Hoops Preview - UCLA

In desperate need for wins, the Washington Huskies' push towards the NCAA Tournament will only get tougher with the rising UCLA Bruins coming into town on Thursday night. The tip time is 6 p.m. PST and the game will be aired live on ESPN2 and ESPN3.com from Alaska Airlines Arena.

Although UCLA (21-8, 12-4) is always a game to look forward to for fans, it's a game that players also keep an eye on.

"I always like playing UCLA," said southern California native Justin Holiday. "Home or away, I always like playing them. I know a lot of the guys, my brother went there and all of that. It's a California school, so it's going to be a lot of fun."

With the home encounter now here for Holiday and his Washington (19-9, 10-6) teammates, it's easy to forget the result of the first meeting between the two teams in Los Angeles. On Dec. 31, in the second Pac-10 game for both teams, Washington pulled off a rare feat by coming out of Pauley Pavilion with a 74-63 win.

Sparking the fine result was Matthew Bryan-Amaning and Isaiah Thomas, who finished with 21 and 17 points, respectively. UCLA, on the other hand, was led by their star forward, Reeves Nelson, who had 19 points and 10 rebounds.

Although UCLA fell face first against Villanova, Virginia Commonwealth, Kansas and Montana in four straight games, their season since has been almost blemish free, as they've gone 18-4. Leading their resurgence has been the strong play of Nelson. A 6-foot-8 sophomore forward, Nelson has averaged nearly a double-double - 14 points on 59 percent shooting and nine rebounds - per game. The Modesto, Calif. native will remind many Husky fans of Jon Brockman, because of his all-out effort and physical style of play.

Working in the paint with Nelson will be freshman Josh Smith. The behemoth 6-foot-10, 305-pound center is averaging 10.8 points on 56 percent shooting. A local product hailing from Kent, Smith is also averaging 6.2 rebounds – 3.2 on the offensive glass - and one block. All of this has come in 21 minutes per game, since he has the tendency to pick up fouls in quick succession.

As for defending Smith, Bryan-Amaning said the Washington big men just need to stick to coach Lorenzo Romar's game plan to try to slow down the talented UCLA center.

Another player besides Smith who could pose a problem for the Huskies is Tyler Honeycutt, a 6-foot-8 sophomore forward. Averaging 12.8 points on 42 percent shooting, 7.4 rebounds and two blocks, the Los Angeles native has loads of talent and potential.

Rounding out the top five after Nelson, Smith and Honeycutt will be guards Malcolm Lee and Lazeric Jones. Lee is averaging 13.3 points, while Jones is not far behind with 9.9 per game.

On the defensive end as a team, UCLA is perhaps the best shot-blocking squad the Huskies will face this season. With an average of 5.8 rejections per game, the Bruins rank No. 8 in the nation. However, on the offensive side of the ball, don't expect a lot of shots from deep, as the Bruins are No. 216 in the country in three-point shooting, with a 33.5 percent success rate from beyond the arc.

Even though Bruins Head Coach Ben Howland has been very successful during his tenure at UCLA, successful isn't exactly the best way to describe his record at Alaska Airlines Arena. Since he arrived in Los Angeles in 2003, Seattle has been a place of nightmares for Howland, as he has gone 1-6 there. His last win came in the 2003-2004, season - his first at Westwood. Even in that win, it took UCLA extra time to beat the Huskies.

Washington forward Darnell Gant, a Los Angeles native, said this week the UCLA game is this is always a big one for the Huskies, regardless of the venue.

"With the whole team, I feel like UCLA and ourselves, we've always had a certain kind of rivalry and we always go back and forth," Gant said. "It's going to be a big game."


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