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I don't think there is any big game left this season for Ben Howland's Bruins. With a record of 11-13 (6-6) in the conference we are not going to any post-season tournament unless we make a miracle run in the Pac-10 tournament. I am not going to hold my breath over that possibility. It is going to be rough to slog through rest of this season given what we have been used to as UCLA basketball fans this time of the season. Still as tough as we have been on our head coach, his staff and our players, I think it is important to take note some silver linings as we get ready for what is going to be a brutal stretch with 4 of our 6 remaining regular season games on the road.
I do feel good about how Howland's team responded after it fell apart at the seam during that ugly loss against Long Beach State earlier this season. Following that loss Drew Gordon bolted quit from the program, and we were staring at the possibility of an all out collapse through rest of the season. Yet Ben Howland cobbled together what he had left, sucked it up and discovered zone defense, and got his team to respond to him when it appeared they had tuned him out.
The loss against Long Beach State left the Bruins staggering with a record of 2-4 and then had them shell shocked with two more losses against Kansas and Mississippi State. Since that game against the Bulldogs, the Bruins have gone 9-7. I don't believe that we should be celebrating that as an "achievement." However, I do think it is noteworthy how the team did not collapse through rest of the season. Despite the unreal frustrations we have collectively experienced around a certain "shooting" forward, I have appreciated the Bruins responded with effort during victories against Cal, Washington, and Washington State this season.
I personally do not think we are going to be able to avoid a losing season this year. That said if we can keep it together as a team and hold serve at home and then somehow steal a victory out of our remaining 3 road games and win couple of games in the tournament, we could get to 16 wins, and look towards next season in somewhat of a positive frame. I know. I am really stretching here to come up with "reasonable" expectations. So in that sense tonight's game against Washington could be interesting if the Bruins come out and play with a purpose, focus and passion for entire 40 minutes. The problem is my brain and my heart tells me that Cougars despite their own struggles will be too much for our guys, as they will end UCLA's 16 game winning streak up at Pullman.
I am not sure we are going to any sense of relief tonight against a Washington State team (15-10, 5-8) which is also reeling after blowing two games in the Bay Area this past week. They blew an 18 point second half lead against Stanford before losing by a Jeremy Green clutch shot. They then went on to implode against Cal in a 27 point second half drubbing after ending the first half with an 11 point. They have lost 5 of last 6 games, which also included an epic second half meltdown against Washington, and also a 12 point loss at Pauley. The game at Pauley would have been a blowout if the Bruins were making their FTs in clutch.
While the Cougars don't have any kind of momentum, we should also remember that we similarly took on a reeling Ducks team in Eugene which came into that game with 5 game losing streak. Those Ducks promptly came alive against the Bruins after we took a double digit lead in the first half.
From our last game it was clear that we match-up pretty well against the Cougars team if we play with focus and intensity for the entire 40 minutes. For the Bruins to have a chance tonight they will have to contain Klay Thompson and Reggie Moore:
The Bruins know what to expect facing the Pacific-10 Conference's second-leading scorer, Washington State's Klay Thompson. The first time the teams met on Jan. 23, UCLA held Thompson to 13 points on 5-of-17 shooting, including 2-for-9 on 3-pointers, in a 74-62 win.
Only problem? Thompson's teammate Reggie Moore went off for 24 points with six 3-pointers.
"He got off," UCLA sophomore guard Malcolm Lee said of Moore. "He had 20 something. I think he had like the first 12 points. We're just going to have to play him real well and probably have him put the ball on the floor as opposed to having wide-open shots.
"He had a lot of wide-open 3 s in the last game. We're going to have to defend him, and Klay, I'm sure he's going to be looking to get off as well. We defended him pretty well last game so those are the main two players we're going to have to watch"
Despite their recent struggles the Cougars still have a potent team, which is ranked third in Pac-10 in scoring offense and third in 3 point FG percentage. Their problem is on the defensive end as they ranked last in scoring defense [See 2010 Pac-10 statistics]. They also had problem with our zone defense at Pauley, which I found surprising given how good both Thompson and Moore are from the outside.
It will be interesting to see what kind of rotation Howland uses in his back court after what transpired against Southern Cal. Malcolm Lee is going to have to play a big defensive role against Klay Thompson. He did a solid job against him in our last game. Tyler Honeycutt also did a great job in helping out when needed in making sure Klay was not getting any kind of open look throughout the game.
We should also note the game Mustafa Abdul-Hamid had against the Cougars at Pauley when he keyed a big Bruin run in the first half with some timely jump shots. I sure hope Coach Howland will trust his junior point guard with few more minutes than he has gotten in our previous games. Not sure if it will help the team's mindset if we have Jerime Anderson in there to give away all momentum (in case we have it) late in the first half or during crunch time of the second half.
In the frontcourt, well if Nikola Dragovic is going to have a good game tonight should be his night. He had 18 points against them earlier this season in a balanced game during which he only took 4 shots from the 3 point line (connecting 3 times). That performance wasn't an aberration for him (shocking I know), as last year he averaged 21.5 points against the Cougars. So, if he is looking to get into any kind of respectable rhythm heading into remaining games of what has been a forgettable career in Westwood, this is it.
As have discussed endlessly in recent days, we sure hope Howland also uses the game tonight to give freshmen such as Brendan Lane, Mike Moser, and Bobo Morgan some quality minutes to get them experience in a competitive Pac-10 game. None of them were used in our last game against them. I think we can certainly use Morgan and Lane up in the frontcourt to bang around against DeAngelo Casto.
So to sum it up, the question going into this game is going to be the same one we have been dealing with most of this season. Which Bruin team is going to show up and whether they will be mentally ready to play for entire 40 minutes? My brain and heart is not feeling good about what is going to transpire. Then again Howland's Bruins did surprise against Washington and Cal earlier this season.
Game thread will go up at 5 pm PST. See you then.