14th ranked UCLA (9-2, 2-0) takes on the Washington Huskies (6-6, 0-2) for the second time in 2 weeks, only this time the game will be played at Pauley Pavilion (tonight at 7:30; TV broadcast on Fox Sports Net 2). Of course, if UCLA really wanted a home court advantage, they should have rented the Pond for this one…
The last time these two teams met, UCLA was 5-2 after coming off a close win over UC-Irvine, and the Bruins hadn't beaten UDub in Seattle in 4 years. Washington was 6-3 and Coach Bob Bender was encouraged by the play of his young, but athletic, squad with the deadly 3-point marksmanship. Since then, the Bruins have won 4 straight, and the Huskies have lost 3 straight, but it's unclear if tonight's game will be much different from the first one.
Bruin fans would like to think so. Up in Seattle, UCLA came out of the gate very slow, and Washington led at halftime, 37-30. The Bruins then pounded the Huskies inside, led by Dan Gadzuric's 23 points and 13 rebounds, and UCLA outscored Washington 55-42 in the second half.
Both teams have the same players. Well, almost. UCLA will add Ced Bozeman, its 6-6 FR PG, back into the mix tonight, reportedly for about 5 minutes per half, depending on how he plays and how he feels. Both teams have the same coaches. Obviously, both sets of players and coaches know that, so they'll try something different this time out.
To review: Washington has some vets, but the key for them is their young players. They've become one of the more athletic teams in the conference. They lead the Pac-10 in 3-point FG% and rely heavily on a long-range attack as part of their offense. They have a tendency to make too many turnovers. They will play man and matchup zone in the halfcourt, and may press.
Doug Wrenn, 6-7 SO PF (16.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg) leads the way, even though he's not a 3-point shooter. Doug is a great athlete who hurt the Bruins a lot with quick slashes into the paint inside of the matchup zone and putbacks. He had 23/7 against the Bruins in Seattle and scored 8 points off of offensive rebounds. UCLA would presumably like to do a better job of denying him the ball and keeping him off the glass. Doug got popped in the eye at St. Louis and missed practice this week, but he's expected to play tonight.
Curtis Allen, 6-0 SO PG (12.6 ppg, 4.3 apg), Errol Knight, 6-7 FR SG (8.5 ppg, 3.2 rpg), Josh Bernard, 6-5 JR SG/SF (8.0 ppg) and Grant Leep, 6-7 SR PF (8.0 ppg, 4.2 rpg) are all deadly outside shooters. UDub shot 42.1% from 3 against UCLA in Seattle. The Bruins might extend their zone or go man to man in order to better contest the Huskies' shots at the start of the game, then contract their defense if they get a lead and Washington seems to have hit a cold streak. Allen and Knight are creative penetrators who will also turn the ball over if given enough rope to hang themselves. We might see the Bruins press. Certainly, a man defense might be in order to start the game or maybe as a switch fairly early into the game.
David Dixon, 6-11 SR C (8.2 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 1.9 bpg) and Jeffrey Day, 6-9 FR PF/C (2.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 1.8 bpg) are the post players for the Huskies. Both players fouled out trying to stop Gadzilla as he stomped Seattle 2 weeks ago. I think they combined for 5 points, 5 rebounds and 10 fouls. Obviously, UCLA would like to see a repeat of that performance. Maybe the Huskies will zone a lot more tonight in order to prevent a reoccurrence of that nightmare scenario. Note: The Pac-10 has been asked by USC to suspend Day for a vicious ‘bow he threw up in Seattle. If he does get suspended, it isn't clear if it will be for tonight's game or for the game against the Trojans (the latter event seems fairer).
The Bruins pretty much demolished the Husky defense up north in the second half. Bender and his team have to figure out a way to prevent that from happening. The Bruins are not a running or fast-paced team; they scored 55 points because they just produced so many high percentage shots and drew so many fouls (stopping the clock) that they seemed like a machine late in the game. Besides Dan's performance, the Bruins got 19 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists from Jason Kapono, 17 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists from Billy Knight, 12 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists from Matt Barnes and 10 points and 2 rebounds from TJ Cummings. Sound familiar? The Bruins have been firing on all cylinders lately on offense, and the Huskies have their work cut out for them.
I think the Huskies will try to control the pace of the game and slow it down, going deep into the shot clock on offense. They will mix defenses, like in Seattle, and hope UCLA comes out slowly. They will try and exploit their advantage from behind the arc to make their limited possessions more valuable than the Bruins'. Of course, Bender is going for a high-powered, fast-paced type of team, so maybe I'm nuts and he'll just let these young men run wild.
On the other side, UCLA seems to play slow as well as they play fast; maybe better, but only if they are taking care of the ball and showing patience on offense and not forcing their shots up too quickly (it isn't a coincidence that UCLA's biggest margins of victory this season have come in some of their lowest-scoring games, just like last season). I also think UCLA will extend their defenses somewhat, hoping to get a hand up on UDub's shooters and possibly using the press to both force some turnovers and encourage the Huskies to take some hurried shots, but I don't see UCLA rushing the ball down the floor the other way. Matt Barnes might be more aggressive in sticking with Doug Wrenn man to man. UDub will respond by trying to get the ball inside to Dixon and Day and see if they can get Dan in foul trouble.
Prediction: UCLA 80, Washington 64.