Amazingly, the game is on television.
But that shouldn't stop you from coming out to see the biggest test this 8-3 UCLA team has faced yet this season. The Huskies have a lot of talent, and a lot of athleticism.
They blew out USC Thursday night, 84-59. Perhaps their biggest win so far this season was at then-#19 Alabama in late November, 79-76.
Their only loss came on the road against Gonzaga, 99-87.
That game, actually, provides UCLA a theory on how to beat the Huskies. UCLA isn't near as talented or deep as the Zags, but their approach to Washington was to push the ball inside to their big men, since Gonzaga clearly had an advantage in the paint against Washington. That, along with some incredible shooting, and the mere fact that Washington's very talented player, Brandon Roy, was out with an injury, led to the victory.
While UCLA doesn't have the inside scoring and effectiveness Gonzaga has, they might be able to play Washington better defensively. That's the theory – on offense beat the Huskies inside and defensively play intense man-to-man and limit Washington's perimeter players. UCLA had its best defensive performance of the season against Oregon, a team that plays a similar style as Washington – a speed-ball, open-floor type of game with perimeter players having perpetual green lights while playing very little defense themselves.
The Huskies are averaging an astounding 91 points a game, which is second in the country and #1 in the Pac-10, and shooting 51.3% from the field, which also leads the conference. On the other hand, they're allowing 73.3 points per game and allowing opponents to shoot 45% from the field, which is second to last and last in the Pac-10, respectively.
Washington is led by one of the most unique players in the country, 5-9 junior shooting guard, Nate Robinson. The phrase "a freak of an athlete" gets thrown around quite a bit, but it's completely apt in describing Robinson. He's lucky, first, if he's actually 5-9. But he has eye-popping hops and quickness, combined with a good, streaky shooting touch. He'll sit out beyond the three-point arc and bomb in threes, if he so desires. He's so small and sneaky, he's hard to find coming off a screen, and he jacks it up quickly. But then he's a jet off the dribble, and will take it inside and throw down on just about anyone with his leaping ability. He also has unique body control, which allows him to adjust his body and direction instantaneously, and in the air. Robinson is one of those players that, because of his uniqueness, you tend to watch him more than the game.
He does, also, lead the team in scoring, averaging 17 points a game and shooting 45% from the three-point arc, while also averaging 5 assists per game.
Robinson, though, is on a bit of cold streak, averaging just 9 points per game in his last six. He's really been struggling with his outside shot, particularly.
Probably the most probable NBA player on the squad is Brandon Roy, the 6-6 junior small forward. Roy missed almost a month of the season in November/December after surgery to repair a torn knee ligament. He now has been back for four games, and isn't quite the same yet, still coming off the bench for Washington. In the first two games of the season he averaged 24 points, and in his last four back, just 10. When healthy, he has the best first step in the Pac-10, and probably is the best slasher type in the west.
With Roy not 100% and with Robinson struggling a bit, the guy that has stepped up and carried Washington is 6-5 senior guard Tre Simmons. Simmons, like both Robinson and Roy, is an exceptional athlete, whose skills have really developed nicely. Simmons averages almost 17 points a game and 5.3 rebounds, and is shooting a fantastic 51% from three. He's particularly dangerous since opposing teams concentrate so much on containing Robinson that Simmons beats you.
Bobby Jones, the 6-6, 200 pound junior, starts really in place of a true power forward, similar to UCLA's Dijon Thompson. Jones is another very good athlete and a very good defender, who uses quickness to score around the basket, averaging 12 points and 6 rebounds per game.
Starting at the point guard position is one of the quickest guards in the conference, 6-1 senior Will Conroy. The former walk-on really has proven himself during his Husky career, leading the league this season in assists per game, 7.2, while averaging 10 points. He is tough in transition with his ability to get out and lead the break, and his quickness is tough to contain in the halfcourt.
The only true post player Washington starts is 6-8 junior Mike Jensen. Jensen is talented but has never realized his potential, seemingly lacking the fire and toughness. He has played well lately, averaging 15.5 points in his last two games. He's a post who would rather shoot threes than mix it up physically inside.
Washington's approach is to run you into the ground, and they do so with those first six players, and then a continuing wave of running, gunning athletes.
Jamaal Williams, the junior transfer from New Mexico, gets the most minutes off the bench besides Roy, and he has proven to be a huge asset for the Huskies this season. He's a 6-5 power forward, which might not sound imposing, but with his quickness and athleticism he's killed bigger, slower defenders this season. He's very tough in the paint, able to get up quickly for rebounds and quick jump hooks, averaging 10 points and 5 boards a game.
Joel Smith is another 6-5 athlete, with long arms and some good springs. He is two years older than what he should be as a freshman and is pretty physically developed. He plays 14 minutes off the bench and provides Washington little drop-off in athleticism.
6-7, 220-pound center Hakeem Rollins provides the starters a breather. Rollins is a big body without much of an offense, called on to be a physical defender in the post. Hans Gasser, a 6-9 sophomore post, also comes off the bench.
Washington has, though, so many 6-5ish athletes that you tend to lose track of them. There's Roy, Simmons, Jones, Williams and Smith, and sometimes they almost feel interchangeable with how quickly they're shuffled in and out of the game. Add Robinson and Conroy to the mix and you seemingly have a blur of athletic bodies, which Washington head coach and former UCLA assistant Lorenzo Romar intends, trying to keep them all rested, fresh and able to run and gun for 40 minutes. Six Huskies average double figures in points per game, while ten of them average double figures in minutes played per game.
While Washington has so many bodies flying around on offense, though, they tend to forget to play defense. They admit it, though, and take the approach that they're going to out-score you rather than shut you down.
It presents an interesting situation for UCLA. You would have thought that UCLA, which lacks great athletes and depth, would struggle against the athletic, run-and-gun type of team. But UCLA did well defensively against Oregon, a team with a similar style. Washington's talent is on another level from Oregon, but UCLA's defenders do better defending individuals rather than well-executed offenses.
The Bruins, actually, match up overall better than you might think against Washington. Washington's athleticism, especially their quickness on the perimeter, will be tough for UCLA to defend. But Washington likes to use Jones and Williams, two 6-5ish guys, as power forwards, to out-quick bigger, slower defenders. UCLA, though, is doing essentially the same thing, with Thompson playing the four primarily, so he'll match up better against them. Plus, Washington doesn't have much to defend Michael Fey, or Ryan Hollins, with Jensen not a great post defender.
More than likely UCLA doesn't have the bodies to stay with Washington. Losing Janou Rubin for the season, actually, hurts the Bruins here, since he was one more fresh defender on the perimeter UCLA could have utilized. But given the actual matchups, UCLA does have a chance here, especially if they play the type of defense they did against Oregon, getting back in transition and closing out on perimeter shooters quickly. And, if they can get their inside scoring game going with Fey and Hollins, it could be a game.