The mark of a young team is inconsistency, and the Cougars are now becoming consistently inconsistent. Once again, the Cougars let a lackadaisical defensive effort and poor offensive night against the zone deny them a Pac-10 weekend sweep.
In some ways, the Cougars are lucky this didn't turn into a blowout. They let the Bruins shoot the lights out to a tune of a 65.9% eFG night, and got smacked in the face at the free throw line. Normally one of our strengths - free throw rate - became a huge issue for us tonight. There seemed to be a lack of aggressiveness by the Cougars in the lane, aided by the fact that UCLA did a good job of avoiding contact, and that the officials chose more of a "let 'em play" mentality (more when it came to the Bruins on defense than us, but we can't really fault the stripes for this one).
One would think the Cougs would eat up a 2-3 zone defense, with the three-point shooting that we have. The reality is, though, that against Arizona State, Gonzaga in the second half, and the Bruins tonight, the Cougs' inability to hit shots inside the arc negated any perceived perimeter advantage. WSU shot a horrible 35.5% clip on two-point attempts, and only made 10 two-point buckets all night. That won't get it done against anyone.
There's going to be a perception that UCLA has somehow woken up after a poor non-conference slate and is starting to look like the blue-and-gold of old. I'm not buying into it yet - this still isn't an upper echelon Pac-10 ball club, even though they beat an above-average UW squad at the buzzer and now find themselves above .500 in conference play. What UCLA is happens to be a disciplined ball club, which was more than enough to lift them over the young Cougars, who have struggled with great defensive efforts this season. It's hard to deny that UCLA won this game by frustrating the Cougs' potent offense.
I'll reiterate that bashing on our players gets us nowhere. No one new is coming on board this roster; we can't pull a big man out of thin air. The Cougs' hand is forced by a lack of size and experience, and have to do the best they can right now with what they have. While we can debate the moves Ken Bone makes at the 4 and the 5, we can't debate the fact this team falters when Klay and Casto aren't firing on all cylinders. Great teams can overcome off nights from their stars; the Cougs cannot.
One last thought before the awards: how ridiculous was the foul call on the jump ball? Has anyone ever seen that happen before? I've seen fouls away from the ball on pushing and shoving after the jump, but my goodness. I maintain that no one in the league has more been on the end of more random officiating outbursts than WSU. [Never mind, it was a violation, not a foul. Move along now, nothing to see here...]
But don't fret, the Pac-10 is always right.
Player of the Game: Reggie Moore. Say hi to Reggie Moore, excellent three-point shooter. 24 points on 9 of 17 shooting, including a 60% night from downtown. 3 assists and 3 boards. The sneaky killer: ZERO free throw attempts. None. Find that a little odd? It's because that's never happened before in his young career. Screw it, I am going to blame the refs for this one.
Unsung Hero: Nikola Koprivica. 11 points on 3 of 7 (2 of 5), 6 boards and an assist.
Play of the Game: The Capers offensive-rebound-dunk over Dragovic, after the Thames miss. I think we've been missing out on these sorts of plays during the Bennett era, when all board-crashing was sacrificed in the name of the transition defense.
It was over when... Drago's three to put UCLA up 63-49.
Stat of the Game: Think our roster is shallow? UCLA beat us with only seven players logging minutes.