Bruins Throttle Cougars, 50-30

A complete defensive effort by UCLA allows the Bruins to hold Washington State to 27% shooting from the field in a 50-30 win over the Cougars, the 20th win of the season for the Bruins.

13th-ranked UCLA (13th in the AP Poll, that is; 12th according to ESPN) won its 20th game of the season and improved its Pac-10 best record to 10-2 by beating Washington State 50-30 in Pullman Thursday night. This marks the first time that the Bruins have reached the 20-win plateau since the 2001-2002 season and is all the more remarkable in light of the numerous injuries the team has suffered this year.

WSU is known for its defense and deliberate pace, but it was the Bruins who displayed both as they controlled the tempo and the game from start to finish. UCLA ran out to a 14-0 lead in the opening 4:09 of the game and the contest was essentially over at that point. I'm not sure I've ever seen a game end so quickly, but with the Bruins playing truly smothering defense combined with WSU's complete inability to push the pace, the remainder of the match simply became a question of the final score.

Jordan Farmar, playing on a gimpy ankle, was in charge throughout, leading the Bruin attack with 20 points, 15 in the second half. He did commit 5 turnovers, and had zero assists, a statistical oddity which may be a precedent in Pac-10 play never to be equaled by another point guard. Jordan knocked down a 3 early in the game, but scored the rest of his points on beautiful drives to the basket using a seemingly endless series of high screens set by Ryan Hollins, Ryan Wright, Luc Richard Mbah A Moute and Alfred Aboya to penetrate into the lane at will. Although Farmar, and the Bruins, had their careless moments, the game in general was a masterful display of discipline and commitment to the system preached by Head Coach Ben Howland, who has turned UCLA into a precise machine, at least for 32 out of every 40 minutes.

After the 15:51 mark of the first half, the two teams alternated great defense, deliberate offense and some careless play to generate a further 12 points apiece through the final 16 minutes leading up to halftime. The Cougars' only effective player on the offensive end of the floor was 6-10 250 FR Aron Baynes, who led the way for his team with 6 points in the half and 10 points and 8 rebounds for the game. Arron Afflalo scored a team-leading 9 points for UCLA at the end of the first 20 minutes of play. All of Afflalo's points came off drives into the lane as WSU denied him the open look from 3. UCLA shot 50% for the first half while limiting Washington State to 26% from the floor. The Bruins also out rebounded the Cougars 18-10.

The second half continued the deliberate, almost hypnotizing, but never quite boring, pace of the first half. Each team managed a grand total of 6 points apiece 8 minutes into the last portion of the game. With UCLA up 32-18, Farmar, who had 5 points up until then, went to work, coming off those high screens to repeatedly dribble past his man and attack the basket with abandon. Neither Baynes nor 6-10 SO Robbie Cowgill presented any kind of defensive obstacle near the rim. UCLA outscored WSU 16-10 over a stretch of 8:39 to boost its lead to 48-28 with just 3:02 left. The Bruins focused their subsequent efforts on dribbling out the clock while some of WSU's lesser-known players tried their hand at wild jumpers until the game ended.

Neither analysis nor stats are really useful or necessary at this point. The Bruins are just a lot more talented than the Cougars, and probably better coached, and the end result was perhaps as predictable as the sunrise. As noted, Farmar led the way for UCLA with 20 points, plus 4 rebounds. Afflalo added 12 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists and no turnovers, and his defense on high-scoring Josh Akognon was excellent throughout the game. Akognon, who has previously lit up the Bruins, was limited to a single field goal in each half and finished with just 4 points. Of course, defense is a team game, and UCLA's compliment of post players, the aforementioned Hollins, Wright, Mbah A Moute and Aboya, did a superb job of stepping up on high picks to cut off Akognon's efforts to shake Afflalo and launch his normally deadly outside jumper.

Cedric Bozeman had 4 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists for UCLA and along with Mbah A Moute did yeoman's work on Cowgill, forcing the taller player to shoot 1-11 from the floor (these are my stats, not the official stats). Mbah A Moute again led the Bruins in rebounding, grabbing 7 boards to go with his 4 points. Alfred Aboya also scored 4 points and added 3 rebounds as he played a very strong all-around game once again. Aboya appears to have elevated his level of play in the last couple of weeks, which could prove critical to the Bruins' chances of winning the Pac-10 title. Ryan Hollins had 6 rebounds and 2 steals to go with 2 points, but he was pushed around a lot by Baynes and unable to finish around the basket. Ryan Wright had 2 points and 2 rebounds, but was equally hapless against the bigger Australian, and UCLA's weakness in the middle should continue to be a point of concern for Howland, at least against Cal and Stanford.

Darren Collison and Mike Roll both saw ample time against the Cougars. Both players looked tentative on offense, making unforced turnovers, but both contributed mightily on defense and hustled throughout. DC got 2 points, an assist and a steal; MR grabbed 3 rebounds and also registered a steal. In a game like this, stats trend lower and don't do much for a player's averages even as they add to the team's win total. Mike Fey got into the game. I can offer no more positive comment on his play.

Besides Baynes, WSU had no heroes. Cowgill got 4 points and 7 rebounds for his troubles. Kyle Weaver dished off 4 assists to go with 2 points and 3 rebounds. Caleb Forest banked in a long jumper and registered 4 points. Nobody else on this team would make the Bruins' varsity squad. WSU shot just 27.5% from the field for the game, compared to 45% for UCLA. A disparity of talent was never so apparent, and you can credit Ben Howland and his team for making that happen by sticking to the game plan in a fashion which would have been unimaginable during the years of the Lavin Gulag. The Bruins are for real, and it's now up to the rest of the Pac-10 to reach beyond themselves to try and pull of the upset, because any loss by UCLA during the remainder of the conference season would be just that: An upset. The Bruins are the best team in the conference, with an emphasis on "team."

Meanwhile, Arizona struggled to beat Oregon in Tucson.

The King is dead. Long live the new King.

Bring on Washington.

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