Beach's Breakdown - UCLA

The Washington Huskies face off against Pac-10 rival UCLA in a battle for sole possession of first place in the Pac-10. The Huskies are on a roll after polishing off an outrageously talented USC team Thursday night, improving to 5-1in Pac-10 play and 14-4 overall on the season.

Enter the 15-3 UCLA Bruins; a preseason top 10 team, currently ranked eleventh in the country and coming off a narrow 61-59 victory at Washington State. This isn't the same Final Four-caliber UCLA team of the last three seasons, but they still pose a dangerous threat to the surging Huskies, who suddenly find themselves in command of their own Pac-10 destiny.

Now more than ever, the Bruins are a perimeter oriented team, led by senior All-America candidate Darren Collison (14.6 ppg, 5.4 apg.). Displaying Coach Ben Howland's trademark efficiency, the Bruins match the Huskies at or near the top of every offensive statistical category, and Collison leads the show. The future NBA first round pick is as quick as a jackrabbit and deadly accurate, whether two or 22 feet from the basket. He's also shooting a mind-boggling 95 percent from the free throw line. Collison is also a nightmare on the other side of the ball, taking his customary spot amongst the league leaders in steals while making himself a general menace for opposing players.

Highly touted freshman Jrue Holiday (9.5 ppg, 3.7 rpg) starts alongside Collison, replacing 2008 lottery pick Russell Westbrook. While not having the impact season many UCLA fans expected, Holiday can still be a difficult match up despite his shooting woes from outside, and his multi-dimensional game requires constant defensive attention.

Senior Josh Shipp (11.6 ppg) has seemingly rediscovered his stroke of late after an abysmal start to the season from beyond the arc. The LA native has made 12 of his last 18 3-point attempts and adds an extra dimension to the Bruins when he's hitting consistently from outside.

The Bruins also feature a lot of backcourt depth with junior 3-point specialist Mike Roll and freshmen Malcom Lee and Jerime Anderson, though Howland has been reluctant to put his younger players for any extended action.

Where the Bruins struggle is underneath the hoop, where senior Alfred Aboya (9.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg) leads a passable group of forwards who are still trying to find traction. At 6-foot-9 and 245 pounds, Aboya is solid in most aspects of the game – unremarkable, but a consistent contributor who provides a reliable defensive presence. After Aboya, things get less certain. James Keefe has been lousy most of the season and has seen his minutes shift to long-range specialist Nikola Dragovic, who hit for a season-high 20 points in the Bruins' win over WSU.

As individual match-ups go, the Huskies aren't at a particular disadvantage at any position. Collison has been terrible in six meetings against Washington, averaging just seven points a game against the defense of nemesis Justin Dentmon. The pairing of Holiday and UW star freshman Isaiah Thomas should be an interesting one, since Holiday has the defensive chops to stick with the Huskies' energetic scoring machine. Shipp versus Quincy Pondexter is pretty much a wash.

Underneath the hoop, the Huskies bring a significant advantage with senior Jon Brockman and company. UCLA lacks a shot blocker, and the only way to stop Brockman is to rely on Aboya's beef to keep him and Matthew Bryan-Amaning out of the paint and off the boards. The Bruins, on the other hand, rely on their forwards for 3-point offense, and the Huskies must be wary of Dragovic and Keefe bombing away from the corners.

Defensively, the Bruins are still coming together. Collison is an exceptional defender, and Holiday and Shipp can be at times, but they are vulnerable in the paint - an area the Huskies excel at attacking.

Washington is beginning to look like the Huskies of old on defense, jumping passes and forcing turnovers, but they're still susceptible to opponents that can bring it from deep, and UCLA can do just that. The Bruins can rain threes from four different positions, and Washington can't rely on another off-night from Collison to ensure victory. Neither can the Huskies afford the poor late game management that has plagued them in games where they've let solid leads slip late.

On paper, the Huskies match up favorably with the Bruins. Even discounting the Bruins' struggles at Hec Ed, Washington's physicality and relentlessness on defense should be enough to disrupt the rhythm of a UCLA offense that has yet to fully click.

Look for a Washington win, as the Hoop Dawgs take sole possession of first place in the Pac-10 rankings Sunday morning. Top Stories