This afternoon, the UCLA Bruins men’s basketball team will face what will likely be the toughest test they face against a Pac-12 team during the regular season when the Bruins visit the Washington Huskies.
At 17-4 overall and 8-0 in the Pac-12, the Huskies are the closest thing the Pac-12 has to a ranked team. In fact, Washington currently sits just outside the Top 25 in the AP Poll at #28 and they are 32nd in the USA Today Coaches Poll.
Under second-year head coach Mike Hopkins, the Huskies appear to be playing better fundamental basketball than their opponents. Washington has won its last ten games. During that streak, the Huskies have not allowed an opponent to score more than 70 points. On top of that, Washington has not lost at home at all this season.
Meanwhile, three of the Huskies’ starters are averaging in double figures in points. Sophomore guard Jaylen Nowell leads the team with an average of 16.7 points per game. To make matters worse, Nowell is shooting 51% from the field and 56% from three-point range since Pac-12 play began.
Senior forward Noah Dickerson is second on the team in points with an average of 13.2 points per game, but his play has taken a step back since Pac-12 play began and he is averaging just 9.8 points per game in conference games.
The Huskies will play a three-guard lineup with two forwards. This could hurt Washington against UCLA because they just don’t have the same size on the court like the Bruins do. As we’ve seen in the past two games, the Bruins have been playing well against teams which play a smaller lineup than them.
The other two starting guards for Washington are seniors Matisse Thybulle, who is averaging 9.5 points per game overall but 10.1 ppg in Pac-12 games, and David Crisp, who is averaging 11.9 ppg overall and 15.6 ppg against conference opponents. Sophomore Hameir Wright is the Huskies’ fifth starter. Wright is the biggest guy among Washington starters, coming in at 6’9” tall.
It will be interesting to see if Hopkins gives seven-foot freshman center Bryan Penn-Johnson some playing time tonight. Penn-Johnson hasn’t played in a game since conference play began, but he could get some time to help battle Moses Brown as well as UCLA’s other big men.
Another guy who should see significant time tonight is 6’6” tall sophomore forward Nahziah Carter. Carter has stepped up his game in conference play. While he’s averaging 8.6 ppg overall, he’s shot better against Pac-12 opponents, averaging 9.9 points per game against conference opponents.
It should be interesting to see if Washington rebounds well against a bigger Bruins lineup. The Huskies’ top two rebounders are the 6’4” tall Nowell and 6’8” Dickerson, but I’m expecting them to have a tough time rebounding against the Bruins, specifically Moses Brown who is five inches taller than Dickerson.
Overall, I don’t expect UCLA to win this afternoon but, if they are to have a chance, they will need to minimize turnovers. While the Huskies have generally played sound fundamental basketball, turnovers may just be their achilles heel. Washington is averaging 13.5 turnovers per game in Pac-12 action. Sure, the Bruins are averaging 16.6 per game, but they’ve controlled the ball better of late and doing so today may prove to be a deciding factor in today’s game.