8:30pm PST -- Staples Center in Los Angeles, CA (FSN, FSNHD)
UCLA and Wazzu have both built there reputations on the defensive end over the the past half dozen years. In their two matchups this season, it appeared they had made an agreement to throw that out the window and have some good ol' fashioned Pac 10 shootouts.
Now FSN will tell you that the first matchup between these teams was "ugly" and a "defensive struggle." The truth is, the only reason that the score was so low (61-59) was because it was the slowest game of the year for the Cougs (49 poss.). It was the 3rd worst defensive game (in terms of efficiency) of the year for both teams.
The second (and now legendary) matchup brought even higher efficiencies to go along with a much faster pace. The result was the highest scoring non-overtime game in the Bennett Era. Still, the game was only 65 possessions (below the national average of 66.6). This game resulted in the worst defensive effort of the year for the Bruins and the second worst for the Cougs.
So why do these teams struggle to keep each other from scoring?
For the Cougs, it is the same old story. The weakness of the Pack defense is a team that can shoot from the outside. UCLA has guys all over the floor that can knock threes down and they are eighth in the country in three point percentage.
For the Bruins, they may just have a problem handling Cougar screens, ball and off-ball alike. In the first meeting, they continuously left Caleb open on the pick and pop, even as he hit jumper after jumper. Early on in the second matchup, Jrue Holiday did a terrible job negotiating off-ball screens in chasing Klay Thompson, and Klay started the game red-hot. Taylor was also getting open in the second half from some off-ball screens. (He was also hitting everything from everywhere, which may just be a reason to throw my hypothesis out the window).
So how do the Cougs pull it off again tonight? Obviously the best answer involves a baseball bat and a certain UCLA Serbian player's knees. Outside of that, it would be nice for them to bring a better defensive effort than the first two matchups. We know UCLA can shoot from the outside, so go over screens, get good hedges, and don't ever leave Nikola Dragovic (who is now certified as a Cougar killer). Of course, that might not even matter because UCLA apparently can't guard the Cougs either. On offense, stick to the same plan by abusing Jrue Holiday again. Make him chase Klay everywhere through screens. Klay will be hitting, he doesn't want to have two poor shooting nights in a row in front of the friends and family!
As a side note, I've been to this tournament before and it is basically a home game for UCLA. They have the 8-clap going and there is powder blue as far as the eye can see. Will this hurt the Cougs? Probably not, they haven't really shown to play any worse when facing an opposing crowd.
Go Cougs! Facebook tells me it is Nuss's birthday tommorrow, and I'm sure there is nothing he would want more than spending it in front of a TV watching his alma mater in the semifinals of the Pac 10 tourney.