Tonight against Washington State is the second game of the PAC 12 basketball conference season and it is seemly already a must win for UCLA. Why?
1. Schedule, Road. UCLA can't go 0-2 on its easiest road trip of the season. Every other road trip involves a team picked to finish in front of UCLA in the PAC 12. (Not counting Just SC as a road trip since it is a one game bus ride.)
2. Arizona. UCLA will be in trouble if it goes into its next game, at home against #8 ranked and division front runner Arizona 0-2. Can't do it. Yes, UCLA started out last season terribly in the PAC 12 and could "rebound" with a win over Arizona but that is not a good idea.
3. WSU is the worst team in the PAC 12. If UCLA can't beat WSU on the road, there is no team that UCLA can feel safe against on the road.
On the last point, how bad is Washington State? They are ranked 122 by KemPom and last in the PAC 12. They gave up 54 points to Just SC in the first half on Friday in a game that was not as close as the 90-77 score indicates. In the half of that game I watched, I am not sure I saw WSU play any defense as WSU Coach Ernie Kent stated: "It looked like a highlight reel out there."
The Cougars have one common opponent, Gonzaga who they lost to at home by 9 points. WSU has no real quality wins on their resume.
The Cougars are led by 6'10" Junior Josh Hawkinson who is averaging a double double this season. Hawkinson is a complete player who can even hit the occasional three pointer. 6'2" Ike is enjoying a good season shooting the ball including an incredible 54% from three. The 6'5" Que Johnson is also shooting well from three (41%) and is tied for the most attempts in that category. The fourth player who averages over 20 minutes a game is the 6' Charles Callison. Callison has had zero assists in 2 of the last 4 games and a total of 5. Despite being a starter Callison has a microscopic 4 free three attempts for the season
Callison is a sign of the drop of in talent which Kent tries to compensate for by throwing bodies on the court. WSU has 6 guys off the bench who average double digit minutes. The twelfth guy Bosse played double digit minutes last year so really WSU can claim to be deep but not good.
But really the game tonight is not about WSU but rather UCLA. UCLA
shouldhas to win tonight. So why is this game in doubt?
I thought I would quickly discuss three comments made after the WSU game.
I thought we were "deep" this year.
What happened to that depth when the starters got into foul trouble?
Bingo. This is one of the biggest reasons we lost to UW.
Our bench goes Bolden, very good on defense and a true asset.
Prince Ali . Very big potential who has either (if you defend Steve Alford) been hurt and that has delayed his development OR (if you look at Steve Alford critically) been underused as Bryce and Isaac continue to rack up huge minutes. This team needs quality minutes from Ali. It was obvious that Steve Alford has lost confidence in Prince as shown by his going big until Welsh fouled out in the UW game.
Everyone else. I will partially defend Bryce going hero ball late in the first half. The other three guys who were playing at that point are a combined 25% from the field. Our bench is 6.5 players. Ali could become real but the other guys. . .
2. A comment by Floydo
I think I ate a bad mushroom last night. Am I having a Maui flashback? That was awful. Too much Bryce driving to nowhere and too many 3' airballs from Tony. I think he cracked the backboard on one. It was so ugly, nobody wanted to rebound it, thinking that whatever Tony had was contagious. He shot another backwards. I hadn't seen anyone do that before but now I have.
I am going to focus on the Tony Parker part of the comment. Parker has been awful since the first half of the North Carolina game. Since that time (when UCLA was tied), Parker has shot 6-24. As Floydo points out, Parker was not exactly shooting from long range against UW. Parker also has a truly awful 14 turnovers in the last three games. This is a horrid number for any player but almost unthinkable for a big.
Did Parker eat the bad mushroom at halftime of the North Carolina game?
3. A comment by Islandbruin2:
regressed from what?
the stellar 14 point win over McNeese St?
the thumping at the hands of North Carolina?
the stellar 9 point win over Louisiana-Lafayette?
It is hard to see regression from the Kentucky and Gonzaga games (a potential source of reference), when there have been 4 ho-hum or worse performances since then. Which games are the outliers? Regression implies that last night was an outlier. I disagree.
The million dollar question. Is UCLA the chumps who play awful basketball and lost to a bad UW team, struggled against a truly awful McNeese State team or are they the team that beat Kentucky and Gonzaga on the road?
I think the answer is this is a team with a small margin of error. Against Louisiana-Lafayette UCLA played without Thomas Welsh and Prince Ali. UCLA hung with North Carolina, actually was beating them, until fouls forced the Alex Olensinski in the game, when UCLA was up 9. Alex had three turnovers in his first two minutes in the game and the game changed.
This effects everything. See this quote from Steve Alford on the UW game:
"Because we were in foul trouble we just couldn't play man (defense), especially in the second half," Steve Alford said. "We really couldn't could not afford to go man and get after them the way we thought we could man them, because of foul trouble we had to play a lot more zone."
Thomas Welsh, arguably UCLA's most consistent player, can't play wing in a zone. He can't get outside. Parker is only slightly better. This is required in UCLA's 3-2 zone. UCLA's MAN TO MAN defense was working against UW's offense in the first half and its zone used in the second half and OT was shredded. UW shot 26% in the first half 40% in the second, and 47% (including 4-8 from three) in overtime.
If the starters get in foul trouble so we have to play zone, the bench after Ali has to play, or Tony Parker keeps playing awful, UCLA is not a good team and UCLA could lose or struggle with WSU on the road. On the other hand if Parker is playing well and UCLA only has to play seven players, we could beat Arizona at home.