Washington State (11-6, 3-2) enjoyed a great road trip through the Willamette Valley, defeating both Oregon State and Oregon. Road wins in the Pac-10 always make traveling a true pleasure.
Coach Tony Bennett and his staff may have shared the ride home with their team, but relaxing wasn't not an option. They had to prepare to host Coach Ben Howland and his No. 11 UCLA Bruins (14-3, 4-1) Thursday evening on the hardwood of Friel Court.
The Bruins have virtually owned the Cougs and Coach Bennett recently. UCLA has won the last eight consecutive meetings between the two teams. Their record in Pullman is even more impressive having emerged victorious their previous 16 trips to the Palouse.
How have the Bruins become so dominant over Washington State in recent years?
The answer to Coach Howland's formula of earning win after win over the Cougs can be distilled down to one word.
The focus of any team coached by Ben Howland will be on defense. Sure, UCLA has some awesome plays to score with but that isn't how they expect to win games.
The Bruins are arriving in Pullman fresh off an agonizing overtime loss to Arizona State. Try as they might, the Bruins couldn't shut down ASU guard James Harden. Harden was the difference in the game, scoring game high 24 points.
You can bet that the ears of Bruin players are smarting after being dressed down for allowing Harden to go off on them. Keep in mind, that same ASU team lost to USC a few nights earlier. The Trojans did what the Bruins couldn't. They shut down Harden.
Coach Howland will put together a game plan against WSU that is geared at stopping senior Taylor Rochestie from emulating the performance of James Harden on the offensive end of the court. Rochestie is coming off a career high of 30 points against Oregon in Eugene Saturday afternoon.
Looking at Washington State, how will Coach Bennett come up with a plan to stop the complete domination UCLA has enjoyed over the Cougs for several years?
You had to know that was coming.
UCLA has two of the best offensive players in the Pac-10 in Darren Collison and Josh Shipp.
Collison can create shots with his speed, quickness and great shooting touch. Problem for opponents in dealing with Collison is if you switch and double team him when he has the ball, the kid can pass. He's a pure point guard that loves to run the UCLA offense whether he's setting up a play or taking a shot.
Scoring or assists? Doesn't matter. Collison is a competitor.
Two words describe the way Josh Shipp has been shooting lately. White hot. Over the last four games, Shipp has converted 12 of 19 attempts from behind the 3-point line. That's 63 percent!
Arizona State was able to shut down the Bruins scoring by using a zone that completely through them out of sync. Coach Bennett is likely to begin the game employing a zone scheme of his own and make UCLA prove they can shoot over it. If that doesn't work, he'll move on to Plan B.
Much will be made over UCLA's loss coming in to this game.
Much will be made over WSU's sweep through Oregon.
Come tip off time Thursday evening, none of the history between these two schools will matter. The Zzu Cru will be creating a deafening din, screaming their lungs out. Cougar adrenalin will be charged up by the WSU band blasting out the Cougar Fight Song.
Washington State will be ready to defend their house.
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