Something has to give Saturday afternoon when the top-two Pac-10 teams square off for sole possession of the conference lead. The Washington Huskies (14-4, 5-1 in Pac-10) are fresh off a 78-73 win over USC, while the Bruins of UCLA (15-3, 5-1 in Pac-10) escaped Pullman with a 61-59 win.
UCLA was 10-2 in non-conference play, including an 8-0 mark at home. Their only blemish in the Pac-10 was a 61-58 loss at home to Arizona State (16-3, 5-2 in Pac-1). The Bruins lost a lot of fire power when Kevin Love, Russell Westrbrook, and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute were all drafted into the NBA last season. However, with an outstanding 2008 recruiting class and plenty of weapons waiting in the wings, UCLA has their eyes on another final-four appearance.
Senior point guard Darren Collison leads UCLA in minutes, scoring, assists, and steals. Senior Josh Shipp compliments him with his ability to score in a variety of ways and play solid defense. Jrue Holiday is having a solid freshman season, shooting nearly 50 percent from the floor, but hasn't found his touch from long range yet. If the Bruins have a weakness it would be down low where they lack a dominant scorer.
What UCLA does better then most teams in America, is play head coach Ben Howland's brand of hard nosed defense. They never allow easy baskets, forcing 16 turnovers per game, snagging 8.3 steals per game, and outscoring opponents by a 16.1 points per game margin.
However, they will be facing a team with almost as impressive defensive numbers. Washington forces 15.5 turnovers per game, gets 7.4 steals and outscores opponents by 12.2 points per game. They also hold opponents to a lower field goal percentage then the Bruins.
The biggest advantage for Washington could be on the glass. UCLA ranks eighth in the Pac-10 in rebounding at only 32.8 per game with a plus 4.7 margin. Washington grabs 42.7 rebounds per game with an outstanding plus 11.1 rebounding margin.
On offense UCLA is very patient and gets open looks. They are shooting a conference high .497 from the field, and are second in the Pac-10 with a .382 percentage from beyond the three-point line.
This is a very intriguing matchup between two talented teams. Both play great defense, UCLA shoots the ball better, but Washington scores more points. UCLA has a better assist to turnover margin, but Washington is much better on the glass. All eyes will be watching this showdown between two of the Pac-10's best.
Darren Collison - 6-foot-0, 160-pound Senior
2008-09: 31.4 minutes, 14.6 points, 2.4 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 2.1 turnovers, 1.7 steals
Isaiah Thomas - 5-foot-8, 175-pound Freshman
2008-09: 27.8 minutes, 15.9 points, 3.1 assists, 3.1 rebounds, 1.2 steals
Collison is one of the best point guards in the country and will play at the next level. He's lightning fast, plays in your face defense, and is a great leader. This season he's shooting nearly 54 percent from the field and 42 percent from beyond the three point line. He's second in the Pac-10 with 5.3 assists per game, but his assist to turnover ratio is the best in the conference. He's third in steals with 1.7 per game and 12th in points. He's going against a special freshman, but Collison gets the edge in the match up.
Thomas just continues to impress, the freshman sensation is sixth in the Pac-10 in scoring and ninth in assists. Against USC he stepped up late and helped lead Washington to a win with 17 points. His play will go a long way in deciding Washington's outcome. He will need to match Collison's all game.
Jrue Holiday - 6-foot-3, 180-pound Freshman
2008-09: 26.9 minutes, 9.5 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.9 turnovers, 1.5 steals
Justin Dentmon - 5-foot-11, 185-pound Senior
2008-09: 27.9 minutes, 14.2 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.3 steals
Holiday is a talented freshman shooting guard with a huge upside. The brother of Huskies Justin Holiday can light up the scoreboard in many ways. He was the No. 1 rated shooting guard in the country coming out of high school and has impressed at the next level. He's scored in double figures eight times this season, including a 20-point performance in a 89-54 win over FIU. However, he's only had one double digit performance since Pac-10 play began. He hasn't found his long range shot, but will need to step up as a consistent third scorer if UCLA wants to continue their successful runs in post season tournament.
Dentmon has stepped up big time as a senior. Last game he led Washington with 22 points, going 11-of-11 at the free throw line in their big win over USC. Along with Thomas, he's provided Washington with perhaps the best guard play in the Pac-10. He's been the Huskies best outside shooter, and floor leader at crunch time. Even though Holiday has a bigger upside, Dentmon is playing amazing basketball right now and will give Holiday fits in this matchup.
Josh Shipp - 6-foot-5, 220-pound Senior
2008-09: 27.3 minutes, 11.6 points, 2.9 rebounds, 1.4 steals
Quincy Pondexter - 6-foot-7, 220-pound Junior
2008-09: 27.9 minutes, 10.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists
Ship is a returning honorable mention All-Pac-10 performer who gives Howland a versatile wing with the ability to score anywhere on the court. He's also a talented defender with the athleticism to stay with most wings. His scoring is down slightly from last season but his shooting percentages are all up.
Pondexter has the ability to match Shipp's athleticism and has an advantage on the glass with his size. Although he hasn't been consistent scoring the basketball, Pondexter has helped the team in other ways. He's second on the team in rebounds, third in assists, and fourth in scoring. He's still shooting a better percentage from the floor then Shipp, and with UCLA's lack of a real shot blocker in the middle he could have a big game if needed.
Nikola Dragovic - 6-foot-9, 216-pound Junior
2008-09: 20.0 minutes, 7.9 points, 3.4 rebounds
Darnell Gant - 6-foot-8, 220-pound Freshman
2008-09: 17.9 minutes, 3.4 points, 3.7 rebounds, 0.6 blocks
Dragovic has started the last four games for the Bruins and has made the most of it. He's had 20, 9, 15, and 14 point performances in his four starts, providing UCLA with their missing piece on offense. He can shoot the ball from range and extend the defense with a decent touch from the three-point line. Last game against WSU he was 6-of-10 from three-point line and seems to be getting comfortable. For his size he's not dominate on the boards or on defense, but he gets the job done.
Gant continues to play excellent defense for Washington. This role player does his job, and does it well. He is not going to score much, but he could if needed. What he will do in this matchup is give Dragovic a lot of trouble on defense. He has the athleticism and speed to stay with Dragovic when he steps out to shoot, and you can bet his job will be to never give him an open look.
Alfred Aboya - 6-foot-9, 245-pound Senior
2008-09: 26.4 minutes, 9.0 points, 5.3 rebounds,
Jon Brockman - 6-foot-7, 250-pound Senior
2008-09: 29.9 minutes, 15.1 points, 10.8 rebounds, 1.3 steals, 1.1 assists
Aboya is a wide bodied center who plays quality minutes for Howland. The senior has experience and has played well as a starter. He's the Bruins leading rebounder and has explosiveness and athleticism to go along with his size.
He'll be going up against one of the Pac-10's best in Brockman. However, Brockman is coming off an 0-8 shooting performance against USC and head coach Lorenzo Romar admitted his big star is still not 100 percent after suffering an ankle sprain. Brockman still managed to pull down 14 rebounds and you can expect him to bounce back on offense this game. UCLA doesn't have anyone in the post that can play defense like the Trojan's Taj Gibson. Brockman will be motivated to give the Husky fans a better performance then Thursday and I wouldn't want to be the one trying to stop him from doing that.
James Keefe - 6-foot-8 Forward: 18.3 minutes, 3.9 points, 4.3 rebounds
Michael Roll - 6-foot-5 Guard: 19.5 minutes, 7.8 points, 1.7, rebounds, 1.6 assists
Malcolm Lee - 6-foot-5 Guard: 12.1 minutes 4.5 points, 1.5 rebounds
Drew Gordon - 6-foot-8 Forward: 11.2 minutes, 3.7 points, 3.9 rebounds
Jerime Anderson - 6-foot-1 Guard: 9.1 minutes, 2.8 points, 0.6 rebounds
Matthew Bryan-Amaning - 6-foot-9 Forward: 19.9 minutes, 8.9 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.1 blocks, 1.0 steals
Elston Turner - 6-foot-4 Guard: 14.8 minutes, 3.9 points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.1 assists
Venoy Overton - 5-foot-11 Guard: 19.4 minutes, 4.7 points, 1.8 assists, 1.0 steals, 2.0 rebounds
Justin Holiday - 6-foot-6 Forward: 15.7 minutes, 2.2 points, 2.7 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.4 blocks
Both benches are deep and talented. UCLA has one time starter Keefe, and sharp shooting Roll who can both provide them with scoring. A trio of freshman, Lee, Gordon, and Anderson round out their rotation. Anderson and Lee are both talented guards who can score when needed while Gordon provides them with quality size in the middle.
Washington's depth remains their biggest strength. Overton has stepped up big time the last couple of games with his outside shot. Already a lock down defender, if he can consistently shoot the ball he's a real weapon. Holiday is one of the best on the ball defenders in the conference and he too is finding his offense at the right time. Bryan-Amaning has been a beast in the middle for the Huskies and is their best scoring threat in the middle right now.
Ben Howland: 309-147 at Northern Arizona, Pittsburgh and UCLA (141-48 In Pac-10)
Lorenzo Romar: 226-164 at Pepperdine, Saint Louis and Washington (133-76 in Pac-10)
Home Court: Washington
Hot Streak: Even
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