You wouldn't necessarily say that it's a must-win for Washington if they hope to win the Pac-10 championship. They also, of course, face USC Saturday, and then next week the Arizona schools come to Seattle, and then they finish off the conference with a home game against Washington State.
You'd probably say, though, that it's pretty much a must-win for UCLA: against the first-place team, who you've already lost to, on your home court, and then having to go on the road to the Bay Area schools next weekend, before finishing with the Oregons at home.
The key phrase is on the road to the Bay Area schools. Even though you'd think UCLA should beat both Cal and Stanford next weekend, two teams they beat by an average of 24.5 points a few weeks ago, UCLA has shown that it's a completely different team away from Pauley Pavilion. In fact, UCLA is just 6-5 away from Pauley this season.
So, if UCLA hopes to win its fourth-straight Pac-10 title, beating Washington at home is a must.
Washington isn't much different than they were the first time UCLA faced them. They've been a bit unpredictable, winning at Arizona State but then losing at California.
Offensively, just like they did in the first meeting, they use dribble penetration from guards Isaiah Thomas and Justin Dentmon to create, score or get fouled, and then also try to dump the ball to Jon Brockman in the post.
Perhaps the biggest difference offensively for the Huskies has been the increasing effectiveness of wing Quincy Pondexter. Pondexter is on a four-game streak of double-digit scoring in which he's averaging 18 points per game. He's doing it by getting into the lane and forcing up shots, getting rebounds and garbage points, and then going to the foul line. In that four-game stretch, he's made just one three-pointer and has attempted just two.
So, really, if you thrown in the guard off the bench, Venoy Overton, Washington is a constant attack of the perimeter players on the paint. They've attempted the most shots in the conference, but are ninth in the conference in three-point attempts, meaning: Washington is shooting a ton of shots from inside the paint. They've also taken the most free-throw attempts of any team in the conference, a whopping 715, compared to UCLA's 436. Since they're shooting 70% from the line, that's 192 more free-throws Washington has made compared to UCLA.
192 more points from free-throws.
Thomas and Brockman are second and third in the conference in free-throws attempted (with 161 and 149, trailing only freakish James Harden of ASU with 206). Then, throw in Pondexter, who's seventh in the league (113) and you have guys constantly going to the free-throw line.
So, pretty much everyone in the conference knows how Washington is doing it. The problem is stopping it, and that begins with staying in front of the ball defensively. In UCLA's first game against Washington, Thomas destroyed UCLA with dribble penetration, scoring 24 points and getting to the line 12 times. The scouting report on Thomas is to not worry about who he'll pass to on his dribble penetrations since he isn't a great passer and is a me-first scorer. You first have to stay close to him on the perimeter and then, if he turns the corner, get some immediate help and make him have to give up the ball. Once he recognizes he has to do that, he's sloppy, with 68 turnovers against 68 assists on the season. Really, the same goes for Dentmon; he's not a great passer either so cut off his space in the lane and make him give it up. Sure you'll give up a few baskets to Brockman on dishes, but Thomas and Dentmon won't go off for a combined 40 points like they did against UCLA the first time.
So, truly the key is, first, UCLA's on-ball perimeter defense by Collison and Jrue Holiday, and then how quickly it can get help in the key when Thomas and Dentmon do penetrate. Even if you allow Thomas to get to the line and get his points there but limit his scoring from the field it would be enough.
On the other end of the floor, the Huskies don't play much defense. Their defensive intensity level definitely ebbs and flows, and tends to ebb more away from Seattle where they give up considerably more points than in Hec Ed. Washington tries to use its backcourt quickness into harassing opposing guards into turnovers. In the first meeting between the two schools, Washington's guards definitely got the best of UCLA's guards, even on Washington's defensive end. Neither of the Bruin guards attacked Washington's defense and settled for outside shots. UCLA will have to show the aggressiveness in getting into the paint like it did in its dominant four-game homestand before the Arizona road trip.
Washington also out-hustled and out-muscled UCLA on the boards in that game, out-rebounding the Bruins 36-33.
The Huskies are suffering from the same affliction that UCLA has this season – on-the-road-itis. They are 5-5 away from Hec Ed, and two of those wins were on the road at Oregon and Oregon State (like UCLA).
Probably the best indicator of how UCLA will play against Washington tonight is to compare the Bruins' performances against teams at home and on the road in the Pac-10 this season. UCLA beat Arizona at Pauley, 83-60, and lost to Arizona in Tucson, 84-72. That's an 11-point difference in scoring for UCLA, and a 24-point difference for Arizona. At USC, UCLA won, 64-60. At home against USC, UCLA won 74-60. While USC's score stayed the same, UCLA's offensive production increased 10 points. UCLA lost to ASU at Pauley, 61-58, and then lost in Tempe, 74-67. UCLA scored 9 more points, but ASU scored 13 more. So on average, in those games UCLA scored 4 more points per game, but also gave up 12 more points to the same opponent.
If you use those exact figures and apply them to UCLA and Washington's previous score this season in Seattle (86-75), you would project UCLA winning, 79-74.