Saturday, January 12, 2008

UCLA’s homestand vs the Washington schools

Following a nice road sweep of the Bay Area schools, UCLA returned to Pauley Pavilion this weekend for a two-game homestand against the Washington schools, with today’s game featuring a matchup between two schools ranked in the top five nationally when Washington State brought its gaudy undefeated record to town.

UCLA started the weekend right on Thursday night by knocking off Washington 69-55. After the a 14-12 start to the game, UCLA went on a 9-0 run highlighted by a few nice fastbreak layups, and all told, finished the 1st half on a 27-11 run to take an 18 point lead into the locker room. While it is hard to single out one player on this Bruin team often, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute was perhaps the revelation in the first half, not only playing smothering defense on Husky three-point threat, Ryan Appleby, but adding some nice offensive contributions, including showing off his improved jump shot and adding some nice slicing drives into the lane.

While UCLA certainly did not keep up the same pace in the second half, the game was never really in doubt after halftime, and Darren Collison, who had already had a bout with food poisoning earlier in the week, was allowed to rest a bruised hip throughout the second half.

The Bruin victory, coupled with Washington State disposing of the USC Trojans, set up a terrific matchup between the Pac-Ten front-runners today. However, the Cougars got off to a rough start, with All Pac-Ten guard Derrick Low picking up two fouls in the first three minutes, failing to score a field goal until eight and a half minutes had passed. UCLA scored the first seven points, 11 of the first 12, and built the lead up as high as 26-8 before going into halftime up 35-22.

The second half seemed to be more of the same, until the Cougars cut the lead under 10 for the first time since that first WSU field goal of the game at the 11:25 mark of the first half. However, UCLA responded with a Collison layup, a couple nice plays by Mbah a Moute and then a strong layup by Kevin Love plus a foul on Aron Baynes, and UCLA seemed to have the game firmly in hand again with a 13 point lead with 2:30 remaining. But, the Cougars were loathe to let the game slip away and began a barrage of three-pointers, drilling seven in a row, to cut the lead to 77-74 with 12 seconds remaining. The Bruins did, however, take care of business at the free throw line and walked off with a 81-74 victory.

Kevin Love played perhaps his best game of his short career at UCLA, pouring in 27 points (including a couple threes), hauling down 14 rebounds and dishing out 4 assists. One area where you will see Love make a huge impact is down the stretch of tight games like this one, his ability to make free throws, to find open teammates, and especially to take the ball out of the bottom of the net after an opponent’s made basket, step out of bounds, and find a teammate stretching the opposition’s tight defense for an easy hoop.

While there is certainly a lot of basketball left to be played in a tough conference, this appears to be the most solid Bruin team of the Howland era, and a definite threat to be dancing in San Antonio come April.

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