Washington State puts its perfect Friel Court record to the test as they host UCLA this afternoon at 2 pm PT. The game will be televised on ROOT Sports NW and Fox College Sports Pacific.
The Bruins were a mess to begin the season, stumbling out of the gate by losing to Loyola Maramount on their way to a 2-5 record. Reeves Nelson was kicked off the team and UCLA looked headed towards the bottom of the conference. However, they have too much talent for that to happen, and Ben Howland doesn't get to three straight Final Fours without knowing how to coach a little bit.
Although they come in with a 5-5 record, just one game ahead of WSU in the standings, UCLA's efficiency margins in conference play are much more impressive than the Cougs'. The Bruins have scored 1.1 points per possession (PPP) on offense, while giving up 1.0. WSU has scored 1.05 PPP while giving up 1.11. These are two teams that my be close in the standings, but are far apart in terms of efficiency.
It'll be a tough for Wazzu to break the 18-game home losing streak to to UCLA today, but the Cougs have played over their heads a few times at home, so they should have a chance.
Offense and Defense previews after the jump.OFFENSE
UCLA is going to put a lot of points on the board in this one. WSU was lucky enough to face the worst offense in the league on Thursday, but now they face the best. That doesn't bode well for the Cougs, who are last defensively in Pac-12 play.
Wazzu has been prone to leaving shooters open on the perimeter all season long. If they do that today, they will get burned. UCLA has made 44% of their threes in conference play. The starting backcourt duo of Jerime Anderson and Lazeric Jones are shooting 46% and 39% respectively. Norman Powell is a threat to knock them down off the bench and Tyler Lamb can get hot on occasion. If WSU is lapsing defensively on the outside, it could be a long day in Beasley.
What makes the Bruins so tough to deal with is that they not only have shooters on the outside, but have plenty of big bodies on the inside as well. The Wear Twins (Travis Wear and David Wear) are 6-10 and provide match-up problems for any team. Joshua Smith struggles with his conditioning and only plays about 43% of the minutes, but when he is in the game he is involved. Smith is grabbing 17% of offensive rebounds, good for 8th best in the country. He takes up a lot of space and draws a lot of fouls. Most Pac-12 teams are thankful he can't play any more minutes than he currently does.
The Cougs have struggled defensively, and UCLA will be their biggest challenge of the season. They can beat the defense in a variety of ways. If WSU is going to break the streak, they are going to have to be efficient on offense to overcome the defense.
The Bruins are first in the nation in a stat that Ken Pomeroy has called "effective height." For an explanation of that, go here. Essentially, effective height measures how well a team maximizes the height they possess on the defensive end.
The two categories that stand out the most for the Bruins are blocks and rebounding. UCLA has the second-best block percentage in league play, sending away 10% of two-point shots. They are also second in defensive rebounding, limiting opponents to 29% of offensive boards.
The good news for the Cougars is that Bruin opponents take a lot of trips to the free throw line. UCLA's free throw rate against is 11th worst in conference, while WSU has the third-best free throw rate on offense.
Winning the free throw battle may be the key for Wazzu in this one. Brock Motum will probably have a little more difficulty scoring against the Wear twins, but WSU should keep the pressure on by going inside and attempting to draw contact.
KenPom predicts this to be a 71-69 UCLA victory with 59% confidence. Can the Cougars be good enough on offense to break the streak?