Here come the Bruins

#19 UCLA (5-2) at UW (6-3)<br> December 20 – 7:35 PM<br> Bank of America Arena – Seattle<br> All Time: UCLA leads, 80-29 <br><br> Last Meeting: March 10, 2001<br> Washington 96, UCLA 94

So, which Bruin team will show up Thursday night when UCLA makes their annual appearance to Hec Edmundson Pavilion?

The one that torched 16th-ranked Alabama by 22 in the John Wooden Classic two weeks ago?

Or the one that followed it up with a one-point survival of UC-Irvine last Saturday -- a game which the Anteaters had possession for the last 1:04 but missed two tries at the game-winner?

Not even the Bruins know for sure. But one thing is certain -- after spending nearly a month in and around Los Angeles, enduring finals week and some fan disgruntlement in the wake of a loss to Pepperdine and the almost-loss to Irvine, this UCLA bunch is looking forward to hitting the road. The Bruins -- a nearly unanimous pick by the PAC-10 media as its' pre-season conference champion (with Washington ranked 10th and last) -- have yet to play a game on an opposing team's home court. Their only "road" foray has been to Hawai'i for the Maui Invitational in mid-November, where they eventually finished third after an upset loss to Ball State.

"We need a real road game," says UCLA senior guard Billy Knight. "With people yelling at us."

The Bruins, who rose to as high as #3 in the ESPN/USAToday Coaches' poll before the Maui tournament, are the third team Washington has faced that starts four seniors. Surprisingly, none have yet tasted victory in Hec Ed, where the Huskies have won the last three meetings. Washington was also victorious at Key Arena in their 2000 matchup, giving them a four-game home winning streak.

Last March, Michael Johnson's right-wing trey with 1.1 seconds left beat UCLA as the Huskies came up with their finest performance of the season in both teams' regular-season finale.

"We've talked about how we've had some tough losses up there," UCLA coach Steve Lavin said at his weekly press conference. "We've talked about effort and execution. We've been preparing this week, and we'd like to see things come out our way as opposed to the last four years."

Lavin likens the new-look Washington to Alabama, a team his Bruins blew away in Anaheim. "They're really athletic now. They really have a nice starting five in terms of shot distribution and points. In that regard, they are really similar to Alabama."

Junior Jason Kapono has led UCLA in scoring six times in seven games this season while adjusting to playing the point as freshman Cedric Bozeman recovers from a knee scope that repaired torn cartilage. Bozeman may be out another four weeks. Kapono, the PAC-10's second-leading scorer (behind Arizona's Jason Gardner) at 22 points per game, moved to the forward spot during senior workhorse Matt Barnes' absence (ankle sprain) from the lineup. Barnes missed a week, but should return here, so look for Kapono to start again at guard.

Splitting time with Barnes will be true freshman Dijon Thompson, who scored 14 points in his first-ever start against UC-Irvine.

Kapono and Barnes combined for 47 points in the loss to Washington last March. Since leading scorer Doug Wrenn will not be starting for Washington due to showing up late for last week's game with Gonzaga, C.J. Massingale will get his second start, and most likely will draw the assignment of defending Kapono.

Kapono and Billy Knight gives UCLA two serious deep threats -- combined, they've hit 54% from behind the arc, and the two have only missed six free throws all year. Senior team captain Rico Hines scored his first two points of the season against the Anteaters, though he averages 18 minutes per game. Sophomore T.J. Cummings is the Bruins' best shooter at 55%, and averages 4.4 boards off the bench.

Six-foot-eleven seniors Dan Gadzuric and David Dixon should wage a good -- if not too pretty -- war underneath. Both are prone to foul trouble, and the absence of either makes their respective teams a lot smaller.

UCLA unveiled a match-up zone against Alabama, and confused them all night with it. The young Huskies, who couldn't solve Gonzaga's zone, should expect the same treatment.

In a weird scheduling quirk, the Huskies are in the midst of facing the L.A. schools in three consecutive conference weeks. The teams' closed out last season, and immediately after the New Year they will head to Los Angeles to face each other again in the back-end of the conference home-and-home.

By then, Washington should have a much better idea of progresses they have made from a year ago -- and how much further they have to go.
Gotta hit those shots, guys: Washington is 5-0 this season when scoring 70 or more points. UTEP and Gonzaga are the only two teams to have out-shot the Huskies this season – and Washington lost both games handily. In a bit of a statistical (and completely meaningless) oddity, the Huskies are 4-0 when the opposing teams score first. Grant Leep leads the PAC-10 in three-point shooting at astounding 67% (14-21). Kapono ranks second at 58% (on 25-43 shooting).

NEXT UP: Thursday, December 27 vs. USC at Bank of America Arena.

Rick Samek can be reached at rsamek1@attbi.com
Probable Starters:
UCLA          CL   HT   PTS  REB   WASHINGTON     CL   HT   PTS  REB
Matt Barnes   SR  6-7   9.5  6.7   CJ Massingale  SO  6-4   5.7  2.3
Jason Kapono  JR  6-8  22.0  5.1   Grant Leep     SR  6-7   8.0  4.1
Dan Gadzuric  SR  6-11  6.1  5.1   David Dixon    SR  6-11  9.2  8.7
Billy Knight  SR  6-6  13.0  3.3   Curtis Allen   SO  6-0  13.0  2.6
Rico Hines    SR  6-5   0.3  2.6   Erroll Knight  FR  6-7   7.1  3.1

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