clock menu more-arrow no yes
NCAA Basketball: UCLA at Southern California

Filed under:

What to Watch For: Scouting WSU @ UCLA

The Cougs are set to take on the No. 13 Bruins on the road.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington State Cougars look to end their losing streak tonight when they take on the No. 13-ranked UCLA Bruins. The Cougs are amid their lowest point of the conference season. They are coming off two straight losses by a combined six points and their tournament hopes seem to be dwindling. However, there is still a path, and it would seemingly require a huge win at Pauley Pavilion.

Tonight’s game starts at 8 p.m. PT from Los Angeles. It can be watched on Fox Sports 1 or via foxsports.com (with a cable subscription.)

The Bruins have lost three of their last four games and they are slipping in the rankings. They also got swept by the Arizona schools at home and lost to USC by three. Still, UCLA is one of the best teams in the nation. They are top 20 on both ends according to Kenpom and they are stacked with talent. After an impressive Final Four run last season, the Bruins remain one of the most formidable teams in college basketball.

UCLA Bruins

Offense:

The Bruins are one of the top offenses in the country and that is due in large part to their elite shot-making. They almost never turn the ball over, ranking 4th in the nation in turnover percentage, and that is in large part due to how many isolations they run. Turnovers happen a lot less when there is less passing going on, and UCLA is 209th in assists per field goals made. That means they rely a lot on their offensive talent to create looks for themselves and score in tough situations. They also rank 69th in offensive rebound percentage which helps boost their offense. They are not an elite efficiency team, but they make tough shots and have a very high shot volume, which helps them get to 18th in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency.

UCLA’s offense is not super complex, but there are quite a few actions going on. The players are not forced to make a lot of decisions, but the defense is and that is the whole goal. Mick Cronin seems to have a philosophy of forcing the opponents to make decisions while limiting the decisions his players must make. Here, UCLA runs a weave to get the defense to tilt, then they run a pindown, and finally the play ends with a post-up.

UCLA will occasionally run some quick-hitter actions, specifically out of pistol plays. This is similar to an offensive play WSU like to run, but Tyger Campbell gets downhill with ease and finishes at the rim.

UCLA likes to run some horns sets as well, specifically horns down. Horns down is a double pindown screen on either side of the floor. Notice that Johnny Juzang actually runs off the screen while Jules Bernard hardly moves, this is because this play creates the illusion of choice for UCLA without their actually being a decision made. The play is for Juzang and Juzang only and the other action is only meant to occupy the defense.

Another play they like to run for Juzang is a floppy action. A floppy is where a shooter runs off of two cross screens on the baseline and getting a shot off of that movement. This is not an action that is seen often anymore, but it works for UCLA.

Here is another example of UCLA’s lack of decisions on offense. Once again, this play is the type that often requires a lot of decision to be made by the offense, but this one is much more streamlined. This is a chin play that gets combined with a hammer screen. The shot it creates is not all that great, but Juzang hits it anyways.

UCLA runs a lot of isolations in the mid-post, mostly for Juzang and Jaime Jaquez Jr. They run a small little blur screen to set the play up, but it is pretty much a straight isolation beyond that. Their players are good enough to make this work and it limits their turnovers.

Defense:

UCLA is one of the top defenses in the country and is consistent night to night. They are 15th in the nation in Kenpom’s Adjusted Defensive Efficiency and they have had some stifling performances. They are not elite at anything defensively, but they are solid at just about everything. They rebound well, they force a good number of turnovers, they force teams into bad shots, and they don’t over foul. Their greatest strength is their size, having a 6’6 shooting guard, a 6’6 small forward, and a solid-sized frontline helps them match-up well with smaller teams and they contest shots well. They are most exploitable if their opponents are hitting from deep because they allow a good amount of threes, but otherwise, they are difficult to beat.

UCLA likes to catch on ball-screens. Their goal is to force teams to take pull-up jumpers or try to speed into contests around the basket. They will allow pocket passes because they trust their help defense to contest at the rim.

One of UCLA’s greatest defensive strengths is how well they scout opponents and commit to their defensive gameplans. Most teams would soft-switch a lot of these guard-guard screens, but UCLA wants to keep their matchups and force the opponents to beat the players UCLA wants guarding them.

In the offensive section I mentioned that UCLA limits the decisions they make and that philosophy transfers to defense. Their goal is often to make players make tough and quick decisions with the ball in their hand. That is part of why they catch those ball-screens — giving guards freedom to make mistakes — and they will also double in the post. Cronin bets that opponents will turn the ball over or take bad shots when presented with these scenarios and it tends to work.

Their scouting prowess also helps them play personnel well. They plug hard off of non-shooters and they are very content to give poor shooters a lot of open space beyond the arc.

Players to Watch:

Johnny Juzang is the conference’s second-leading scorer and for good reason. He can shoot at a high-level from deep, but he prefers to do his damage in the mid-range. He is a tough shot-maker in the truest of senses, hitting insanely difficult shots with consistency and being the scoring focal point of UCLA’s offense. He is going to get some NBA looks at the end of this season and he still carries a lot of momentum from his incredible March Madness run next season.

Jaime Jaquez Jr. is the leader of this UCLA team and one of the most effective two-way players in the conference. Jaquez Jr. is a good athlete at 6’6 who can dribble, pass, and shoot while playing well both on and off the ball defensively. His well-rounded game makes him consistent night to night, and he makes it hard on every opposing team.

Peyton Watson is probably the best long-term NBA prospect on the UCLA roster. He was a top 10 high school recruit in 2021 and was someone many predicted to be a top five pick in the upcoming NBA draft. He has not blown up in the way many predicted, but he still has a lot of talent. He is an elite ball-handler at 6’8 with a lot of athletic pop that shows up on defense. He is still someone I would take with a top 20 pick despite his struggles this season.

Jules Bernard is the most underrated player on the UCLA roster. He is a low usage player, but he is 6’6 with legitimate ball-skills, good passing vision, and nice touch as a scorer. He sometimes finds himself playing as the bail-out player for UCLA’s offense, taking tough shots at the end of the shot clock. He is overlooked in the NBA draft sphere and his skillset is a scalable one.

Tyger Campbell is a consummate point guard who is the glue that binds UCLA together on both ends. The 5’11 point guard is an efficient scorer, shooting 41.7% from deep, and a great passer. He averages 4.6 assists per game and only 1.4 turnovers. His defense is also solid, getting over screens and jumping passes. His all-around game makes him the perfect point guard to play next to UCLA’s scorers.

Washington State Cougars

Players to Watch:

Noah Williams needs to have a big game if the Cougs are going to upset the Bruins. He had a great first half against Oregon and that helped keep the Cougs afloat when not a lot was going their way, but he has still yet to reach the heights we saw last season. It is hard to narrow down what has gone wrong with Williams this season, but just about every aspect of his game has regressed. The Cougs don’t need him to be the guy he was last year, but they need him to be a cog in the machine and contribute to the offense.

Mouhamed Gueye, despite his youth and only averaging 7.5 points a contest, has probably been WSU’s most vital player this season. All of the offensive actions look better when he plays in them, and his defense is elite. He protects the rim well and he has moments where he makes stops on the perimeter. He can get gassed at moments and he sometimes gets beat in transition, but when the motor revs high, he is elite. The Cougs will need him to be an eraser in this one, as he is likely going to be guarding Jaquez Jr. Gueye just playing his role will go a long way for the Cougs, but they need him to have a true breakout defensive game in this one.

Andrej Jakimovski has been nursing an ankle injury for a while and it has hurt the Cougs on both ends. When he is healthy, he is one of the best players on the roster and he fills a lot of the holes. His shooting is elite, as he is one of the best shooters of his size and age in the whole world, the defense is good, and the rebounding helps the Cougs immensely. However, his injury has hurt the defense and the rebounding a lot and that limits his utility to the team. Getting healthy, spacing the floor, and pulling down huge boards would help WSU get the upset in LA.

Efe Abogidi has struggled offensively during WSU’s losing streak. The defense remains elite, blocking five shots and getting three steals over those three games, but he has not been able to score at all. He has averaged barely over four points a game over the last three and he has shot a miserable percentage from the field. The turnovers have been rough too, as he has had no assists and six turnovers over the streak. Just calming down and playing his role on offense would be immensely useful and it would allow WSU to take the most advantage of his elite defense.

What to Watch For:

Protecting the rim is a huge key for WSU in this game. UCLA is going to hit their mid-range shots, but they are not a great three-point shooting team (11th in the conference in three-point percentage in Pac-12 play). The Cougs have the ability to force them to miss shots at the rim and take away a major facet of their offense. UCLA only has two or three above average finishers at the rim and the Cougs are one of the best rim protecting teams in the country. If WSU can force UCLA to only score on jump shots, they might have a shot to get the upset.

Hitting shots is the main thing that has kept this team down. The WSU offense can create good looks and when the plays are properly run there are a lot of open shots to be had. However, creating all the open shots in the world doesn’t matter when the shots don’t fall. Against Arizona State and Oregon specifically, good shooters missed open shots, and no one could get a layup to fall. The main key to winning this game is, quite simply, making the open shots that the offense creates. If Jakimovski is healthy, that will help the shooting and the space inside, but others are going to have to step up too.

Question of the Game:

Will the Cougs finally get the offense going?

Hot Cougar Action

Cougar Baseball stands on the brink

Hot Cougar Action

Kirk Schulz praises George Kliavkoff’s first year as Pac-12 commissioner

WSU Basketball Recruiting

WSU basketball 2023 recruiting targets, Part 2: Building out the roster