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January 11, 2008

Cougars, Bruins brace for defensive battle

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The last time Washington State won a basketball game at UCLA was … the only time Washington State won a basketball game at UCLA.

The Cougars (14-0), ranked No. 4 in the nation, are 1-49 at Pauley Pavilion, the lone win coming in 2004. But this time they come in as the higher-ranked team, albeit by only one spot. The fifth-ranked Bruins (15-1) are no slouches, and this game (Saturday, 2:30 p.m. ET) will shape the Pac-10 race for the rest of the season.

These are two of the best defensive teams in the game. Washington State leads the nation in scoring defense (49.8 ppg). It is the only team yielding less than 50 ppg. UCLA is second in scoring defense in the Pac-10 and among the top 10 in the nation, yielding 54.9 ppg.

The Cougars haven't played the most impressive schedule (their strength of schedule is ranked No. 254), but they do count wins over Gonzaga, Washington and a 73-58 throttling of USC on Thursday night.

The Bruins' have played a tougher slate (ranked No. 44), with their only loss coming at home in a nail-biter against Texas. Their résumé includes wins over Michigan State, Maryland and Stanford.

Here's a closer look at the Cougars-Bruins matchup:

No. 4 Washington State (14-0) at No. 5 UCLA (15-1)
Taylor Rochestie vs. Darren Collison
EDGE: UCLA Rochestie, a 6-1 junior, is a heady floor general with a solid handle. He's averaging 9.1 ppg and 4.9 apg (second in the Pac-10), and he has shot the ball very well from 3-point range (48.6 percent). Collison, a 6-1 junior, is a playmaking ballhandler with lots of end-to-end speed. He's averaging 12 ppg, 3.8 apg and a team-leading 1.7 spg.
Derrick Low vs. Josh Shipp
EDGE: UCLA Low, a 6-2 senior, is the Cougars' leading scorer at 12.7 ppg. He also leads them in 3-pointers made (35), and he gives coach Tony Bennett another solid ballhandler. Shipp, a 6-5 junior, is the Bruins' second-leading scorer at 14.4 ppg. He leads UCLA in 3-pointers made (39) and is a crafty scorer who makes good decisions.
Aron Baynes vs. Kevin Love
EDGE: UCLA Baynes, a 6-10 junior, has improved dramatically from last season. He's averaging 12. ppg (up 6.9 ppg from last season) and 6.6 rpg (up 3.5) and has been a solid option inside. Love, a 6-10 freshman, is a former Rivals.com five-star prospect who is delivering on his promise. He's the leading scorer (16.1 ppg) and rebounder (10.0) for the Bruins, and he's an outstanding outlet passer.
Kyle Weaver vs. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute
EDGE: Washington State Weaver, a 6-6 senior, is a do-everything type. He's an exceptional defender (team-leading 26 steals) who scores (11.4 ppg), rebounds (4.6) and sets up his teammates (4.2 apg). Mbah a Moute, a 6-8 junior, shares a lot of characteristics with Weaver. He, too, is a long and quick defender who does a little bit of everything (10.2 ppg, 5.1 rpg).
Robbie Cowgill vs. Alfred Aboya
EDGE: Washington State Cowgill, a 6-10 senior, is another reliable hand for Bennett. He's averaging 8.4 ppg and 4.9 rpg and shooting 64.8 percent. Aboya, a 6-8 junior, is a starter only by designation. He plays only 17 mpg and is averaging 3.6 ppg and 2.5 rpg.
EDGE: UCLA The Cougars use essentially a six-man rotation. The main cog off the bench is Daven Harmeling, a 6-7 junior forward who averages 7.4 ppg and 3.0 rpg. The Bruins run a little deeper. They have two major weapons on the bench: guard Russell Westbrook (12.1 ppg, Pac-10-leading 5.4 apg) and center Lorenzo Mata-Real (4.1 ppg, 5.2 rpg, team-leading 20 blocked shots).
EDGE: UCLA Bennett, Rivals.com's National Coach of the Year last season, has Washington State off to another great start. The Cougars play hard and play together and have bought completely into Bennett's team-first system. Howland is a proven winner who is doing another stellar coaching job. Westbrook developed into a major player for the Bruins while Collison was hurt and has given Howland another option. The coach also has done a great job adapting around Love.
The Cougars bust their tails on defense like most coaches dream about. They help and recover as though their scholarships depend on it. They're not explosive offensively, but they make the extra pass and are very careful about their shot selection. Consequently, they rank among the top 10 teams in the nation in shooting percentage. The Bruins play pretty fair defense, too, and they're better offensively than the Cougars. There will be few easy baskets to be had in this one, but a little more quickness and a little more Love will make the difference for UCLA.
UCLA 67, Washington State 64

Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at bmcclellan@rivals.com.

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