The Washington State Cougars look to wrap up a long home stand with their first conference win when they host the UCLA Bruins on Saturday afternoon (4 pm PT, Pac-12 Network). The Cougs fell to USC in the conference opener on Thursday, while the Bruins took down Washington in Seattle.
If you aren’t in Pullman and looking to follow the action, the WSU basketball twitter account has you covered with TV, stream, radio, and live statistics information:
The Cougs struggled with USC’s size on Thursday. UCLA presents a similar issue, but perhaps not to the extent of talent in Southern Cal’s frontcourt. The Bruins are overall an excellent rebounding team on both ends of the floor—touting the sixth-best offensive rebounding percentage nationally and 31st-best defensive rebounding percentage.
That rebounding prowess is largely driven by the combination of Jalen Hill (6’10, 245) and and Cody Riley (6’9, 250). Both are excellent rebounders defensively, while Ali is an elite offensive rebounder. WSU was able to overcome USC’s size and hold its own on the boards, and the Cougs will have to do the same against the Bruins.
The good news is that UCLA doesn’t have that third dominant rebounding big to rotate in, as USC did, so WSU’s frontcourt depth won’t get quite the same test. The Bruins do have other size in 6’9 Chris Smith, but he is slender and plays more as a wing.
UCLA isn’t a good shooting team—211th in effective field goal percentage, 263rd in 3-point percentage—so the ability to rebound will be exacerbated. The Bruins are likely attack the rim and get to the free throw line with the 53rd-best free throw rate nationally (free throw attempts per field goal attempts). That led by Hill, but you can also expect Chris and Prince Ali to draw their fair share of fouls.
When WSU has the ball, expect UCLA to leave plenty of shooters open beyond the 3-point line. The Bruins are 342nd in 3-point percentage allowed, and allow attempts from downtown at an above average rate. Isaac Bonton and CJ Elleby have been forcing tough 3s this season, but they should be patient against the Bruins. The open looks are likely to come.
Otherwise, UCLA has above average interior defense and forces an average amount of turnovers. The Bruins are prone to fouling, allowing a high free throw rate despite playing a lower amount of possessions typically. Wazzu should probe inside with drives, particularly Elleby, and look to get some easy points from the free throw stripe.
There’s an opportunity for WSU to neutralize UCLA’s primary strength on the glass, as the Cougs themselves have been a good rebounding group. If rebounding is even, then it will come down to each team’s ability to get to the free throw line and knock down the freebies, as well as success from the 3-point line.
Turnovers could be a decisive stat for WSU. The Bruins are just about average in taking care of the ball, while WSU has been very good at forcing mistakes. Another dominant performance in the turnover battle could lead to WSU’s first conference win—provided Elleby can do better than 3-22 from the field.