Bruins Blow Out Cougars

UCLA beat Washington State 76-62 last night behind a strong defensive showing in the first half and improved offensive basketball throughout the game...

After playing with overall pretty poor effort on Thursday night, UCLA bounced back with a much more high energy game on Saturday, beating Washington State 76-62. The game was marked by an impressive nine minute stretch in the first half where the Bruins held the Cougars without a single point.

That stretch was, in part, keyed by Norman Powell, who came in at around the 13 minute mark in the first half with UCLA ahead 18-15. Washington State had hit five threes up to that point, but with Powell in the game, the rotations were better, and UCLA was able to close out on shooters better, which forced the Cougars to drive into the paint, leading to several turnovers.

The Cougars, despite trying to limit possessions and slow the pace of play down, somehow managed to turn the ball over 17 times, which allowed UCLA to get out on the break with ease. This was one of the first games in a while where UCLA's defense in the paint actually looked fairly suffocating, with the Bruins getting their hands into the passing lanes to prevent any kind of ball movement out of the key.

Of course, part of what made UCLA play that hard on defense, and what keyed their energized play, is how well they shot the ball on offense. Against Washington State's really awful zone defense, the Bruins were able to get open look after open look, opening the game with easy layups against the Cougars' interior defense.

Larry Drew, who struggled against USC and ASU when the opposing point guard played off of him, did a nice job finding open shooters against the zone. Drew, also, played his second consecutive pretty active game on defense, although there were a couple of stretches of sloppiness, including a sequence where he allowed a layup, then got picked on offense, which led to an intentional foul by David Wear with about 30 seconds to go in the first half. Still, it's encouraging that he's been able to bounce back with two generally solid performances after the previous two game stretch.

Shabazz Muhammad, after playing one of his most inefficient and selfish games on offense on Thursday, was better on Saturday, shooting 50% from the field and actually looking to pass a bit more. He registered two assists, and seemed to play more within the flow of the offense. Some of that might be attributed to regaining his feel after having to sit out practices earlier this week while still recovering from the flu.

Kyle Anderson played one of his better games this season, missing just one shot and looking good on his pull up jumper. Now that Anderson and Drew have both shot well against a zone, the next step will be when the Bruins have to face a team that plays off of them again (in other words, against a coach who actually scouts UCLA). Ben Howland was certainly right: playing against a zone was a very good thing for UCLA.

Thanks to the blowout, Tony Parker and Powell both played the most minutes they've played in a while. Parker is clearly behind in his development, struggling at times on defense. Powell, again, helped to key that first half run, and also played well in the second half. Offensively, he played more within himself, not really forcing anything.

The team was fairly fatigued by the end of the game, as seems to be the case in every game with the shortened rotation. While the rebounding margin can be partially explained by the amount of time that the Cougars forced UCLA to play defense on every possession, causing fatigue, that simply can't be all of it. Despite shooting over 60% from the field, the Bruins still were outrebounded by 9, and the story was the Cougars' offensive boards. Depending on which box score you trust, Washington State had either 13 or 15 offensive rebounds, which means the Cougars got second opportunities on nearly 50% of their shots. Obviously, neither Travis nor David Wear is a naturally good rebounder, which makes it imperative that the Bruins rebound as a team.

In any case, getting the home sweep was important for keeping UCLA in the Pac-12 race. Over the next seven games, the Bruins have two full road trips, and a cross town roadie against USC. The home series against the Arizona schools isn't easy, either, with UCLA facing off against an ASU team that developed the blueprint on how to beat UCLA, along with the Pac-12 leading Arizona. You have to figure that the Bruins will have to get through the next seven games without more than one loss to have a decent shot at winning the conference.

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