If UCLA had won that game, and if it wins this game, it would, so to speak, put them over the hump in terms of enough credibility to possibly get them consideration for a top 25-national ranking. It would also go a very long way toward securing an NCAA bid, barring any late-season meltdown.
Washington is 18-3 and 8-2 in the conference and atop the Pac-10. They are also 12-0 on the season at home. In fact, their average margin of victory at home has been 24 points this season, and 20 points per game in Pac-10 games at home.
Washington is just all around tough to beat at home. You combine their usual frenetic pace with the hometown fans and the energy, and it's pretty difficult for opposing teams to weather.
UCLA was, actually, the last team to beat the Huskies in Seattle, when they did last January in overtime. That was 20 games ago.
Really, the only thing UCLA gets out of that win is a far more motivated Washington team, compounded since UCLA beat them at Pauley Pavilion a month ago. It was UCLA's 19th-straight win in Pauley Pavilion over the Huskies, with the Bruins having won seven of the last eight matchups on either court between the two schools. It's generally not good to be the nemesis of a hungry team that's better than you, playing on their home court where they have yet to be defeated all season.
UCLA doesn't really have the opportunity to catch Washington off-guard, in other words.
In fact, it appears that Washington is getting in shape to make that stretch run during the final third of their season to compete for a high NCAA tournament seed. They are hungry to keep it going, and to get the UCLA monkey off their backs.
Washington's team hasn't changed much since UCLA played against them at Pauley. They still like to throw waves of athletes at you on defense, and get as many easy baskets in transition as possible while shooting from any slightly good look from three.
What has changed a bit is Tre Simmons, the 6-6 senior small forward, has continued to step up and be the leader of the team. 5-9 guard Nate Robinson was kind of the point man, as opposed to the point guard, previously, but Simmons' consistency has made him the Huskies' real go-to guy. He leads the team in scoring, averaging 17 points per game, and 5.5 rebounds. You can see Simmons is now confident that any shot he's going to put up is going in, and he won't hesitate to shoot. He made six threes against USC on Thursday, on 14 three-point attempts.
Robinson is still a huge challenge defensively for the Bruins, with some of the best athleticism every stuffed into a 5-9 frame.
Perhaps the other change in the Huskies since we last saw them is the further emergence of 6-5 power forward Jamaal Williams. Williams has scored in double figures in six of his last seven games, while still just averaging about 16 minutes per game. Williams, in other words, is really producing when he's in the game, kind of a little bit quicker, but not quite as strong version of Jeff Varem. Williams, though, is a little easier to guard for UCLA's 205-pound power forward Dijon Thompson, with Williams outweighing him by just 20 pounds instead of 30.
The other usual Washington suspects are about the same as they were – Robinson, Brandon Roy, Will Conroy, Bobby Jones and Mike Jensen. Jensen was the guy who killed UCLA in that first half in Pauley Pavilion, hitting three threes to help Washington go up by 21 points before UCLA mounted its comeback. Jensen hasn't shot like that before or since.
The biggest factor for UCLA staying in the game, again, is defense. And against Washington it's transition defense. The Huskies get a ton of points in transition, and for UCLA to stay in the game they'll have to limit that production. If you can keep Washington in a half-court game, and make them execute their offense, they're generally not disciplined enough to do it for 40 minutes.
On offense, UCLA needs to one very basic thing, which is limit its turnovers, since that's what then leads to transition baskets for Washington while taking away much-needed UCLA possessions.
Like it did in L.A., Washington should show UCLA some full-court pressure to force UCLA into turnovers. You can also probably expect to see some zone, since UCLA's shooters for some reason have not been able to hit open shots in a zone compared to open shots against a man-to-man.
UCLA, to win, will have to stay in this game from the beginning. It's highly unlikely the Bruins would be able to mount another 20+-point comeback in Seattle.
Mentally, you'd have to give the edge to Washington. With the blow-out win against USC on Thursday, they're off to their best start in 29 years. They're drooling for another chance at those thorn-in-the-side Bruins. UCLA, on the other hand, might already feel content that it guaranteed a split on the Washington trip by beating WSU Thursday night. It will be a good test for this generally young UCLA team, to see if they can get up for this game and stay focused and intense, especially on defense.