The Huskies were 5-3 and looking respectable a couple of weeks ago, with a win over a pretty good San Diego State team. Then came the Pac-10, and three straight Pac-10 losses, to California, Stanford and USC. In Seattle, that has put pressure on head coach Lorenzo Romar and the Huskies to get their first Pac-10 win. Romar, the ex-UCLA assistant, is facing some criticism in just his second year. After a 10-17 first season, and a 9th-place finish in the Pac-10, he's feeling some heat in Seattle, especially since the cupboard isn't bare. So, Washington will be hungry to get this win, and UCLA is a team that could have expended quite a bit of energy squeaking out a grinder of a win against Washington State Thursday and traveling across a snowed-in state of Washington, and could be ripe for the picking.
Washington has stuck with the same starting five for the last five games or so, and it would be a surprise if they changed it up for UCLA, but it's a possibility. The lineup is a fairly small one, featuring just one player over 6-7, and only one that weighs over 200 pounds. And it happens to be the same guy, 6-8, 240-lb. sophomore forward/center Mike Jensen. Jensen hasn't yet really busted out and lived up to expectation, coming to Washington as a fairly big prospect. He has very good skills, and is able to post up and shoot from the outside, and is ambidextrous, able to go either way and with either hand well, but is only averaging six points and four rebounds a game in 20 minutes, being taken out for defensive purposes. He's coming off his best game of the season against USC and one of the best of his career, with 11 points and 8 rebounds. He also hit two of three three-pointers.
At the other forward position is the Southern California native, 6-6 sophomore small forward Bobby Jones. Jones is an interesting player, not doing any one thing really well offensively but playing hard and getting a lot of points in garbage and off rebounds. He leads the team in scoring, averaging 12 a game, which is surprising given all the potential scorers Washington has among its guards. He isn't really a wing, in that he can't score well from the outside, and doesn't have a great jumpshot. But he's definitely not a low-post scorer, either, sporting only a 200-lb. gangly body. He leads the team in rebounding, and gets it all done with some good athleticism and effort, taking defenders to the hole and getting fouled. He has developed a pretty good mid-range jumper. He's also one of the best defenders in the conference.
Washington then starts three guards, getting almost 30 points a game from the three collectively. The three are 6-5 sophomore Brandon Roy, 6-5 JC transfer Tre Simmons, and 6-1 junior point guard Will Conroy.
Roy is the most talented of the three, with some great athleticism and quickness. He could have one of the best first steps in the conference, and is a very good passer. He's still a little wild and needs some refinement to his game, especially to his shot, shooting just 39% from the field with a very shaky outside jumper, while still averaging 11 points a game. If he ever gets a consistent shot, and more refined ball-handling skills, he has NBA-type athleticism.
Simmons is a better perimeter player than Roy, with a better shot. He's been playing pretty well as of late, shooting the ball from the outside well. He's one of the team's best three-point shooters, and is good for probably two a game.
Will Conroy is a former walk-on who has beaten out some more-hyped players for the starting point guard position. He has very good quickness and loves to push the ball up the court. He has a solid outside jumper and can get hot from three. He has a tendency to get out of control and make poor decisions.
Washington has a pretty good bench, and can go solidly nine deep. Three of the guys who get most of the minutes off the bench have started several games this season, and very well could start against UCLA if Romar wants to shake up things a bit. 5-9 sophomore guard Nate Robinson is a speedy, athletic blur, who really is more of a shooting guard than a point guard despite his size. He, though, only has a decent jumper, but loves to use his quickness to penetrate and create. There isn't a better 5-9 finisher in the west. He could present some matchup problems for UCLA, and Ryan Walcott could be called on to provide James-Davis-type defense. Providing more speed is senior point guard Curtis Allen, who also loves to fly up the court, but who can also shoot well. He is the team's leading three-point shooter and will take at least four a game. Washington's backcourt does present a defensive challenge for UCLA, with Conroy, Allen and Robinson all exceptionally quick.
The two other players Washington uses off the bench are frontcourt guys. JC transfer Akeem Rollins averages more minutes off the bench than the starter Jensen. He is 6-7 and about 200 pounds, and is Washington's quickness option over Jensen's bulk. He and Jones will be called on to stop both T.J. Cummings and Trevor Ariza, and present some formidable potential defense. Anthony Washington, a sophomore center who is 6-9 and 245-lbs., provides some muscle off the bench. He contributed good minutes against USC, using his width effectively to score inside.
After slow-down deliberate, defensive-minded Washington State on Thursday, Washington, thankfully, is a great deal like Oregon – they like to push the ball up the court, and try to get points from its quick guards in transition. They don't shoot the ball near as well but try to take the ball to the hoop more aggressively. Defensively, they're similar (very thankfully), but even worse, giving up the most points per game in the conference, close to 80. Washington makes Oregon look disciplined defensively, and the Huskies are particularly slack defensively in the paint.
UCLA will probably have to lean heavily on Cummings to be a low-block offensive threat, and hopefully Michael Fey can provide more touches down low against the Huskies. Fey is slumping some in the last couple of games. He has to rebound better if he's going to keep minutes away from Ryan Hollins, getting only 1 total rebound in his last two games.
UCLA now has proven it's a very good defensive ballclub, and could be the best that Washington has faced yet this season. Washington is averaging 78 points a game and employs the theory of trying to outscore its opponents. It faces a UCLA team that uses the exact opposite strategy to success, beating opponents through defense. So far UCLA is 7-3 and Washington is 5-6, which says quite a bit about the opposing philosophies. Washington's offense will tend to sputter against UCLA's defense, and UCLA's offense should look a little more like it did against Oregon. Again, you have to shave off some points because of UCLA being on the road, with some fatigue setting in from traveling in poor weather conditions. It's probably worth some points that Washington will be fired up to get its first Pac-10 win, with pressure on Romar. But the game could very well be similar to the Oregon game, and probably just about as close in the end, compensating that Washington isn't near as good as Oregon but also the point-shaving elements. As stated, though, this is a very dangerous game for the Bruins, and they need to bring a solid effort, especially defensively, against the Huskies.