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February 21, 2009
As important as UCLA's latest victory was to its Pac-10 title hopes, they would likely be nullified with a loss Saturday.
In the hunt for their fourth straight conference title, the 20th-ranked Bruins look to build off their latest win over the league's top team and avoid a letdown as they play Washington State at Pauley Pavilion.
After back-to-back road losses last week to Arizona and Arizona State, UCLA (20-6, 9-4) defeated No. 22 Washington 85-76 on Thursday.
"It definitely feels good, especially beating a good team," said Bruins point guard Darren Collison, who finished with 17 points. "Way to bounce back. We wanted to make sure we got a message across. It's not over yet."
Washington is still atop the Pac-10, but UCLA, California and the 14th-ranked Sun Devils are all a half-game back and have played one fewer conference game than the Huskies.
The Bruins, who visit Stanford and California next week before closing the regular season at home against Oregon and Oregon State, may have to win out to earn a share of the Pac-10 title.
"It's big for our confidence. We needed this big win," said Josh Shipp, who scored a team-high 20 points against Washington. "It's definitely a momentum booster and a confidence booster. We didn't have anything to lose. We just had to come out with a great effort."
Coach Ben Howland's club now looks to continue its dominance over the Cougars (13-13, 5-9). UCLA has won nine straight since a 55-48 loss on Feb. 5, 2004, at Pauley Pavilion - the Bruins' only defeat in 51 home games against Washington State.
The Bruins were victorious Pullman 61-59 on Jan. 22, as the Cougars' Marcus Capers missed a potential game-winning 3-pointer in the final seconds.
Nikola Dragovic had a career-high 20 points on 6-of-10 shooting from 3-point range for UCLA in that contest. The junior forward finished with 15 points and a career-high eight rebounds versus Washington.
While the Bruins won their last time out, they're still looking for a better defensive effort.
Washington shot 50.0 percent from the floor, and the Bruins are allowing 78.0 points on 52.5 percent shooting in their last three games after holding opponents to 63.0 points on 42.1 percent shooting in winning their previous four.
UCLA should have better luck slowing down eighth-place Washington State, which is last in the Pac-10 in scoring (58.5).
The Cougars shot just 36.5 percent from the floor, including 2-of-18 from beyond the arc, in Thursday's 61-51 loss to USC, their fifth defeat in six games.
Klay Thompson, who averages a team-high 13.0 points, had a hard time finding his rhythm against the Trojans. The freshman guard finished with five points on 2-of-13 shooting after totaling 45 points on 17-of-32 from the floor in his previous two games.
"I had open shots and I didn't hit them," said Thompson, who was limited to just seven points in his first game against the Bruins. "I was not as patient at shooting as I needed to be."
Taylor Rochestie, who finished with nine points against UCLA, led Washington State with 16 on Thursday.
The Cougars have lost four straight road games since a 56-55 win at then-No. 14 Arizona State on Jan. 29.