The Washington State Cougars face a tough test on the defensive end when they host UCLA in Pullman on Wednesday night (6 pm PT, Pac-12 Networks). The Bruins lead the nation in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive efficiency, and have scored the most points per possession of any team in Pac-12 conference play. The Cougs, on the other hand, have been the 10th-least efficient defense in Pac-12 games, and rank 224 in adjusted defensive efficiency.
UCLA’s offensive attack is boosted by absurdly good shooting—the Bruins have posted an otherworldly 61.3 effective field goal percentage, tops in the country. They also place first nationally in 3-point percentage, and second nationally in 2-point percentage. Perhaps fouling them is the only feasible defensive option, as head coach Steve Alford’s squad dips to 92nd in free throw percentage.
WSU ranks 242nd in defensive effective field goal percentage, and doesn’t crack the top 200 in defending 3s (258th) or 2s (206th).
When the Cougars have the ball, things aren’t quite as lopsided. UCLA’s defense is average, and it rarely forces turnovers—last in the conference in defensive turnover percentage and 322nd nationally. WSU’s offense has improved in that area recently, placing third in turnover percentage in the first half of the Pac-12 slate.
The Bruins’ other key weakness on defense is rebounding, but WSU’s strategy isn’t likely to exploit that, as the Cougars typically fall back on defense in lieu of crashing the glass. That is exemplified by WSU’s ranking in offensive rebounding percentage—349th out of 351 schools.
Oftentimes when the Cougs have had success this season, they have used their height to a great advantage, feeding the ball to Josh Hawkinson and Conor Clifford frequently. Unfortunately, UCLA matches WSU’s size on the front line with 7-footer Thomas Welsh and 6’10 TJ Leaf.
If WSU is to have a shot at an upset, it is going to need plenty of hot shooting from its guards, and probably a little random luck in a bad shooting night from UCLA. Otherwise, it will be a tough road to hoe, with the Bruins having a legit shot at dropping 100 points, depending on the pace of the action.
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