FROM LOS ANGELES — Inside this old, empty building, it feels like business as usual. But will it remain that way once the game starts? We have some thoughts, so read on.
As we sit on press row, watching UCLA's players shoot around here about an hour and a half before tip-off, there is no feeling that this is anything other than just another ordinary basketball game day. Of course, nobody is here yet and there's nothing going on. But with all the hoopla that resulted from Wednesday's Sports Illustrated article about the turmoil surrounding UCLA's basketball program, I wonder if the Bruins might not come to play tonight. Ben Howland's job status is as tenuous as it ever has been. UCLA's season is already in the toilet. And the Cougars, though incapable of improving their Pac-12 tournament seeding, are very much still all-in on this season and feel there is plenty left to prove. … An usher outside seemed to think there would be more media here tonight than usual, but a UCLA staffer said he didn't think that would be the case. … I'm most interested in two defensive matchups today: WSU against Josh Smith, and UCLA against Brock Motum. The Cougars struggled to keep the ball out of Smith's hands in the first meeting between these teams, and as a result, the big man scored 19 points in 22 minutes on 8-9 shooting. WSU tried fronting him with guards when it could, and had some success with that. But if Smith caught the ball, he was automatic. Motum, on the other hand, played all 40 minutes and scored 25 points, though 19 came in the first half as UCLA slowed him by switching to a zone defense. … Can WSU bounce back at the free throw line? I wonder if their focus will be aided by the fact that 99.9 percent of the folks watching this game are only concerned with UCLA's drama. Plus, I believe the word “sterile” was invented specifically to describe the environment of a basketball game played in this building. … Turnovers were crucial in WSU's previous loss to UCLA. The Cougars had 15 of those against Washington.
All for now. We'll be back after the game.