FROM LOS ANGELES — Tonight marks Washington State's first visit to the newly renovated Pauley Pavilion — you can see some video of what it looks like now above — and the Cougars are hoping their ghosts of Pauley's past vanished along with the old building. Read on.
WSU has played against UCLA a total of 55 times in Los Angeles, with many of those games held at Pauley. The Cougars have won exactly two of them, both with a Bennett roaming the sidelines. Their first win over UCLA in L.A. came in 2004, Dick Bennett's first season as coach. And their second came in Tony Bennett's final season, an 82-81 win here in 2009. Otherwise, it's been all Bruins. … I'm the wrong person to ask when it comes to what has changed in here, because this is my first visit. But the consensus from those I've asked seems to be that it's become more fan-friendly. The seats behind the baskets don't appear to be quite as far from the floor as before (on one side, at least). All the banners are still here. Retired jerseys are posted in the rafters way up behind the baskets. And everything has that shiny-new feeling to it. … Is it strange to think that UCLA has more to lose tonight than WSU? Sure, the Cougars are desperate for a win — something, anything to feel good about as they head home next week to play the Oregon schools. But there might be more negative attention surrounding the Bruins than any 17-6 team in history. Hard to imagine that so many folks can be so down on Ben Howland, whose team is right in the middle of the Pac-12 championship race. But then, this is UCLA, where anything short of a Final Four appearance is unsatisfactory. Not that negative attention has necessarily mattered when it comes to these teams. If you'll recall, WSU came here last season right after the whole bombshell Sports Illustrated story about Reeves Nelson and the out-of-control Bruins was released. That didn't turn out to be much of a distraction, as the underachieving Bruins wiped the floor with WSU in a 78-46 laugher. … Bone lamented on Thursday WSU's poor shooting and missed opportunities offensively. And yes, the Cougars will need their fair share of shots to drop tonight. But this game is going to be about defense. The Bruins are longer, faster and more athletic. They run more than in years past under Howland, and if they're able to establish that kind of tempo from the start, it could be a long night. Then again, this is a UCLA team coming off a 22-for-66 shooting effort against Washington on Thursday. So they're not impossible to stop. Heck, Cal Poly won here earlier this season. An upset tonight will likely require a grinding pace, coupled with a strong 3-point shooting performance. Those used to be the kind of games the Bruins wanted. Tonight, that's a pace WSU will prefer.
We'll be back afterward with more.