Not only did Saturday’s loss at UCLA – the Bruins first win on a Saturday this season – deny Washington State a rare sweep in Los Angeles, it also denied the Cougars a chance to ensure a winning record in the Pac-10 Conference’s first half. Now, for that to happen, WSU must travel to Seattle and defeat the Huskies in Hec Ed. That’s all. Pretty simple, huh? We have some notes, links and thoughts from Saturday’s defeat, so go ahead and read on.
• Washington State: It’s taken a while, but Pac-10 coaches are discovering the Cougars are a bit short of consistent outside shooters. And a bit short of inside scorers. So, if you take away the bounce, make it difficult to get the ball to the posts and force the Cougars beat you from the outside, you’re chances of getting a win are greatly enhanced. Doing this with man defense is getting increasingly more difficult, in that WSU has improved all season against ball pressure. But doing it with a well-executed zone, that’s another thing. At least as long as at least one of the Cougars’ three best outside shooters – Klay Thompson, Reggie Moore and Nik Koprivica – are struggling. Saturday, it was Thompson’s turn. The sophomore had some open looks, but failed to knock those down. He took some shots under pressure, but failed to knock them down. He drove and tried to score over the Bruin bigs, but failed to knock them down. In other words, he failed to knock down shots. … But say another player had stepped, maybe Xavier Thames (who missed all six of his shots)? That happens, the defense has to adjust and the flow of the game could have been different. Even though WSU depends on Klay Thompson as its go-to guy, he’s going to be off occasionally. That’s when others have to come through if the Cougars are going to win. … UCLA made some smart offensive adjustments after halftime, countering what WSU was doing defensively. Early on, the Bruin shooters were getting free because defenders were getting hung up on screens, many of which were borderline illegal. So WSU adjusted and the screen defenders started showing harder. That worked for a while, but UCLA adjusted, slipping the screens in the second half and getting easy inside looks. When the Cougars adjusted to that, Nikola Dragovic got hot from the outside – he was shooting less than 30 percent from beyond the arc coming in, but hit 3 of 4 – and that was that. … DeAngelo Casto had a tough offensive road trip. The USC bigs banged him around and the UCLA zone took him away. One positive though. The Bruins were so conscious of blocking Casto off the offensive glass, they did a cruddy job keeping Marcus Capers, attacking from the high post, off the boards. That led to one highlight-reel slam and another acrobatic putback. … On to the links. … Here’s my game story and last night’s blog post. … Freelancer Howie Stalwick had this piece in the Kitsap Sun and other papers. … The Times’ Husky beat writer Percy Allen had this short game story. … From the LA Times, Chris Foster had this gamer, while this piece appeared in the Daily News.
• What the participants had to say …
WSU coach Ken Bone on the Cougars try for another comeback: “It’s always difficult to battle back from a 14, 15-point deficit, especially on the road against a team that’s playing confident.”
On Klay’s struggles: “When he’s making shots, that obviously helps us a lot. It’s not all on Klay, but he’s better than a 2-for-9 shooter from the 3-point line. … Other guys need to be able to score.”
On WSU not getting post touches: “We could always use some help down low. … It was a good effort by UCLA in the paint, on the offensive and defensive ends. I thought they did a good job.”
On the Cougars’ defense: “There were holes in our defense today. … There were a couple of possessions, especially out of time outs, where they came out, executed and scored easy baskets.”
Reggie Moore on what a shooter can do when his shot’s not falling: “Try to get to the free-throw line, try to get to the basket a little more. Try to get a rhythm for the game.”
On Thompson: “We know Klay’s going to make those shots. We’re not really worried about that.”
On the stretch after halftime: “They came out hard out us, that’s what we expected, that’s what coach told us in the locker room.”
On UCLA’s ability to shred the defense: “They executed their offense pretty well, but we’ve got to focus more on our scouting reports.”
On why WSU was impatient offensively: “It’s being young and not being basketball smart, not being wise at all.”
Nik Koprivica on the offense: “A couple minutes, we kind of rushed stuff. I think we struggled with our zone offense a lit bit. But overall I think it was our shots not falling in. … When Klay is not shooting really well, we kind of struggle. … Some of the other guys have to step up and make up for shots he’s not making.”
On the aborted late run: “We had a chance. … We battled back, but we’ve got to be more consistent and take care of the ball more.”
On Nik Dragovic’s outburst: “He’s a good player and he got a few open looks and he knocked them down. (He’s a) great shooter. Next time you look up, he’s got like 15, 18 points and you’re like ‘wow, I didn’t realize he got those.’ But he’s a good player overall.”
UCLA coach Ben Howland on the Bruins’ zone: “Our guys were really large in the zone today. It’s not like they were standing around, they were really active.”
On the end: “Those last 199 seconds seems like an eternity. We have to get better at closing out games from the foul line.”
On what UCLA did well: “We did a very good job being patient on offense for the second game in a row. Our team has to play exactly as we have been playing to be successful.”
• Around the Pac-10: The Huskies, 12-1 in Seattle, are still winless outside of town in six tries. USC manhandled them Saturday with five players in double figures … In another rout, Arizona’s new coach Sean Miller got the best of former boss Herb Sendek and the Sun Devils fell out of first. … Oregon State’s rally at Cal came up short. … Stanford’s Landry Fields had 32 points (he trails Thompson by .7 of a point in the Pac-10 scoring stats, 22.3 to 21.6) as the Cardinal pounded the last-place Ducks.
• That’s it for this morning. We’ll post as events warrant, but we’re about to get on a plane home. Until later …