Washington Game Preview

While #1 UCLA might need that wake-up call loss to kick its game into high gear this season, the game against Washington on Sunday at Pauley Pavilion probably won't be it since there are many factors in the match-up that favor the Bruins...

The BRO game review on Friday spoke of how the Bruins may need to lose a game in order to get the "wake-up call" that so many think is necessary for the Bruins to kick their game into high gear. That may be true, and the coming trip to Eugene may be just that, but the game on Sunday against Washington at Pauley Pavilion actually has some very positive indicators for the Bruins.

Washington is currently ranked #14 in the country, although that should change considering they lost to USC on Thursday night. Washington coach Lorenzo Romar has been quoted in the Seattle papers as saying a 1-1 record on this road trip would be satisfactory, and the Huskies certainly have the ability and the personnel to beat the Bruins at Pauley, as they did last season.

When scouting the Huskies you have to start in the middle with super freshman Spencer Hawes (7'0" 250 lbs.). Hawes leads the Huskies in scoring at 16.2 PPG, although that's been on the upswing lately, and he is second on the team in rebounding at 5.8 RPG. Hawes and fellow post, sophomore Jon Brockman (6'7" 260 lbs.) have come to form probably the best low-post tandem in the West this season. Hawes is the more finesse player of the two, as demonstrated by his clutch three-pointer to tie the USC game on Thursday and send it into the second overtime. Hawes has an advanced offensive game, both with his back to the basket and facing it (By the way, when watching Hawes on Sunday, just imagine how good Kevin Love will be for the Bruins next season, since there are many that consider Love potentially as big of an impact player as Hawes on the college level as a freshman). Hawes can take the ball to the hoop with either hand so positioning won't be as important as quickness when guarding him. He's a 76% free throw shooter, so as a defender you'd probably be better off forcing him to hit the 12-15 foot jumper. Finally, Hawes is a pretty decent passer, having an almost 1-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. On the other hand, Brockman is a bull in a china shop. He has a nice 10-12 foot jumper, but he does his best work with his back to the basket and being very physical. He is averaging 12.1 PPG, but that is also on the upswing, and a whopping 10.2 RPG. He isn't the passer that Hawes is and tends to be a "black hole" when he receives the ball on the low block. But make no mistake; this is by far the toughest low-post match up that the Bruins have faced yet this season.

Defensively the match-ups here should be interesting. Normally Coach Howland would put Lorenzo Mata on someone with Hawes' size and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute on a player with Brockman's size. But the two Huskies' games are crying out for a switch. Mata has had trouble guarding versatile post players who can step out to the arc and hit a jumper or pass the ball well. Luc, because of his length and his quickness, actually thrives when guarding a player like that. On the flip side, Luc had trouble with Brockman, especially in the game up in Seattle, because Brockman's girth was simply too much for Luc to handle all the time. Mata would be able to keep Brockman from shouldering his way to the hoop without the benefit of a double-team, and Mata is more athletic than Brockman. Luc's quickness would be able to negate Hawes' ability to put the ball on the floor and his length, which is considerably wider that his 6'7" frame would suggest, could bother Hawes on his jumpers. On the offensive end, Luc is too quick for Brockman, so expect Romar to either have Brockman sag, forcing Luc to have to hit some mid-range shots, or have Hawes take Luc. Hawes does have 29 blocks on the season.

The wing forward position will be manned by freshman Quincy Poindexter (6'6" 200 lbs.), who was very highly regarded coming out of high school and he has done nothing to diminish that reputation. However, it appears that Pondexter is hitting a bit of a "wall" at this point in the season. He is second on the team at 14.2 PPG, but that number has been dropping rapidly. He is averaging 5.3 RPG and that number has stayed consistent. It has just been a matter of other teams now knowing what Poindexter's tendencies are and scouting him out to take them away. But, if you saw the game against USC the other night you'd have to say that Pondexter indeed looks a bit tired right now. Pondexter does average over 50% from the floor and is hitting 44% from beyond the arc, but his game is predicated on slashing to the hoop. He is a decent passer and won't always just go to the rack with his head down when he gets into the lane. He also has a nice pull-up jumper. Josh Shipp will have his hands full guarding Pondexter, but there is something to be said for Shipp's experience. Frankly, Pondexter was embarrassed by Nick Young on Thursday night. Shipp may not be in Young's category, but he is a crafty player who is stronger than the Husky freshman. But, if Pondexter gets going early then Shipp will need help, and you have to consider Shipp's sprained ankle as a factor.

At the guard positions, Romar starts sophomore Justin Dentmon (5'11" 185 lbs.), and freshman Adrian Oliver (6'3" 185 lbs.). As the point guard, Dentmon has done a nice job running the new offense for Romar. Remember, that with Brandon Roy and Bobby Jones, the Huskies had a perimeter-oriented offense. Now they are geared to get the ball into the post and run more of a traditional motion offense. Dentmon has made the switch admirably. He is averaging 4.8 APG and has a 1.6-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He also has 17 steals. He also averages 11.7 PPG and even gets 3.9 RPG. Dentmon's problem is that he can play very out of control. He doesn't do well when faced with a solid defender in front of him. If you remember last season, especially in the game up in Seattle, Dentmon gave Jordan Farmar fits by getting by him and into the lane, but he was really slowed down when Collison was matched up with him. Now Collison gets him for the bulk of the game. Dentmon tends to reach too much on defense and commits stupid fouls, and trying to do that against Collison, while probably resulting in a steal or two, will see Dentmon on the bench in foul trouble like he was against USC. Dentmon, to his credit, is an almost 90% shooter from the free throw line. Oliver has started the past seven games as Romar has realized that junior Ryan Appleby (6'3" 170 lbs.), is better coming off the bench. Oliver is a nice player, but strictly a complimentary one now as a freshman. He is second on the team with 2.5 APG, but his shooting has been terrible. He is averaging only 38% from the floor and 25% from behind the arc. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Howland made a switch here, too, and put Shipp on Oliver and had Arron Afflalo guard Poindexter.

The guard that UCLA really needs to worry about is Appleby. He averages 9.3 PPG but what makes him dangerous is his ability to hit 3s. He is averaging 43% for the season on his three-pointers and has taken 70 of them, hitting 30. Appleby runs around like the proverbial chicken with his head cut off and will command Afflalo's defensive presence. In fact, the Bruins should expect to see Appleby for the majority of the game, with Oliver getting minutes here and there to spell Dentmon and Appleby. Appleby's game slows down considerably when he is forced to play the point, which he has to do when Dentmon is out. Plus, even though Appleby can hurt you with his perimeter shooting, he can hurt Washington just as much with his poor decision-making and sloppy passing, which is part of the reason Oliver was moved into the starting five. Running the offense is not Appleby's strong suit, and if that happens, look for Howland to slide Collison onto Appleby.

Off the bench, Romar has three other players besides Appleby who get serious minutes. Freshman forward Phil Nelson (6'7" 205 lbs.) spells Poindexter. Nelson, another highly touted high school prospect, has not shot the ball all that well this year but he is athletic and can rebound. His slight frame gets him physically pushed around by more mature players and probably helps to explain his poor shooting. Senior Hans Gasser (6'9" 230 lbs.) is the player who spells Brockman and Hawes. Gasser can take the occasional shot, but when he is in the game, he is there strictly to set screens and rebound. He'll only shoot if left wide open and given no other passing option. Finally, senior Brandon Burmeister (6'4" 195 lbs.), sees time in the backcourt, and Burmeister is strictly a three-point specialist, having taken 31 of his 37 shots this season from behind the arc. One key here to note is that when any one of the bench players is in the game, including Appleby, Washington's halfcourt man-to-man defense suffers, and it is only average to begin with.

The individual match-ups here are a wash; the frontcourt match-up favors the Huskies while the backcourt match-up favors the Bruins. So what about the bench? Mike Roll and Alfred Aboya are the only Bruin reserves who see significant floor time. Both will be critical on Sunday. Aboya will have to use his length and athleticism to be able to guard either a taller player or a wider player, especially if either Mata or Luc get into foul trouble. It will be imperative for any of the Bruin post players to either front their man, or set up a double team expeditiously. Roll will be counted on for instant offense (he must hit a couple of outside shots) and to play solid defense, probably on Appleby. Finally, Russell Westbrook may get more of a look in this game simply out of necessity. There isn't anything glaring calling for that, but call it a hunch. The bottom line is that with Howland shortening his bench, Romar gets more out of his. But he also gets more mistakes from his reserves.

Once you get past the individual match-ups, there are three reasons why this game sets up nicely for UCLA. First, Washington wants the game to be at a faster pace. It's pretty clear now that the teams that give UCLA trouble are those that want to slow down the ball and shorten the game. In terms of pace, Washington is more like Georgia Tech and Michigan than like Washington State. That's an advantage for the Bruins as it gets them more transition baskets and opens up the rest of their offense so it doesn't stagnate as it did at times against Wazzu. And the Bruins are very good in transition defense right now so that should somewhat negate Washington's ability to run on them.

Secondly, Washington is coming off a dejecting, two-overtime loss to USC. That's 50 minutes of late-night basketball. Hawes played 47 of those 50 minutes. Four Huskies fouled out. Appleby had to play 37 minutes. Heck, Gasser had to play 24 minutes because of Brockman's foul trouble. In short, the Huskies could be tired.

Finally, revenge is a dish best served cold, or so the saying goes. Part of the Bruins' malaise against Wazzu on Thursday had to certainly be attributable to UCLA's knowing who their opponent is Sunday. Forget the national match-up and the PAC-10 game, etc., etc. Washington came into Pauley and beat the Bruins last year and you know that is a strong motivating factor for a team that takes great pride when it plays. And don't think that Howland won't remind them of that before the game. The crowd should be loud and Pauley should be packed, which will be very difficult on a visiting team that starts two sophomores and three freshman.

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