When I say that Washington State is pretty consistent with what they bring, that's not necessarily a positive. Wazzu continues to play the same deliberate offense and tricky man defense that Coach Tony Bennett prefers (as did his father, Dick), but they don't have the personnel they've had in the past. As a result, the Cougars have gone 1-5 in their last six games with the lone win coming against Oregon, a team that is winless in the Pac-10 (and the Ernie Kent coaching death march continues to gain steam…).The problem for Bennett and the Cougars is that in order to effectively run the offensive and defensive schemes that he prefers, he either needs superior athletes, which Wazzu doesn't have, or he needs an experienced roster. After riding the leadership of Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver for several successful years, the Cougars are young and inexperienced, which isn't a good combination for success in Bennett's system. So Coach Ben Howland and the Bruins know what to expect from the Cougars; they will slow the game down and be physical on the defensive end. However, they will take ill-advised shots, show mental lapses on the defensive end and they don't rebound well in the conference. Those are the marks of a young team.
Interestingly, UCLA didn't play a "great" game on Thursday when the Bruins defeated the Huskies. They played with a great deal of grit and stepped up their collective game when it mattered, but there wasn't that same level of execution as there was during the four-game winning streak of the previous two weeks. In analyzing this game it really does come down to how the Bruins will play as a unit. Part of what hurt the Bruins against the Huskies was the poor play of Jerime Anderson at the point. Anyone who has watched the Bruins this season knows that Anderson is already a quality player and has the very reasonable potential of becoming an all Pac-10-level point guard. Thursday was just one rough game for the Bruin frosh. However, it illustrates the point that for UCLA to perform at its optimum level, the Bruins need all of their players, both starters and bench players, to play at least fairly well.
Washington State does have several players that could cause the Bruins some problems. Senior point guard Taylor Rochestie (6'1" 193 lbs.) has deceptive quickness, and utilized that quickness and "shiftiness" to give Darren Collison some issues when the teams first met at Wazzu last month. Rochestie has seen his shooting percentage plummet as of late, but he is still capable of shooting lights-out from beyond the arc. That would force Collison to play up on him in order to deny him his shot. When opposing players do that to Rochestie then he uses his quickness and knowledge of the Cougar offense to get around his man. Rochestie averages 12.6 PPG, which is good in Washington State's "slow-down" system. He also has a 2-1 assist-to-turnover ratio so it's unlikely that he's going to cough up the ball very much.
Wazzu's best player this season has been freshman Klay Thompson (6'6" 187 lbs.). He leads the team in scoring at 13 PPG and shoots equally well from behind the arc as he does inside of it (43%). He doesn't get to the free throw line much, but when he has, he has been perfect (24 for 24). Thompson is also the second leading rebounder for the Cougars, averaging 4 RPG. He is prone to take some ill-advised shots, as are all freshmen, and the UCLA defense, particularly Josh Shipp, was able to keep him in check during the game at Pullman earlier this season. Thompson also has more turnovers than assists on the year.
In the paint the Cougars have a real wide-body in senior Aron Baynes (6' 10" 250 lbs.). While Baynes struggles athletically, when he is able to establish position he is very good. That includes both ends of the floor. Baynes averages 12 PPG and over 7 RPG and usually knows how to use Wazzu's slowdown system to his advantage. Alfred Aboya and Drew Gordon definitely have a quickness advantage on Baynes so it would benefit the Bruins if either UCLA post could force Baynes to move around more than he's comfortable with doing.
The other two starters for Bennett have been senior Caleb Forrest (6'8" 223 lbs.), who is a nice third alternative on offense for the Cougars, and freshman Marcus Capers (6'4" 172 lbs.). If Forrest isn't producing then expect to see junior Nikola Koprivica (6'6" 216 lbs.) or senior Daven Harmeling, (6'7" 227 lbs.), both of whom are three-point shooting specialists, but both have struggled this season (28% and 31% respectively from behind the arc).
Capers has been inserted into the line-up because he brings more of a defensive presence than Koprivica can bring, and he's athletic. He doesn't score much but he has been playing over 20 MPG the last several weeks because of the other things he does well. The final Cougar that gets serious minutes is senior post DeAngelo Casto (6'8" 229 lbs.). He provides defense and rebounding but little else. He spots Baynes some minutes when necessary and that's about it.
There were several posts on BRO this past week about how Washington had a more talented squad than UCLA at each position. Whether that is true or not remains to be seen, but one thing that is true is that very few Cougars would get any playing time if they were on UCLA's roster. This has been true of Wazzu for years, even when they had Low and Weaver. Now Bennett plays three freshmen for significant minutes, and although they start three seniors, only Baynes and Rochestie really have any working knowledge of what Bennett expects, and Baynes is limited in what he can do. Many times the Cougars are caught out of position on defense and take poor shots on offense. This team isn't very good right now; in fact, they've probably regressed a bit from when the Bruins played them in Pullman. Remember, in that game UCLA had a huge second half lead before they got passive and allowed Wazzu to make it a two-point game at the end. UCLA has the capability of blowing the doors off Wazzu in this one. Whether they do or not depends on what the Bruins have left in the tank after the Washington game.
About the only thing that Wazzu has going for them in this game is their ability to dictate pace at both ends of the floor. If the Cougars don't turn the ball over then this is really going to turn into a grinding affair. Wazzu is going to bang the Bruin cutters when UCLA is on offense, so concentration is going to be important for players like Jrue Holiday. The Cougars are going to use the majority of the shot clock on most of their possessions in order to shorten the game, so all the Bruins must stay focused on defense.
This game has all the makings of a dull, sloppy affair, with the Bruins being a bit spent emotionally and Wazzu looking increasingly like a team that knows its season is coming to and end. The Bruins should win, but don't be surprised if its one of the more uninspiring games this season.
Washington State 47