Washington State Preview

UCLA had a relatively easy time in their first game with Washington St. But the Bruins and Cougars are both different teams now and the rematch tonight might prove to be closer than you'd expect...

Tonight's game against Washington State won't impact UCLA's chances of making the Pac-10 tournament, but it could affect where they might be seeded. With wins against WSU and Washington, UCLA could possibly get the #6 seed. With Arizona locked into the #1 seed in the tournament, UCLA would do well to make sure they don't stumble against the Cougars tonight and risk facing the Wildcats in the first round.

The Cougars have had a miserable season, but they have won their last two games – their only two wins in conference play – and they were helped by the return of star guard Marcus Moore. When he had surgery on his ankle several weeks ago, it was assumed that Moore was done for the season. He came back Saturday against Washington and scored twenty three points, to help lead the Cougars to a 98-76 win over their rivals.

The Bruins handled WSU fairly easily in their first meeting at Pullman, beating the Cougars 98-83. In that game, Jason Kapono scored a career-high forty four points. Kapono was so hot in that game, that Steve Lavin was heard yelling "money" from the sideline as Kapono went up for a jump shot. I can't say that I've never seen that kind of behavior from a coach, but before it's only been in an AAU game, where the term "coach" is used in only the loosest possible sense. One can only hope that, should Kapono get on a hot streak tonight, Lavin has the good sense to refrain from similar comments with John Wooden sitting only a few feet from the UCLA bench.

While UCLA had an easy time in Pullman, they did face a Cougar team which was missing a couple players who are now contributing. Milton Riley, a 6-8 senior forward, is averaging seven points, five rebounds (2nd on the team) and 1.8 blocks (1st on the team). He's long and bouncy, and gives the Cougars some athleticism inside. But the other player who missed the first game, and has really made a difference lately, is 6-4 redshirt freshman guard Randy Green. He's averaged eighteen points a game in the last three games for WSU.

The key to the WSU team, though, is Marcus Moore. He's a tough match-up, due to his size, ability to penetrate and finish inside. He's not a consistent outside shooter – 33% on threes -- but he can get streaky hot and then he's really tough to defend. Another weapon for the Cougars is 6-5 sophomore guard Thomas Kelati. He's their best outside shooter – 45% on threes – and he's developing into a solid player.

The Bruins shot an astonishing 63% in the first match-up, with Kapono going 14-19 from the field, including 9-10 on three-pointers. That kind of marksmanship doesn't figure to be duplicated, so the Bruins might have to do something they've been reluctant to do so far this season – play defense. UCLA came out flat at Oregon and the Ducks lit them up early and often. WSU obviously doesn't have the same kind of shooters that Oregon has, but Kelati, Green, Moore and Jerry McNair are all capable of getting hot.

Neither UCLA nor WSU do a good job of taking care of the ball. WSU is 9th in the Pac-10 in turnover margin, at -2 a game. UCLA is last in turnover margin, at -2.4. It might be a good thing this game won't be televised – this one could be ugly.

The one area where UCLA figures to have a big edge is rebounding. The Bruins are ranked 1st in the Pac-10 in rebounding margin, while the Cougars are dead last. Even if UCLA doesn't shoot the ball as well as they did back in January, guys like Patterson, Kapono, Hollins and Cummings should be able to clean up on the boards.

One would think that this season has humbled the Bruins enough to where they wouldn't look past an opponent. But the last couple years have shown that these kinds of games – facing less than stellar competition, in Pauley – are precisely the type of games that give the Bruins the most trouble. The crowd doesn't figure to be that large, or enthusiastic, so the Bruins will have to create their own energy and take WSU out early, before the Cougars get any ideas about a third straight win.


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