Will It Be the End for the Bruins?

UCLA takes on Washington in the first-round of the Pac-10 tournament today at the Staples Center. The Huskies are hot, having won 12 of their last 13 conference games, with the one loss against UCLA. Will U-Dub beat UCLA and prove to the world it belongs in the NCAA tourney?

Playing a team three times during the season gets you pretty familiar with them.

But it would be very unlikely if UCLA (11-16, 7-11) saw the same Washington Husky (17-10, 12-6) team they did in their two regular-season matchups.

It's been just about two months since Washington has lost to any other Pac-10 team but UCLA, winning its last 12 of 13 conference games. This is a team that finished second in the conference, beat Arizona twice and finished the season with a fairly easy upset victory of then-#1 Stanford. But the Bruins swept them this season.

Now, that begs the question: Is Washington just a great matchup for UCLA -- or is Washington extremely improved since it faced the Bruins February 7th?

The explanation might be a combination of a few different factors.

While Washington is a talented and athletic team, UCLA does tend to match up fairly well against them. Their guards and wings are quick, but generally smaller than those of Arizona. While the Bruins might not be able to keep them in front of them defensively, UCLA's length has enabled them to defend them pretty well in their two games. Inside, Washington's bigs, Mike Jensen and Anthony Washington, aren't as tall as UCLA's, and they aren't the real banger types, so UCLA's duo of centers, Ryan Hollins and Mike Fey, have generally been able to keep them off the boards.

UCLA, though, played two of its best games against the Huskies this year, shooting over 50% for both games and out-rebounding them by a total of ten boards. As has been the case for much of the season, when T.J. Cummings has a good game, so do the Bruins, and he had two of his best conference games against Washington, registering a double-double in each. In the game at Pauley, he scored 14 points in the first half, hitting all seven of his shots before halftime. Michael Fey, a Washington native, had his two best games against Washington in conference play, totaling 22 points in the two games.

Washington, on the other hand, has played two mediocre games against UCLA. Its hot-shooting perimeter players were cold, shooting about 42% combined for two games. A team that has four players averaging double figures in scoring only had one player in double figures against UCLA in Los Angeles, Brandon Roy (he got 30). Nate Robinson, Will Conroy and Tre Simmons went a combined 6 for 26 from the field.

It would be against the odds if UCLA could keep all-Pac-10 guard Robinson quiet again this time around. The tremendous 5-8 athlete has continued to refine his game, be under more control, with a more consistent jumper. Tre Simmons, the 6-5 junior sixth man, has been on a roll, averaging 17 points a game in his last four games, while hitting ten threes in that span. UCLA can't match the talent level of Brandon Roy, who is the Huskies' leading scorer. Generally, though, Washington has been successful with a balanced offensive attack, with five players in double-digit scoring in each of their last four games. It's truly a case where a different player will beat you on any given night.

Washington, though, tends to play pretty lax defense, and for the season, when an opponent plays poor defense, UCLA usually does well against them. With UCLA's defense able to keep most offenses limited, when UCLA's offense faces a slack defense, it gets the open looks it needs to score. UCLA's players can't create or penetrate well, and are dependent on jumpers. When a defense has been lazy in defending UCLA's shooters, like Washington did in the first half of the second matchup against Cummings, UCLA's offense has produced.

The factor, though, that we haven't seen in the two matchups between UCLA and Washington this year is post-season motivation. You have UCLA in one corner, who has shown a penchant for folding, and could very well be resigned to having their season over. Then you have Washington in the other corner, who wants to make it clear in everyone's mind they belong in the NCAA tournament. That's a lot of contrary motivation, and it most likely is ultimately the deciding factor in this game.

Washington 81

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