Bruins Stay on Track, 98-83

UCLA got the two critical wins it needed on the road in the state of Washington by finishing off Washington State Saturday in Pullman. Jason Kapono has a game for the record books...

It was satisfying to see Jason Kapono have a game of such distinction like he did against Washington State.  For all of his hard work, dedication and effort, he deserves it.

 

He set a school record with nine three-pointers in one game. He set a personal career high in scoring for one game with 44. And it tied the fifth highest scoring performance in UCLA history, putting him in the same breath with Lew Alcindor (61, 56, 45 twice, 44)  and Bill Walton (44). 

 

It was one of the best shooting performances in recent memory in college basketball. And what's really funny about it, if you're a Bruin fan, you probably don't think it was necessarily something extraordinary for Kapono.  Yeah, he was "on," but the performance was completely within his normal capability. In fact, if he got more screens and open looks created by the offense for him, a 44-point game from him would probably be a more frequent occurrence.

 

It was also a good win for this Bruin team, for a few reasons. It was critical that they sweep the two poor Washington teams on their road trip.  They were must-win games. If they had dropped either of these two – given the 2-5 record coming in – it might have made the mountain they have to climb to get into the NCAA tournament considerably more formidable.

 

Besides Kapono, really the most promising performance by a Bruin was by Andre Patterson.  Patterson, you ask? How do you get that? Patterson only played 18 minutes, scored 10 points and had five rebounds.  But if you might have noticed, Patterson's game is really progressing and he showed flashes of some great things in this game, namely those two pretty baseline jumpers in the second half.  Patterson is already a pogo stick, he's already the best rebounder on the team, and has the best interior scoring moves.  Now, he looks like he's physically getting bigger and able to play more physical and he's developing a jump shot.  Patterson has never had a very good jumper, but that second-half baseline thing was very pretty.  If he can continue to develop that, there is no way you can keep Patterson off the court for any prolonged period of time.

 

The team, as a result from the Washington win, as I said in the Washington State preview, is playing with renewed confidence and energy.   More than anything, the confidence is important.  UCLA has some talent on its roster, but even talent needs confidence, and after the dismal start to the season, it looks like UCLA now has the confidence to match their talent. 

 

That confidence – and particularly the energy – seems to be coming a great deal from using exclusively the man-to-man defense.  In the two Washington games, UCLA used it almost exclusively. It helped UCLA play better overall defense, but playing man-to-man also increased the intensity on both ends of the floor.  This UCLA team might have a tendency to fall alsleep at times and playing man-to-man looks like it's the answer to keeping them awake.

 

So, while it was a good win, and a critical one, expectations, though, still need to be tempered. It's obvious the team is playing better and with renewed confidence, but there were many things about the Washington State game that still didn't allay some of the worries about the team's weaknesses we saw in the first seven non-conference games.

 

UCLA didn't play great defense against Washington State.  They allowed the Cougar shooters to get some pretty open looks, and allowed them quite a bit of room on  midrange jumpers.  

 

You really have to take into consideration that Washington State is plainly a pretty poor team, and they had a very poor game plan against UCLA.  Washington State had no presence inside before this game, and then lost its center, the only really semi-effective player over 6-7 on the team, Milton Riley, who didn't play.  Their starting center was Cedric Hughey, who is 6-6 and 203 pounds.  Washington State got just seven rebounds from its starting center and power forward.  Pretty much, Washington State presented absolutely no challenge inside for the Bruins. Now, yes, it's promising that UCLA actually took advantage of it, like they couldn't do against Northern Arizona. But still, keep it in perspective here that Washington State still had no inside game at all, and that's something that UCLA isn't going to see the rest of the way in the Pac-10. While there aren't dominating baseline players in the Pac-10 by no means, at least there are some, which you can't say for Washington State.


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