UDub has been a Sweet 16 team when they've knocked off the Bruins, and they've been a 20-game loser when they've knocked off the Bruins. In other words, there's no rhyme or reason to these games, the Huskies just play really well against UCLA in Seattle. Hopefully, Steve Lavin and his veteran players are going to be especially motivated by that fact…
The Huskies are led by local big dog Doug Wrenn, an allegedly 6-8 220 SO PF. Doug has been 6-6 as long as I've known him, which is since his SO year of high school. Doug has usually been in some sort of spat, and it's no different these days, as he's been consigned coming off the bench for the game against UCLA after using unnecessary roughness against his teammates in practice. When he's not being bad, Doug's being good, averaging 16.6 ppg and 6.2 rpg, mostly on slashes to the basket and post-up moves. He's a good ballhandler and passer, but lacks the consistent jumper to play wing, at least so far. He's a tough, above-the-rim player who can really hurt a team inside, but then UCLA is playing a zone. We'll see if his benching affects his play. I doubt it. I've never met any coach who can communicate with him yet, so why should Bob Bender be any different?
Washington leads the Pac-10 in 3-point FG% at 44.5%, but Gonzaga's 1-2-2 matchup zone made the Huskies look like pups, and UDub has played a mediocre schedule this season (though Butler is a very good team). Curtis Allen, 6-0 SO PG, is hitting 45.7% of his 3s as he averages 12.8 ppg and 4.3 apg. His 1.3/1 A/TO ration reflects a Husky weakness: They make a lot of mistakes, unforced and otherwise (17.2 turnovers per game). Grant Leep, 6-7 SR PF (8.0 ppg, 4.1 rpg) shoots an unreal 66.7% from 3. That will change as the Pac-10 season gets underway, but Grant is an excellent outside shooter and someone on UCLA will have to be aware of where he is at all times. He's a solid player fundamentally, but an average athlete who can be guarded and kept off the boards by Matt Barnes and anyone else on UCLA who's looking for PT.
Errol Knight, 6-7 FR SG/SF (7.7 ppg, 3.1 rpg) and Josh Bernard, 6-5 SO SG/SF (7.1 ppg, 2.3 rpg) continue the 3-point assault for UDub. Errol (pronounced "Earl") was recruited by both UCLA and Arizona, and he's a very exciting player, a great athlete with excellent wing skills. He is right up there with Childress and Thompson as a promising freshman wing in the Pac-10. He was limited by an injured ankle early in the year, so we haven't seen his best play yet. Josh is a JC transfer who, like Doug, Curtis, Grant and Errol, played his h.s. ball in the state of Washington (Bender is taking over recruiting in the state with a vengeance, though Gonzaga remains his bete noir). Errol is hitting 42.9 of his 3s, Josh is hitting 45% of his 3s. Josh is easier to guard than Errol. UCLA's ability to maintain continuous close pressure on UDub's shooters will be a key to this game. No, it will be the key to this game.
Up front, David Dixon, 6-11 280 SR C (9.2 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 2.4 rpg) lost 50 pounds from last year and has become a much more mobile player and a solid all-around post man and tough shotblocker as a result. He might even make the NBA with that huge body of his. He's got a decent turnaround jumper, which is more than Gadzuric has, but if Gadzuric is aggressive and physical, he can keep Dixon off the glass and limit his touches. Jeffrey Day, 6-9 FR PF/C (3.0 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 1.8 bpg) is a very athletic 240-pounder with a world of promise. He's already given the Huskies another shotblocker underneath the hoop and he should develop into a starter in the not-so-distant future. He's really playing out of position in the low post, but with 6-10 SR C Marlon Shelton and promising 6-8 FR PF Mike Jensen out for the season with injuries, he's doing what his team needs him to do.
CJ Massingale, 6-4 SO SG (5.9 ppg) and Will Conroy, 6-0 FR PG (2.8 ppg, 1.3 rpg) complete the Huskies' bench, though CJ will start Thursday night in place of Doug. Again, both players hail from Washington, and Will is actually from Seattle (Garfield), as is Doug (O'Dea). CJ is a terrific athlete who just hasn't found his shot or position yet in college. He torched UCLA for 25 down at Pauley last year, so he can get hot from the outside. He's also one of the few players on this team who can penetrate effectively, so his chance start tonight could prove fortuitous for Washington. Will is a cat-quick little guard who sometimes plays out of control. His speed sometimes works for the Huskies and sometimes it works against them. In the future, it will work more and more for them, as Bender is recruiting a much more athletic team than he's had in the past.
Washington runs a motion offense that depends heavily on getting open looks from 3, isolation matchups for Curtis, Doug and Errol, and Doug's presence inside with David in the paint to take pressure off the wings and guards when the defenses become too extended. Gonzaga stuck with an aggressive 1-2-2 and shut down the Huskies' outside attack while eliminating their interior offense as well. However, UCLA doesn't have two mobile, physical guys like Zach Gourde and Corey Violette inside, and they don't have as much quickness as Gonzaga does up top. So, UCLA will try to use size to take the place of quickness when they play Washington. We'll see if it works. UCLA's post players just don't execute the zone part of the matchup zone like Gonzaga's big men do. Until they come close, UCLA won't really be a top 20 team.
Defensively, UDub mixes things up, but they, too, play a 1-2-2 matchup zone mostly, though they will also play straight zone and a very soft man that sags inside. The Huskies make a lot of mistakes on offense, and they're one of the worst rebounding teams in the conference, so they usually have to make the most of their limited possessions. They don't cause many turnovers because their defense just isn't that aggressive or quick. Their defense is soft. Or it has been so far this year.
In other words, UCLA ought to be able to score against Washington. Everything will come down to whether Washington can score against UCLA. Gonzaga and Butler presented the Huskies with two tough jump shooters, and Washington proved unequal to the task. We will see if anyone can keep track of Jason Kapono (22 ppg, 58.1% from 3) and Billy Knight (13 ppg, 48.3% from 3) (and Dijon Thompson, 7.1 ppg, 33.3 from 3, and Matt Barnes, 9.5 ppg, 37.5% from 3) on the perimeter. More importantly, the Huskies have been really beaten up inside in their losses. Matt Barnes is supposed to either start or come off the bench against UDub, but he will have to give the Bruins some tough play inside for UCLA to win. This seems like the perfect time for Dan Gadzuric to emerge from his cocoon, but he's more moth than butterfly, so I'm not getting my hopes up. That leaves it up to TJ Cummings and Andre Patterson. If one of those guys can step it up inside, and if UCLA's zone allows them to keep a hand in the face of Washington's J-shooters, UCLA will win this game. It's really that simple. UCLA shoots as well as Washington does, with Jason at the point they will likely have the advantage in turnover margin; if they can get the advantage in rebound margin, they will get the possession advantage to win, even if UDub goes ape against them like they've done for the last 4 years in Seattle. Predicting UCLA to win in Seattle is probably the most idiotic thing I can do.
So I'm an idiot.
Prediction: UCLA 84, Washington 81