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January 22, 2009
One of the top defensive teams in the nation in each of the last three seasons, UCLA got beat at its own game in its last outing. The Bruins hope to rebound against the only team in the Pac-10 with a more impressive defensive resume than theirs over the last several years.
The 13th-ranked Bruins look to bounce back from their first conference loss as they visit Washington State - the stingiest defensive squad in Division I - on Thursday night.
UCLA (14-3, 4-1) has finished second in the Pac-10 in scoring defense each of the previous three seasons, with two top 10 finishes nationally in that stretch. The Bruins are again relying on their ability to stop opponents this season, ranking third in the conference with 58.6 points allowed per game.
UCLA, however, got outplayed defensively by Arizona State down the stretch in the Bruins' 61-58 overtime loss Saturday. The Sun Devils went to a matchup zone that limited the Bruins to one field goal over the final 13 minutes as UCLA had its 10-game winning streak snapped.
Arizona State's biggest stop came on UCLA's last possession. Trailing by three with 11 seconds remaining, the Bruins didn't even get off a shot. They desperately passed the ball among Darren Collison, Michael Roll and Josh Shipp for a 3-point attempt that never happened before the final buzzer.
"I told Darren that we wanted to go all the way to the basket," coach Ben Howland said. "We didn't need to go for a 3-pointer, but we brought it up too slowly. Not getting a shot off, that's really bad."
Collison, a senior guard and the team's leading scorer with 14.9 points per game, blamed bad execution.
"I'll take full responsibility for that," he said. "We got to attack the zone better and it starts with me."
Having more success attacking the defense could be tough against Washington State. The Cougars (11-6, 3-2) have finished first in the Pac-10 in opponents' scoring each of the last five seasons, and they're currently first in the nation in that category at 52.4 ppg.
Washington State held Oregon to 17 first-half points Saturday, then outscored the Ducks 50-45 in the second half to pull out a 74-62 road win. Senior guard Taylor Rochestie scored a career-high 30 points with 16 free throws and the Cougars went 28-for-28 from the line, a conference record.
Washington State has won three straight since dropping its first two Pac-10 games.
"The seniors have really stepped up when it's gotten late in the game," coach Tony Bennett said. "We finished with some composure down the stretch."
While Bennett's Cougars have consistently played the best defense in the conference, they've been dominated by the Bruins in recent years. UCLA has won 30 of the last 31 meetings and eight in a row. It's won 15 straight in Pullman since a 67-56 defeat Feb. 6, 1993.
The Bruins had no problem with the Cougars' defense last season, beating then-No. 4 Washington State 81-74 at home Jan. 12 and earning a 67-59 road victory over the 17th-ranked Cougars on Feb. 7. UCLA combined to shoot 56.4 percent from the field in those games.