#19 UCLA (6-2, 1-0) takes the bus from Pocatello to Pullman Saturday morning (they flew from Seattle to Pocatello on Friday) in order to take on the Washington State Cougars (4-4) Saturday at noon (Fox Sports Net is carrying the broadcast).
The Cougars are at .500 this year. But their 4 wins are against Prairie View, Arkansas Pine-Bluff, Texas Pan-American and Idaho. WSU has the worst FG% defense in the Pac-10. They're also one of the worst rebounding teams in the league (7th). They're 8th in FG% and FT% and 6th in 3%. Their long-armed, quick athletes have caused a lot of bad teams to turn the ball over 18.9 times per game (they take a lot of risks in their defense), but the good teams have done the same to them and they're averaging 16.1 turnovers per game for the season. In short, WSU is the worst team in the conference.
If that doesn't give UCLA enough incentive to win this game, they have to spend Saturday night in Pullman before catching a connecting flight back to Spokane and then on to LA on Sunday. Imagine having to stay in Pullman, Washington on a Saturday night after losing a game to WSU…
Now, WSU has some good players. Redondo Union's/Dominguez's Marcus Moore, 6-6 180 SO PG (14.1 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 6.0 apg, 3.1 spg, 2.2/1 A/TO ratio, 34.8% from 3) is one of the best PGs in the Pac-10 (though don't tell any UCLA fans that, because of course 6-6 guys can't play PG). Marcus is a very creative, exciting player who's really improved his outside jumper. He'll put on some Magic-like moves and WSU likes to isolate Marcus and several other players in their offense and just let them do their thing. Marcus's thing can be quite dazzling at times. Jerry McNair, 6-2 183 JR SG (14.2 ppg, 1.2 spg, 41.5% from 3) sometimes starts and sometimes comes off the bench as the 6th man. He can really shoot it, and with his quickness he's hard to guard and match up with. Mike Bush, 6-6 200 SR SG (9.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 2.1 spg) is back from the football team and still trying to find his jumper, but he can slash and score and he's also a pretty good one-on-one player. Both Marcus and Mike have long arms and they love to pick off passes or just pick pockets in WSU's man d.
Jay Locklier, 6-9 240 SR C (13.4 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 51.4% from the field) is the rock in the middle for the Cougars. He's a pretty mobile player with sound post fundamentals and moves. He has to stay out of foul trouble, and that limits him somewhat defensively. He's a very good rebounder who doesn't get the numbers for the same reason. The problem is, there's not much behind him. Former Compton High player Milton Riley, 6-7 215 JR PF (5.6 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 1.4 bpg) seemed poised to have a breakout year after really improving last season, but it's been hack city with Milton (4.2 fouls in 20 mpg) and he's been in and out of the lineup both literally and figuratively. Tom Kelati, 6-5 175 FR SG/SF (3.5 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 31.6% from 3), from Walla Walla, Washington, has been playing out of position a lot, and Cedric Hughey, 6-6 195 JR SF (3.4 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 33.3% from 3) has been doing the same. These are a couple of athletic wing players who hopefully won't have to go up against the likes of Sam Clancy and Luke Walton too much in the future. But this year, they might be out of luck. If Dan gets Locklier in foul trouble, they might be guarding a guy who can actually injure them just by bumping into them.
More starters, in and out of the lineup: Justin Lyman, 6-5 185 JR SG (8.6 ppg) is another JC transfer who came in with a rep as a shooter. So far, he's been shooting it okay at 34%, but he's at 32.8% overall and has to get better. Another guy with a great name, Shaminder Gill, 6-7 220 FR PF, is a Canadian banger (2.4 ppg, 2.0 rpg) who's also not ready to start, but he's been starting some anyway. So, Coach Paul Graham has definitely upgraded the depth and athleticism of this team, but with Mike playing football and Milton fouling anything that moves, he hasn't been getting the level of veteran play he was probably counting on, and his youngsters are a lot more raw than the newcomers on the rest of the Pac-10 teams.
Coach Graham was Eddie Sutton's right-hand man at Oklahoma State for a long time. How did he end up in Pullman? His motion is a lot like what Sutton uses, a lot of isolation matchups on the wings in addition to the usual work of having your screeners free up the J shooters or getting a pick and roll or iso situation for Locklier inside off a pick. In some ways, the Cougs play a lot like Lavin's first two teams at UCLA, with slashers like Bailey and COB and JR, but with not nearly the same level of talent. Defensively, WSU goes man to man. Usually. What they'll do if Gadzuric starts getting some early dunks and Locklier picks up some early fouls is anybody's guess.
UCLA might attack WSU like they attacked Washington, by taking it inside as much as possible and by feeding Gadzuric as much as possible. Score a knockout on Locklier and these guys have no chance. WSU, like UDub, has some tall, athletic wings, but they're less interested in playing team defense than the UDub guys if they don't pick off a steal for a glamour play at the other end. Bush is particularly guilty of this, but he is a fb player and he'll be guarding Jason on Saturday, so maybe he'll come up with a great performance. He certainly has the individual size and athleticism to give Jason a hard time if basketball was a one-on-one game. But it's not. Besides which, Jason has become a pretty good one-on-ne guy himself. If UCLA runs their offense and keeps a hand up on Marcus and Jerry McNair, they ought to win this game by double-digits. WSU will make too many turnovers and they won't shoot 40% from 3 and UCLA should outrebound them and shoot over 50%, even if they lose focus and make too many turnovers themselves.
Prediction: UCLA 70, Washington State 55