Remember the recent Washington State vs. UCLA match-ups since Ben Howland’s arrived in Westwood? And how most of them finished in the 50s or low 60s? Then there was the 82-81 game here last February. And the dynamic has changed. With Ken Bone taking over at WSU and the Bruins’ defense leaving the building, we might see another game like we saw here last year. Or maybe not. Read on.
• The Bruins are not the Bruins of the last decade, that’s for sure. Howland is from that coaching fraternity that believes smothering man-to-man defense shows your toughness. That’s how they’ve been able to be so successful in his tenure. But that’s not the case this year. UCLA is playing some zone – yes, zone – and still hasn’t been able to really stop anybody. Teams are shooting 44.8 percent against them this season – an even worse 46.4 in conference play – which is only better than Stanford. WSU comes in shooting 45.5 from the floor in conference play (but 48.2 overall), so the opportunities should be available for them. My guess is, if the Bruins play man, they’ll give Tyler Honeycutt the first shot at Thompson. If not, then Malcom Lee will have to guard him, and that leaves someone not nearly quick enough (Michael Roll or Honeycutt) left guarding Reggie Moore. With these type of choices, either UCLA plays zone or they use a junk defense – a triangle-and-two comes to mind – to slow the Cougars. … One thing to watch today – and the game is on TV – is the matchup between the Niks, WSU’s Koprivica and UCLA’s Dragovic, who hurt WSU here last year. They’ll be matched up when Koprivica is at the 4. Abe Lodwick will be on him to start with Marcus Capers probably taking Michael Roll. … I never mentioned DeAngelo Casto’s missed dunk against USC because ultimately it didn’t have an effect on the game – other than to incite the USC student body, such as it was, to chant “You can’t dunk” when he was at the free-throw line – and it was understandable, after he had spent so much time getting knocked around – literally – by the USC wide bodies. And yes, I know he had five blocked shots, which is impressive in their number, but doesn’t mean he played his best defensive game. Too often early, Casto got pushed too deep, leading to too many easy shots. Late, though, when WSU needed stops, Casto stepped up and started winning the battles inside. … So what are the keys? The usual. Start decently, attack intelligently, defend tenaciously. No matter how down UCLA is, this is still a tough place to win. If WSU is going to earn its second-ever sweep of the LA schools, it will have to play at its best. And someone, maybe Casto, will have to give the Cougars a third scoring option.
• That’s it for now. We’ll be back at halftime. Until then …