Beach's Breakdown - UCLA & USC

The Pac-10 leading Washington Huskies face what promises to be their most difficult test of the season heading to Southern California for their final road trip of conference play. With the Huskies firmly in control of their own destiny, they play on Thursday night a reeling UCLA squad looking to bounce back after getting swept on the road in the desert

The 8-4 Bruins were run out of the building at Arizona last Saturday night despite a 26-point effort from senior Darren Collison, who now turns his attention to Washington – a team that's been the basketball equivalent of kryptonite against his superman-like court skills. The All America candidate's efforts against the Huskies have been disturbingly bad for a player with such undeniable talent. His 12 points in the teams' first meeting this season was actually five points higher than his career average against UW – he's now averaging a shade over seven points a game against Washington, spanning seven career tries.

Josh Shipp, on the other hand, torched the Husky defenders from outside in their previous meeting, going 6-9 from three and scoring a season-high 25 points in the effort.

Alfred Aboya, the Bruins' senior post, had been a revelation of sorts until the Arizona trip, scoring double digits in four consecutive games and solidifying UCLA's disappointing post situation. He was a total non-factor in the two teams' previous meeting, managing just four points and four rebounds in a foul-plagued effort that lasted 24 minutes. Right now it's hard to know how much Aboya will play, as he's been down with the flu this week.

Look for Washington to continue to cram the ball down the Bruins' throats and draw them into foul trouble, while trying to lure UCLA into running with them and forcing a shootout.

On paper, the Huskies hold a considerable advantage at every position, considering Collison's history against Washington. That said, Ben Howland's crew have their backs pressed against the proverbial wall, and will catapult right back into Pac-10 title contention with a win Thursday night. The Bruins have been nearly unbeatable at home, piling up a 14-1 record, and it all adds up to an uphill battle for the Huskies
Saturday, it's off to Galen Center and the slumping USC Trojans. Tim Floyd's team has battled illness, injury and even referees during their current three-game losing streak and they're now fighting for their NCAA Tournament lives.

The Trojans present a unique match up as Pac-10 teams go. They're loaded with exceptional individual talent. Freshman Demar Derozan is lottery-bound and has finally settled into a consistent groove, averaging nearly 18 points and eight rebounds over the last four league games. He's a mismatch for just about anyone drawing defensive duties on him with his exceptional one-on-one mid-range abilities. Regrettably, his improvement hasn't advanced the Trojans' cause at all, because their lack of a point guard is preventing the team from developing any chemistry as they continue to turn ball over at an unacceptable clip.

In the Huskies' win over USC in January, the Trojans were unable to exploit their considerable size advantage and had difficulty putting the ball on the floor due to Washington's pressure defense. Expect more of the same from Lorenzo Romar and his crew. UW will relentlessly attack the Trojan backcourt to create turnovers, but the Huskies didn't have to contend with junior Dwight Lewis at the time, as he was sidelined due to injury. His presence in the game could be huge.

The Trojans remain the Pac-10's most difficult match-up for UW, but it's becoming clearer with every game that they're having troubles taking the required steps forward to Pac-10 title contention. Regardless, it's going to be a battle of style versus substance, and it's not going be an easy game for either team.
Conference ramifications:
As far as the Pac-10 title is concerned, Washington controls their own destiny, but that doesn't make their road to the conference crown any easier. After the southern California schools, the Huskies return home to face the surging Arizona schools before closing the season at home against an improved Washington State. In a nutshell, none of these games are must wins on their own. Collectively, it's probably going to take a 13-5 conference record to win the Pac-10, which means a 3-2 finish for the Huskies.

Realistically, a SoCal sweep is pretty far-fetched, and it wouldn't be a surprise if UW lost both games. At that point, the road to the conference title becomes much bumpier but still within reach, requiring them to win all three final home games. If the Huskies can steal one on the road and take two of three of their remaining home games, they'll be well-positioned for a share of first place at the very least.

And what about the unthinkable? What if Washington sweeps UCLA and USC? Although it's hard to fathom, a sweep would effectively end the conference title race two weeks early, and warrant a national ranking amongst the top-15 teams in the country.

But I wouldn't get my hopes up.


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