Bruin seniors Jerime Anderson and Lazeric Jones. The game does have some significance in terms of the conference finish for both teams.

There are a variety of scenarios at the top and middle of the conference based on Thursday night's results in the Pac-12. UCLA can finish as high as the #5 seed depending on the outcome of Colorado's game at Oregon State while Washington can win the conference title outright with a win over the Bruins.

Okay, let's quickly go over the scenarios: the bottom of the Pac-12 is pretty much set with USC being the #12 seed, Utah the #11 seed and Arizona State being the #10 seed. As bad as the Pac-12 has been this season, there is an even more precipitous drop-off in terms of teams once you get to these three bottom-feeders. Things are drastically different at the top of the conference. If UDub beats the Bruins then the Huskies win the conference. If the Bruins win, then things get interesting. If the Bruins do win and Cal does, too, then Cal gets the #1 seed and UDub falls to #2. Assuming Arizona and Oregon both win (against ASU and Utah respectively), that would mean Oregon would be the #3 seed by virtue of its win at Tucson earlier this year, and ‘Zona will be the #4.

Theoretically, Cal could fall to the #3 seed but that would mean that Oregon would have to lose and Arizona win. The Bruins could fall to the #7 seed if they lose on Saturday and Stanford beats Cal. That would be the worst possible scenario for the Bruins as it would mean a game with Cal after facing ASU in the first round. The best possible scenario for the Bruins would be for them to beat Washington and have Cal lose to Stanford (very possible because the game is at Maples Pavilion) and Colorado lose to Oregon State (also very possible as the Beavers are tough in Corvallis and the Buffs are coming off a tough loss against Oregon that was eerily similar to the loss the Bruins suffered in Eugene). If those three results go the way I set out then the seeding would be as follows:

#1 Washington
#2 Cal
#3 Oregon
#4 Arizona
#5 UCLA
#6 Colorado
#7 Stanford
#8 Washington State
#9 Oregon State (don't sleep on the Beavers)
#10 ASU
#11 Utah
#12 USC

This shake-out of the standings would allow UCLA, if the Bruins got that far, to avoid California until the tournament final. That would mean two chances for the Bears to get knocked off by someone else. It also means the Bruins would have favorable match-ups after the USC game (assuming UCLA wins that game). The Bruins would face a very beatable Arizona team, and after that would face UDub (who the Bruins will have just beaten), Wazzu or Oregon State.

However, the Bruins must take care of business against the Huskies first and that will be no easy task.

When facing the Huskies in February in Seattle, the Bruins had the game essentially won with a 10-point lead with about six minutes left. That's when UCLA started to try and drain the clock and UDub Coach Lorenzo Romar went to a zone defense. The result was a general collapse by the Bruins that led to a two-point Husky win (another of the winnable games the Bruins have found a way to lose this season).

Coach Howland and the Bruins can expect to see the Huskies go zone again, at least some of the time. The Bruins destroyed the Wazzu zone in a 32-point victory over the Cougars and the Cougars played a great deal of zone. However, the length of the Husky roster across the board makes their zone potentially much more effective. If UCLA shoots from the arc on Saturday as they did on Thursday then Washington will have to play man defense and the Bruins will probably win. Being able to run an effective zone offense will be one of the most significant keys to this game.

The Husky roster is more talented than UCLA's, but while it is populated with pretty good and long athletes, they have a very average individual and collective basketball IQ. In fact, the Bruins can be downright brilliant in terms of seeing the court and knowing time and score compared to the Huskies.

Washington's strength is clearly in its backcourt and on the wings. Romar can call on four players to man the three guard/wing spots on the floor in junior point guard Abdul Gaddy (6'3" 185 lbs.), sophomores Terrence Ross (6'6" 195 lbs.) and C.J. Wilcox (6'5" 185 lbs.), and freshman Tony Wroten (6'5" 205 lbs.). Ross is probably the most complete player of the three and simply killed the Bruins in the second half in Seattle. The key with Ross is to not let him get in a scoring groove. Tyler Lamb and Norman Powell are going to have to deal with Ross if Howland goes exclusively with a man defense.

Wilcox is a deadly shooter (over 40% from the three-point line on the season), but he's been falling off quite a bit since his injury. He was 0-4 against the Trojans on Thursday from behind the arc. He commands the close attention of the opposition, though, which opens up the offense for the dribble penetration that Wroten and Ross like to utilize. Because Ross will have to be guarded by either Powell or Lamb, that means Wilcox will have to be guarded by Jerime Anderson, Powell or Lazeric Jones. Anderson did a good job on Wilcox in Seattle.

Wroten is the team's leading scorer at 16.3 PPG, but he is a high volume shooter who will shoot the Huskies in the foot with his shot selection as much as he'll help. He is also almost strictly a one-handed player who likes to go left when he drives. It is Wroten (who was benched by Romar against the Bruins last month when the Huskies made their run) that is the primary reason why UCLA and Howland should at least think about playing a zone defense for parts of the game. Wroten shoots less than 20% from behind the arc.

Up front, Romar primarily rotates three players for two spots. The obvious one is center Aziz N'Diaye (7' 260 lbs.) because of his shot-blocking ability and his rebounding. The other two are senior Darnell Gant (6'8" 230 lbs.) and freshman Desmond Simmons (6'7" 220 lbs.).

N'Diaye is a difficult match-up when an opponent is on offense. The best way to deal with him is to take the ball straight at him, as UCLA's Josh Smith did in Seattle. This gets N'Diaye in foul trouble and keeps him from being a factor. The other thing with N'Diaye is that when he looks like he may score, foul him. He is one of the worst free-throw shooters in the country on a high-major team. He's at 38% from the charity stripe.

Gant is the more dangerous of the two remaining frontcourt players because he's tough, he'll play good defense, can score with his back to the basket and can hit the occasional three (although against UCLA he seems to make more long distance shots than at any other time in the season). He is definitely the "glue guy" on the squad and UCLA doesn't have a player in either Wear brother who can guard him unless they play with the kind of collective energy or movement they did against Wazzu on Thursday.

Simmons was the starter at the four and gets about 20 MPG but he is in the line-up because of his athleticism and his ability to play post defense. If Simmons were to be the primary shooter for the Huskies on Saturday then Howland would be ecstatic.

In spite of the athleticism that Washington does possess, they also don't possess an innate ability to see the floor properly in many instances, at either end. They tend to be a very emotional team as illustrated by the fact that they are very tough to beat at home and are nothing more than mediocre on the road.

The zone offense for UCLA will be key. If the Bruins get the kind of ball movement they got against Wazzu, then they'll get open shots. If Smith is healthy (and the kid gets fired up to play the Huskies), then he should be doing the kind of things he was doing before he hurt his leg against the Cougars, including setting screens and taking up space as an offensive threat.

This game actually may come down to emotion, and the Bruins certainly have plenty of it considering the bad P.R. that the program and Howland received this week. There was a serious question as to how the Bruins would fare emotionally against the Cougars, and the Bruins pretty much answered that right away by basically blowing the doors off the Cougars. Perhaps this Sports Illustrated article may have actually lit something under this group of Bruins that could last through Saturday and, perhaps, longer than that.

UCLA 71
Washington 69


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