Washington State is coming off a solid performance at the Galen Center that just came up a little short in the end. The Cougs were short-handed, and that likely spelled disaster despite the positive showings from three of WSU’s top players. The Cougs don’t have time to dwell on that loss, though, as they are heading to Pauley Pavilion to take on the #9 ranked UCLA Bruins.
The game tips off at 4 PM PST and can be watched on the Pac-12 Network.
UCLA is a more than solid offense, ranking 26th in the country in Kenpom’s Adjusted Offensive Efficiency. In conference play, they rank 4th in the same statistic, thanks mostly to their excellent control of the possession game. UCLA ranks 2nd in the conference in turnover rate and 1st in offensive rebound rate, which helps them get more shots than almost any other team in the Pac. They have struggled mightily with efficiency, though, as they rank 9th in the conference in two-point percentage. They are solid shooting the ball- 4th in three-point percentage and 3rd in free throw percentage- but they hardly take those shots- 10th in three-point rate and 11th in free throw rate. UCLA’s greatest offensive strength is their patience, as they rank 9th in average possession length. They are always looking for the best shot possible and they are impossible to speed up.
UCLA’s base offense is the pick-and-roll. They are not the most creative offensive team, but they have high-level playmakers who excel at controlling the pace of the game and keeping the offense efficient. Even sets like this, where the spacing is weirdly poor, can result in a good shot because the roster is full of high-feel players.
The Bruins’ favorite variation out of pick-and-roll is these north sets. This is where there is a wing/forward on the block who rises to the perimeter as the screener rolls to the rim. This is excellent at beating a hard hedge because the defense is sending two to the ball, forcing the low-man to choose whether to stay in help on the roll-man or rise with the forward.
UCLA will continue to run pick-and-rolls even if the original set doesn’t create anything. They are patient and they will swing the ball and set another screen until they create an advantage.
UCLA also looks to get their best scorers going in isolation, usually in the post. They will sometimes run straight-up isolation plays, but they also often set these plays up with high-low actions or fake dribble handoffs. They have the scorers who can consistently create good looks out of isolation, so it tends to be good offense for them.
UCLA will set their main plays up with all sorts of simple actions. Here is a horns set-up, but it is not really run like most horns play. Instead, it simply results in a normal middle ball-screen. UCLA is not a fast-paced team, so they take their time with these play setups to make sure they are getting the looks they want.
The Bruins’ main strength lies on the defensive end. They rank 3rd in the country, 2nd in the conference, in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency. Their greatest strength is that they force a lot of turnovers- 1st in the conference in opponent turnover rate. They also end possessions well by ranking 3rd in the conference in defensive rebound rate. This combines well with their possession control on offense to make them a shot-volume juggernaut. Surprisingly, despite being a team that plugs hard, UCLA struggles to protect the rim. They rank 9th in the conference in opponent two-point percentage and 6th in the conference in opponent free throw rate. There is also some luck involved with opponent shooting, as they rank 3rd in the conference in opponent three-point percentage, but 10th in opponent three-point attempt rate. Overall, UCLA is going to do what they can to force turnovers and that has made them a solid defense this season.
UCLA’s pick-and-roll defense has remained steady this whole season. They are a hard hedge team through and through. The Bruins are always going to get their big out on the floor to prevent guards from driving and forcing them to pass. In doing this, UCLA will always tag the roll-man hard to prevent easy layups, which often leads to corner threes if the offense can move the ball fast enough.
UCLA plugs the floor hard, trying to prevent easy drives or passes to open bigs in the lane. They are a poor rim-protecting team thanks to their lack of size and shot-blockers, but they do what they can to prevent those shots and force turnovers in the lane.
Finally, UCLA mixes in a press occasionally, looking to force turnovers and slow opponents down. Presses have proven tricky for WSU at times, so they should be prepared to see this look consistently.
Players to Watch
Tyger Campbell has had a somewhat disappointing season, but he still impresses as a high-level pick-and-roll operator with a powerful touch. In the last meeting between these two teams, WSU did a solid job on Campbell. He got to 16 points, but it took him 15 shots and he had a turnover for every assist. WSU can’t underestimate him, though, as he can pick teams apart with his playmaking.
Jaime Jaquez Jr absolutely killed the Cougs in their last meeting. Over a stretch from 9:57 to :50 in the second half, Jaquez basically single-handedly erased WSU’s lead by scoring 12 points and blocking a shot. He is the front-runner for Pac-12 Player of the Year for a reason, and his ability to take over games as a scorer is matched by few players in the whole country.
David Singleton is another player who had an excellent performance against the Cougs in December. On the season, the 6’4 super senior is averaging 10.4 points on 43.6% shooting from deep, but he scored an efficient 14 against WSU while also boasting a block and steal. Singleton is a notable shooter who will punish teams that help off of him, but he also provides solid defensive value and veteran leadership.
Washington State Cougars
Players to Watch
Andrej Jakimovski was excellent against USC. It wasn’t his biggest scoring game, but he made the offense work with his spacing and passing, he made multiple bucket-preventing help rotations, and he mostly did an admirable job on Drew Peterson despite his huge scoring night. Jakimovski had 9 points on only 5 shots, 5 assists, and 0 turnovers while also being the most important defender on the floor. His shooting, passing, and defense are absolutely vital for the Cougs, especially if they want to pull off a huge upset in LA.
TJ Bamba has had a rough stretch of games over the last month or so. He hasn’t shot above 50% from the field in a single Pac-12 game this season, and his hand injury has clearly hampered him as a shooter and scorer. He still has the ability to hit some clutch shots and his defense has been huge for the Cougs, but it would be nice to see him have an efficient scoring game. UCLA has a somewhat obvious target to attack in Campbell, and if he were matched up with Bamba, hopefully, he could exploit that for some easy drives.
Justin Powell has had a stretch of three straight good, impactful games for what feels like the first time in Pac-12 play. He has really come into his own as a scorer and playmaker. He has started consistently creating shots for himself off the dribble and occasionally leveraging that to create for others. While he is not a true point guard by any means, he has stepped up into the role of WSU’s go-to shot-maker when they really need a bucket.
What to Watch For
Keeping UCLA’s stars in check sounds obvious, but it is one of the major keys for WSU in this one. In their last meeting, WSU was in control until Jaime Jaquez took over the game as a scorer. Jaquez finished that game with 20 points and Tyger Campbell finished with 16. WSU experimented with putting Gueye on Drew Peterson in their last game and that was a somewhat effective strategy because WSU’s forwards can hang with non-dominant scoring bigs. Putting Gueye on Jaquez and Bamba on Campbell should give WSU some matchup advantages, but the team as a whole will need to be in tune with UCLA’s stars and focus on keeping them from getting going.
Domi-GUEYE-tion is WSU’s best path toward pulling off a huge upset in this one. Gueye had one of his best games in the Crimson and Grey against USC on Thursday, putting up 31 points on 14-21 shooting from the field, 12 rebounds, and 3 assists. He did turn it over 5 times, but other than that, it was a dominating offensive performance. He will have an even more advantageous matchup against the Bruins, as Adem Bona and UCLA’s other bigs are generally poor defensively and Gueye should be able to take advantage of them. Gueye put up an efficient 18 points in the last meeting between these two teams and the Cougs need him to have a good scoring night if they want to topple the Bruins in this one.
Question of the Game
Will WSU keep Jaime Jaquez Jr below 15 points?