LOS ANGELES—Coming on the heels of their road victory Thursday evening over USC, the Washington State (14-5, 4-3) men’s basketball team will lace ‘em up again Saturday afternoon. They will travel across Los Angeles to take on the UCLA Bruins (8-10, 3-3) at 1:00 PM PST on the hardwood inside Pauley Pavilion in Westwood.
Coach Ken Bone guided his team to a comeback win over the Trojans. With much of the attention for WSU focused on talented sophomore Klay Thompson, freshman point guard Reggie Moore played outstanding basketball.
After the game, USC coach Kevin O’Neill called Moore, “The kid that killed us...” He went on to say, “I haven’t seen a better point guard in the conference than Moore. He just took us apart.”
On paper, it might appear that the Cougs will have an easy time against UCLA. The Bruins were taken apart by USC last Sunday afternoon on their home court in Pauley Pavilion, and they are under .500 on the season.
With a buzzer beater by Mustafa Abdul-Hamid, which broke the hearts of Husky Nation, UCLA narrowly escaped 62-61 over UW. The victory evened the Bruins Pac-10 record at 3-3.
Coach Ben Howland has just two problems with his team this season. The first actually brings about the second. UCLA has been challenging Cal for the most injuries to its players. As Coach Howland has been forced to juggle his lineup, the Bruins have struggled with consistency.
Considering Washington was picked to win the conference by a poll of media members covering the Pac-10, the Bruin win Thursday night would have to be considered an upset—even in Westwood. Make no mistake, there is plenty of talent on the UCLA roster. The Bruins simply lack experience, a characteristic shared with the Cougs.
The Bruins are just 2-2 in Pac-10 play at home, including their win Thursday night. That stat speaks volumes about this edition of UCLA basketball. In recent years, the chances of an earthquake in LA were more likely than a UCLA loss at Pauley Pavilion.
Sophomore Malcolm Lee leads a balanced scoring attack for UCLA with 13.7 points per game. He's followed closely by Michael Roll at 13.1, Nikola Dragovic at 10.6, and Reeves Nelson with 10.5.
Last season Washington State beat some pretty long odds by handing UCLA a loss at home. The Cougs were 1-52 at Pauley Pavilion when they pulled off their second win in Westwood.
Can WSU win for the second time on this trip to Los Angeles?
Here are the keys for Washington State on Saturday:
-Coach Howland will try to keep the pace of the game slow and deliberate. That style was effective for USC against WSU in the first half of their game. The Trojans denied the Cougs points off the break for 20 minutes. WSU will need to work for rebounds to get transition opportunities.
-Limit good looks from three-point range for senior Michael Roll. Roll is shooting 42.4 percent from long range.
-Protect the basketball on offense. With each possession being valuable in a game against a coach Howland team, limiting turnovers is crucial.
Klay Thompson may not have had his best game statistically against the Trojans, but he played a great game at both ends of the court in front of family and friends. Look for Klay to do that again on Saturday because the Cougs can get scoring out of both Moore and senior Nikola Koprivica. Despite being the fifth-ranked scorer in the nation, too much focus on Thompson would be a mistake Coach Howland isn’t likely to make.
FSN will have their “A” team working the telecast Saturday at 1:00 PM PST. Veteran announcer Barry Tompkins and former Bruin Don MacLean will be calling the action. If you can’t get to a television set, Bud Nameck will be calling the game on the Cougars Basketball Radio Network.
Originally published in Lew Wright's WSU Sports column for Examiner.com