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Bruins Close Out the Old Year With Huge Conference Test

One last piece of business remains for UCLA in 2010, and it just happens to be one of the biggest games on the schedule. The Bruins take on the Washington Huskies at 1 PM PST today at Pauley Pavilion, and the Bruins' postseason hopes, even at this early stage, could hang in the balance. Washington is one of only three Pac 10 teams with an RPI higher than 50, and there really is no better chance than this to earn a "good" win in conference play.

Peter Yoon from ESPNLA breaks down the Huskies:

The Huskies boast an offense that averages 89.1 points, most among Pac-10 teams. A bevy of quick, athletic players such as Isaiah ThomasJustin Holiday and Matthew Bryan-Amaning and a bench that goes five players deep make Washington a matchup nightmare for most teams. 

Washington has 10 players averaging five points or more and the Huskies have out rebounded their last three opponents by an average of 13.7 per game. 

UW's pint-sized Thomas is averaging over 15 points per game on the season, and given our troubles at point guard on both ends of the floor, this is going to be a critical matchup. I do not expect us to win this matchup, but if the Bruins are to have a chance, we need serviceable play from both Zeke and Anderson. If he's allowed free reign to be both a scorer and a distributor, the Bruins and their fans may as well make their way to their New Years Eve parties early.

In addition to forwards Holiday and Bryan-Amaning, the Huskies will likely turn to their three guard trifecta, throwing Venoy Overton and Abdul Gaddy into the mix. It will be interesting to see if Lorenzo Romar attempts to stretch our thin backcourt to the limits defensively with a three guard lineup.

Obviously at almost 90 points per game, Washington generates a lot of their points in transition, and so it will also be incumbent upon the Bruins to not only get back, but to make sure that they're not simply collapsing into the lane as they do so (which they have also been known to do). They will have to be smart, as the Huskies will not be shy to let it fly from beyond the arc, ranking 7th in the nation in 3 point percentage (41.9%), so staying on the shooters even in transition will be of utmost importance. 

While the LA Times' Ben Bolch was busy writing some irrelevant drivel about the treatment Joshua Smith could get on his return to Washington...3 months from now, Yoon once again serves up some strategy from CBH for this game:

"We’ve got to do a good job trying to stop the ball early so we can get a chance to get everybody back," Howland said. "It may be that we have to only rebound two guys. We’ll start out trying to rebound [TylerHoneycutt, but there will be times where we may only rebound our four and our five." 

This really goes to show that, once again, Joshua Smith will be asked to shoulder the load, especially in terms of rebounding, and all we can do at this point is hope that he doesn't pick up cheap fouls that will land him on the bench. Washington has talented forwards, and so the only place you can say that we truly have a matchup advantage is at center, and even then only when Smith is in the middle. If we start letting Husky guards get into the lane, and start exposing our subpar interior help defense, it's going to spell big trouble for guys like Smith and Reeves Nelson. On offense, we're going to need to feed the big man to abuse any small lineup that Romar may throw at us. Getting into a full court jungle ball game will likely not turn out well for us, and so utilizing Smith will also help slow the pace to our liking.

As mentioned earlier, this is a big game for our tournament resume. Other than UW, only Cal and Arizona have RPIs higher than 50 in the conference, and history shows that if we want to notch a win over UW for the year, it had better come in Pauley, because the trip to Seattle has not been kind to the Bruins in recent years.

The Huskies aren't the best team we've played this year, but I don't think it would be a stretch to say they present the most matchup problems for us out of any team on our schedule. The good news is that the Bruins just came off one of their best halves on both ends of the floor that they've played all year against Washington State. That kind of inspiration and intensity is what the Bruins will need if they intend to send out the old year the right way.