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WSU vs. UCLA basketball: Cougs will be launching plenty of 3s

WSU heads down to L.A. to face the UCLA Bruins on Sunday night (6:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1).

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington State Cougars like to shoot 3s. They shoot them on 37 percent of their attempts, third-most in Pac-12 play. The Cougs don't shoot them particularly well, hitting on 34 percent. But hot shooting from beyond the arc has kept them competitive in several league games.

The UCLA Bruins like to allow opponents to shoot 3s. Their opposition is shooting them on 37 percent of attempts, second-most in Pac-12 play. UCLA opponents have also been shooting threes well, hitting on 38 percent.

Past performance in long-range shooting isn't generally predictive. A look at UCLA's box scores will reveal much variance in opponent 3-point percentages. It's encouraging that the Bruins allow lots of threes and opponents have hit them at a good rate, but it's no guarantee the Cougs can do the same.

Still, in a game where Washington State is once again a heavy underdog, that is the reason for hope. If WSU can get hot from 3, as it has in the past, it can keep up with a much better Bruins team.

Why are the Bruins much better? Defense, mostly. Outside of the 3s, UCLA has made life tough for opponents. Primarily, Steve Alford's squad has been excellent at limiting trips to the free throw line, allowing the lowest free throw rate in the conference.

That's in stark contrast to WSU's offense, which leads the league in free throw rate. That makes the Cougars' outside shooting even more important, because it may be tougher to get free points at the foul line.

It's not just free throws that UCLA limits, it has shut down opponent's 2-point attempts to compensate for the 3s. Pac-12 teams have made just 44 percent of 2s against the Bruins, third-lowest. They are solid in both stopping shots at the rim (79th nationally in percentage) and 2-point jumpers (91st nationally).

On the offensive end, the Bruins will be plenty good enough to exploit a moribund Cougar defense. UCLA is fifth during conference play in efficiency, buoyed by a solid offensive rebounding game. WSU has rebounded on defense decently, but that has been diminished as Josh Hawkinson has worn down this season.

But if the Cougs can show up on the defensive glass, UCLA hasn't been a particularly good shooting team. The Bruins also have struggled to earn trips to the free throw line.

The shooting will probably be better against WSU, which allows plenty of open looks for all. Still, the Bruins will be looking to crash the glass. Perhaps this is an excellent time for Ernie Kent to abandon the zone defense he frequently deploys.

So, if I'm the Fox Sports 1 color commentator and I am forced to give keys to the game for WSU that they want to put on a fancy graphic, they are as follows:

1. Score more points than the Bruins (duh).

2. Make your 3s.

3. Block the eff out.

If WSU doesn't do Nos. 2 and 3, winning will be difficult. UCLA is heavily favored in this one - KenPom says the Bruins win this 91 percent of the time.