Preview & Prediction: By Fairway Jay
UCLA suffered their first conference loss last weekend as Arizona State knocked off the defending league champs in overtime at Pauley Pavilion. The defeat created some balance at the top of the Pac-10, and with both UCLA and Washington winning on Thursday night each team is now 5-1 and tied atop of the league standings. #13UCLA (15-3, 5-1) enters off a close 61-59 victory at Washington State in which they held off a late Cougars rally. Washington State is among the nations top scoring and field goal defenses, and now the Bruins must turnaround and face the up-tempo Huskies who lead the Pac-10 in scoring, rebounding and field goal defense.
There is usually much to like about the Bruins under coach Ben Howland, as his talented teams play tough defense, minimize easy transition baskets and interior penetration, and are fundamentally sound in blocking out and rebounding the basketball. They are an efficient offensive team that plays at a deliberate pace. But this year’s Bruins team is a little undersized on the interior and allowing over 46% shooting in Pac-10 play. That lack of a strong post presence should prove problematic against Washington and senior star John Brockman. UCLA allowed a poor shooting Washington State team to hit 48% of their FG’s Thursday night and were out-rebounded on both ends by the Cougars; one of the leagues weakest rebounding teams. Nikola Dragovic had a career night and hit six 3-point shots and All-American point guard Darren Collison bailed out the Bruins with clutch play and shots down the stretch, as his floor presence and ability to make plays is the key to the Bruins success. But Washington has more quickness in the backcourt with Isaiah Thomas proving to be a star performer in his freshman season.
Most bettors and fans would be surprised to know that Washington (14-4, 5-1) is the Pac-10’s top defensive field goal and rebounding team. The Huskies are dominating teams on the boards and #3 in the nation in rebounding margin led by senior John Brockman. The Huskies were able to beat USC 78-73 Thursday night despite just 4 points and zero FG made by Brockman, but he was his usual dominating self on the glass with 13 rebounds. Senior guard Justin Dentmon poured in 22 points and is having his best season shooting and scoring the basketball. The Huskies have taken the fewest 3-point attempts in league play and are efficient in working the ball for high-percentage shots. Washington is a confident and together team that shares the basketball on the offensive end and is much stronger and more determined on the defensive end this season. They can push the pace with their quickness and lead the league in steals. The Huskies have solid starters with a senior star and quality depth and production from the bench.
These two teams split the season series each of the past two seasons with both teams winning on their home court. In fact, Washington has beaten UCLA four straight times in Seattle. Washington was a sizeable underdog at home last year, but the improved Huskies are a very underrated unranked team. Look for Washington to beat the Bruins and take sole possession of first place in the Pac-10.
Winner: Washington Margin: 4-8 points
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About Fairway Jay
Previews & Predictions
Jay Ginsbach, also known as "Fairway Jay’"joins the CHN team and staff this season from Sportsmemo.com. He’ll provide his insight and expertise covering the college basketball scene with periodic thoughts from a Las Vegas perspective.