WSU Vs. UCLA: A Second Look At The Bruins

Washington State hits the road for their final weekend of the regular season as they take on the UCLA Bruins tonight at 7:30 Pacific. The game will not be televised. A quick look at UCLA's schedule shows that this will be the only UCLA basketball game all season that won't have moving pictures. The Bruins' athletic website does not indicate that it will be showing a webcast.

Normally I would say that this was one final blow from the reign of Tom Hansen atop the Pac-10/12 conference, but Hansen was in charge when the rebirth of the conference tournament was a given a "permanent" home in Los Angeles. If there was any team Hansen would want to be showcased, it would be UCLA.

It is almost comical that one of college basketball's most recognizable programs, in the the West Coast's largest television market, would be limited to just a radio broadcast. Larry Scott must be cringing just a little bit thinking about that. Thankfully under his guidance the conference has orchestrated a television deal that will allow all games to be seen. This weekend is just one last reminder of how awesome that is going to be.

Offense and Defense previews after the jump.

OFFENSE

From less than a month ago:

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.

Who lets that guy publish content? He could not have been any more wrong. UCLA mustered just a 96.9 offensive rating against the Cougs, and that was the start of a bad stretch of offensive games.

Since playing Wazzu, the Bruins have had a game over 100 efficiency just one time,

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.

There are still plenty of weapons on this team, even if they have been struggling lately. Josh Smith gave the Cougs all sorts of trouble with his size in the first match-up. However, even with Smith's offensive rebounding prowess WSU was able to have one its best games on the defensive glass, limiting the Bruins to just 15% of offensive rebounds.

If Wazzu is going to win on the road, duplicating that rebounding performance certainly will help. Don't expect them to hold UCLA down like that on the glass again, but WSU did show against UW that if they commit to rebounding good results follow.

DEFENSE

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 Cougs made just 29% of their two-pointers the first time around, and that includes Brock Motum going 7-14 from inside the arc. The rest of the team went just 5-27.

This explains why the offense become ineffective when UCLA made a conscious effort to deny Motum the ball in the last ten minutes of the game. No one else could score inside for WSU. The zone defense UCLA employed gave the Cougs plenty of fits.

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.

Brock didn't have much of hard time scoring one-on-one, but the zone made it hard for him to even touch the ball. It also forced WSU to settle for a lot of jump shots, as 42% of their field goal attempts came from beyond the arc.

This led to WSU having a low free throw rate and the only thing saving them from losing by more in the last game was UCLA hitting just 15 of their 24 free throw attempts while the Cougs knocked down 12 of 14.

The free throw rate will have to improve this time around if Washington State wants to win on the road. The UW game aside, they have been playing well offensively and they can certainly improve on their last performance against the Bruins.

KenPom predicts this to be a 73-64 UCLA win with 78% confidence, so this certainly will be an uphill battle for the Cougs. Can they finally translate their improved play into a win?

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