Greetings Cougar Nation. Hope you are having a great week.
Well, as the other news outlets have reported, today marks the start of a six game stretch that will decide the fate of this season. After tonight's tilt with the mighty Bruins, we then play SC, @ASU, @Arizona, @Stanford, and @CAL. In my world, that means that we play 5 out of 6 against teams that are serious contenders for the upper division and the NCAA tournament.
If we win 2 of the next 6, we'll keep alive hopes of a CBI or NIT birth. If we win 3 of the next 6, we'll be sitting at 6-5 in conference. Again in my math, that means we would have to win 4 of the next 7 to knock on the doors of the Big Dance. That would mean sweeping the Oregon schools at home, and then getting two more wins somewhere from the trip to LA, Seattle, or the home series against the AZ schools. Quite doable if you ask me.
Of course, do worse than that and the season is flushed.
Plain and simple.
The good news is that we enter tonight's contest playing our best and most confident basketball of the season.
The other piece of good news is that while our confidence is high, we get the opportunity to seize a much needed, signature win for our post-season resume (by the way, Mississippi State is sitting at 13-5 and tied for 1st in the SEC).
Unfortunately, I don't see how in the world we can win tonight's game. Here's why:
Taylor Rochestie vs. Mr. Collison. Out of all of the match-ups in the Pac-10, this has been the one that has eaten Taylor alive. Collison is super quick and can extend Taylor at both ends of the court. Given the minutes that Taylor has already logged this season, I think Colly is going to wear him down. I like Taylor to get 14 in this game, but I don't like the way that I think he's going to do it (e.g. 5-16). EDGE: UCLA
Jrue Holiday vs. Klay Thompson. Mr. Holiday is coming in hitting about 45% from 3 land. Last time I checked that's about 10% more than our freshman sensation. It could be that Holiday goes up against Taylor. If so, I hope that we have a nice, nice set of plays to use Thompson to post up Collison. That said, I think that UCLA will like the Collison-Rochestie match-up and go with Holiday on Thompson. Ultimately, I think that these two guys cancel each other out. Unfortunately, for us to win, Thompson has to win this battle handily. He won't. SLIGHT EDGE: UCLA.
Josh Shipp versus Marcus Capers. If Capers doesn't get the nod here, then I'll have to eat another one of my hats. As soon as I saw him start in the Oregon game, I KNEW that Tony was prepping him for this week against the athletic LA schools. The only think that Marcus needs to do is play tight defense and not turn the ball over. If he can muster any offense that would be a plus. We don't need Capers to shut Shipp down, but we need him to make Josh work really, really, really hard for his looks. EDGE: UCLA.
Aron Baynes versus The Big Aboya. For us to have a chance of making this a game, this is where we need to come up really big. The BIG difference between this year and last is that UCLA is considerably more soft in the middle. That said, when Aboya plays well, UCLA looks like a Final Four team. When he doesn't, they look like fodder for a second round exit in the Big Dance. Tonight, we need Baynes to attack Aboya early and often and hopefully get him in foul trouble. We have the edge here, but to win, this edge has to be really big. Again, I just don't see it. EDGE: WSU.
Four Spot versus Four Spot. Each team has a couple of different players they insert into this role. For us to win this game, we have to win this spot BIG TIME. Tonight, look for Tony to start Forrest in order to keep CASTO away from getting 2 fouls in the first couple of minutes. After that, look for Casto to play big time minutes. The more minutes CASTO plays tonight, the better our chances. Plain and simple. In order to keep production on the floor offensively, we might see Baynes, Casto, and Forrest playing all at once. SLIGHT EDGE: WSU
What Else 2 Watch 4.
1) Perimeter Play. The play of our backcourt will be key at both ends of the court. UCLA will do a lot in this game to take the ball out of Taylor's hands. So, the effectiveness of Thompson and Capers (in particular) in handling ball pressure will be very, very key. On the defensive end, I actually am looking for us to UN-Pack ourselves a bit. What that means is that I'm looking for us to extend ourselves out on the perimeter in order to keep Collison and Holiday from getting off from 3 land. If we allow these guys to get in rhythm, it's going to be a long night.
2) Post Defense and Offense. If I'm T-Bone, I'm making UCLA beat me on contested jumpers and drives from the baseline. In other words, I'd much rather have Collison and company trying to shoot runners over Baynes and Casto than popping 21 foot jumpers off a sagging defense. For us, that means NOT playing much help defense and relying on straight up defensive play. While that may seem risky, it's also the reason why we've worked hard to recruit better athletes. On the offensive end, Forrest and Casto are our X factors tonight. If both of those guys can establish a post-presence, we will be able to have the type of inside-out game that we're going to need to get Taylor and Thompson off. Forrest, in particular, needs to give us a really, really nice start with his mid-range game.
This has the makings for the hold-your-nose type of game that we've seen from this group earlier in the season. While I really, really like the way we match up defensively, I'm having a hard time envisioning how we're going to score. And that is going to lead to the turnovers and long-rebound/transition points that will be our undoing.
UCLA 57 WSU 42.
Man, do I hope I'm wrong. The season becomes exhilarating if I am.