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Even more than you need to know about the Cougs vs. UCLA + game thread

UCLA visits Washington State with Pac-12 title hopes

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UCLA head coach Mick Cronin is still trying to figure this whole mask thing out.
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington State Cougars host the UCLA Bruins for a basketball game in Pullman on Thursday night (8 pm PT, FS1). These two teams first met last month, with UCLA taking a decisive 91-61 victory over the Cougs.

Can WSU flip that result around at home? Let’s look at the key players and trends that will impact WSU vs. UCLA.

When UCLA has the ball...

Last time around, UCLA shot WSU out of the gym in the first half. The Bruins were hot from deep, from the midrange, and inside. The Cougs didn’t have their best defensive effort, and Mick Cronin’s army of wings punished them.

Distributing to that army of wings is point guard Tyger Campbell, who leads all players in Pac-12 play with a 35.7 assist rate—meaning he assists on more than a third of his teammates’ baskets while he is on the floor. Campbell will also do some scoring himself and is most dangerous with floaters in the midrange.

Leading the wings is 6’6 Jaime Jaquez. He’s a good 3-point shooter who also possesses the athleticism to get to the rim. Jules Bernard and Johnny Juzang join him. Bernard is a versatile scorer, while Juzang is primarily a jump-shooter.

Freshman Jaylen Clark and long-range specialist Jake Kyman will also come off the bench to fill some minutes. Clark is athletic and dangerous on the offensive glass and just found out that it snows in Pullman, while Kyman is hot and cold from deep. David Singleton may also step in, and he will punish the Cougs if left open as he is shooting 45% on 3-pointers.

The big question for UCLA in this game is the frontcourt. Big man Cody Riley missed last weekend’s matchup with USC and is day-to-day with a sprained ankle. He is a very good offensive rebounder, draws fouls at a high rate, and a solid finisher in the paint if he plays. Riley has been a tough guard for the Cougs. If he goes, that means WSU having Dishon Jackson available will be important. Jackson also suffered an injured ankle against Oregon State and left that game.

Riley’s backup, the athletic Jalen Hill, is likely to be out because of personal reasons. Here’s hoping the best for him, whatever those personal reasons may be.

UCLA struggled without Riley and Hill against USC. In their absence, sophomore Kenneth Nwuba and freshman Mac Etienne saw minutes. Nwuba is shot-averse and has missed the four attempts he has taken this season. Etienne is bouncy and has a much higher ceiling.

The Bruins are a weird matchup for WSU’s typically large lineup. The Cougs should have a better shot at defending UCLA this time around, with Ryan Rapp and DJ Rodman back in the rotation.

Overall, it’s best to prevent the Bruins from taking too many 3-pointers. They have plenty of shooters that can make them on the floor. Force them inside for tougher shots and box out for the misses—UCLA is one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the Pac-12.

When WSU has the ball...

It was Isaac Bonton and not much else for WSU against UCLA last time out. If the Cougs are at full strength, they should have a size advantage on the inside that either Jackson or Efe Abogidi can exploit. The Bruins have allowed over 50 percent on 2-pointers in Pac-12 play and 59 percent at the rim overall.

UCLA has come around more defensively in conference games, and it features the third-best defensive efficiency in league play. That has been built on not fouling and limiting free throws while also clearing defensive rebounds at the second-best rate.

USC did well grabbing offensive rebounds against a shorthanded UCLA squad, and WSU has been able to crash the offensive glass with success against shorter teams. If UCLA is without key frontcourt players again, the Cougs could benefit from some second chances.

But the best bet against UCLA is the make the interior shot over their smaller lineup in the first place and make a good percentage of the high volume of 3-pointers that the Bruins will allow. Contributions from role players on the outside like Rodman, Rapp, and Andrej Jakimovski could be huge in exploiting UCLA for giving up the highest rate of 3-point attempts per field goal attempt in the conference.

The Bottom Line

This should be a lot closer than the first time around. The Cougs have been playing better defense as of late, and being at home certainly will help. The Bruins haven’t been as good offensively on the road, so hopefully, they don’t bury the Cougs in an avalanche of jumpers again.

KenPom predicts a UCLA win in 68 percent of simulations with an average score of 66-61. If WSU can shoot well and force UCLA’s wings into tougher midrange shots while limiting penetration from Campbell, they will have a chance to turn this around.