Until WSU stumbled against the Ducks last week, this week’s UCLA-WSU was shaping up to be the defining game of this Pac-10 regular season. The luster is off a little since UCLA has already clinched at least a tie for the Pac-10 regular season, and is very good shape in terms of getting that number 1 seed out West. That said this will still be a good game. Cougars will want to take care of their business keeping them in position to at least gain that share of conference title and try to boost their seeding in the Big Dance.
Last time we saw the Cougars, Bruins barely eked out a 3 point win against then 11-1 Cougars. Tony Bennet and his crew hadn’t caught the attention rest of the nation yet, but after giving the Bruins all they could handle, they sure appeared to us as at least the best (or at least the best coached) basketball team from the Pacific Northwest. Well Bennett is probably now the odds on favorite to become the NCOY and he deserves it.
Cougars had the Bruin flustered both on offense and on defense. Bruin defense was finding itself a step slower in the face of some precise passing in Cougar offense, while the Bruin offense in Coach Howland’s own words was "inept," "stagnant," and without much "player movement."
Well we believe the Bruins have improved a little since their meeting in December. For the last four games at least both Mata and AA2 have provided a solid presence down low. Luc is looking to drive more to the basketball. AA has cut down lot of his early season tendencies of forcing the offense, while Josh has shown signs of improvement in his last two games. And shall we say DC has grown up a little. So hopefully we will see a more focused and patient bunch of Ben Ball warriors this time out.
Meanwhile, up at Palouse Cougars are improving too. Their fans were heartened by how the team responded to Oregon loss with a total team effort against the Beavers:
Their assist-turnover ratio plummeted, and frankly it was individual skills that were saving them in victories, not team play.
Not so on this night. At long last, the Cougar guards - and sometimes the forwards, too - began finding open cutters like Baynes. They began to penetrate the first layer of the defense, only to kick it out for open shots, like Hopson's. This was the style that got WSU so far up the Pac-10 standings, and if it continues to play with it, then Tony Bennett just got his dangerous team back. […]
Some stats to highlight. Thirteen assists and six turnovers overall, seven and one in the second half. (See what I mean?) Oregon State 4-of-8 from 3 in the first half, 2-of-10 in the second. (33.3 percent overall, for those of you who visited the blog yesterday.)
Also, don't forget Robbie Cowgill's 12 points, some of which really forced Oregon State's defense to come out on WSU's screens, thus opening a little extra space for Baynes down in the low post. (If that doesn't make sense, please make a comment and I'll explain it further in a later post. Depends how X and O you want things to get. I can go there if there's sentiment for it.)
Long story short, though, WSU seems to have found itself a bit in Corvallis. (And no, I'm not saying that the season had gone into the tank at Oregon - far from it.) We'll see if this sticks.
--Junior Kyle Weaver had 14 points, five assists, three rebounds, two steals and two blocks in the loss at Oregon.
--Junior G Derrick Low scored just six points on 3 for 11 shooting, including 0 for 4 from 3-point range, against Oregon. He had 10 points and five assists in the win over Oregon State.
--F Daven Harmeling had 15 points, including 3 for 5 from 3-point range, vs. Oregon. He scored just three points vs. Oregon State, shooting 1 for 4.
I also think Harmeling is a key a player for those guys. He seems to be one those deadly 3 point shooters (44.1 percent) who has a knack for making one clutch treys after another (I saw the kid bombing away against the Wildcats at Pullman earlier in the year). Bruins to their credit completely shut down Harmeling in their first game. It will be interesting to see if they can do the same up at Pullman. I’d imagine Luc may be going up against Harmeling, while Shipp gets to take on Ivory.
Meanwhile, hopefully Mata and AA2’s improved play will continue against Cowgill and Baynes (both 6’10). The two of them combined for 6 points and 10 boards, when the Cougars came down to Pauley. We can certainly we will see better production out of them both in terms of rebounds and points, which should help out rest of their team-mates.
As usual it will all have to start with Bruin defense. WSU has gotten lot of (much deserved) pub for their defense. Ben Ball defense for its part though has really picked up. Per Pomeroy Bruins now have the 12th best defense in the nation (WSU is at no. 17). If the Bruins can generate intense pressure on the WSU guards, seal up the passing lanes, maintain their edge in rebounds, and show a little more composure and patience on offense (unlike last time), I believe we are going to be all right.