PULLMAN – Washington State will play host to a familiar and not particularly imposing Goliath on Wednesday when the Cougars face No. 11 UCLA at Beasley Coliseum, where they have a three-game winning streak against the Bruins.
The Cougars (11-10, 4-5 Pac-12) enter the second half of conference play on the upswing, having split the road series against the Arizona schools last week, including a competitive showing against No. 5 Arizona. Though the Cougars lost to the Wildcats, they came back to beat Arizona State on Sunday.
“I think in this conference it is so difficult to play well, so really difficult to win on the road because you’re in an environment where there’s energy with the kids and the fans, and it’s a tough conference,” coach Ernie Kent said. “To be able to compete at Arizona with the ball and the lead, and we didn’t finish the game – however, bouncing back at Arizon State and really controlling the game and environment, I think it’s a sign of the character of our basketball team. I think they’re buying in and losing is not acceptable here anymore.”
The always-talented Bruins are especially so this year, led by superb point guard Lonzo Ball and athletic forward T.J. Leaf. Ball has a chance to be the first player selected in the upcoming NBA draft, while Leaf has already earned a pair of Pac-12 Player of the Week awards.
The challenge against the Bruins will be to contend with their perimeter shooting. UCLA ranks second nationally in 3-point field-goal percentage (43.0) and averages 10.8 made 3-pointers per game. Preventing 3-pointers has been an issue for the Cougars, who have suffered 180 long-distance buckets this season, second only to Arizona State and UCLA among Pac-12 teams.
“They are so different than what they were last year,” Kent said. “They score like an NBA team scores.”
But the Bruins (19-3, 6-3) appear particularly vulnerable, having finished their first half of conference play on a two-game losing streak. The most recent of UCLA’s losses came to rival USC, which the Cougars will host at 5 p.m. on Saturday.
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