UCLA Bruins vs. Washington State Cougars Preview and Pick

No. 15 UCLA Bruins (24-7) 15-13 ATS, 20-10 O/U vs. Washington State Cougars (17-14) 11-17 ATS, 10-18 O/U Thursday, March 12, 2009 Staples Center (18,997) Los Angeles, California, TV: FSN and FSN West, Radio: AM 1150 (local in LA) 11:34 p.m. EST (8:34 p.m. Pacific)

By Wilson of Predictem.com

The Washington State Cougars will likely need to win every game in the Pac-10 Tournament in order to advance for a third consecutive year to the NCAA Tournament. Last night the Cougars took their first step to the big dance by throttling the Oregon Ducks 62-40. There has never been a team to win four consecutive games in the Pac-10 Tourney but hey, theres always a first for everything. Tonight the Cougars will face a much stronger, more talented ranked opponent in UCLA. The two teams split their regular season matchups with each getting a win on the road. WSU beat UCLA on February 21 in Pauley Pavilion 82-81. It was just the second victory for WSU in 52 attempts at UCLA. The Bruins beat WSU in Pullman, Washington on January 22 61-59. Tonights game could be a tight matchup considering the three total points that have decided the previous two contests.

WSU enters tonights game knowing that they need to play their game if they want to advance. For the Cougars, it may be in their favor as UCLA is the certainly getting the thumbs-up from all of the books. Cougars Coach, Tony Bennett, is known for his stoic, controlled demeanor which overflows to his players except for an occasional outburst from Aron Baynes. Baynes led the Cougars last night with 20 points and 8 rebounds. He can be a huge presence inside as long as he keeps his cool.

UCLA will likely shadow WSU guard Taylor Rochestie who had a career-high 33 points last month against them when the Cougars beat the Bruins at Pauley. Rochestie only scored four points in the Oregon game but handed out six assists.

The Cougars have the best defense in the nation as they only allow 54.7 points per game to their opponents. Offensively, WSU averages just 59.5 ppg which has been both good and bad for them this season. They have trouble at times in transition defense and usually send everyone back after the first shot goes up, so offensive rebounds are few and far between as they try to stop the run and gun efforts of faster more talented teams, especially with a squad like UCLA.

UCLAs last game was also a huge win over the struggling Oregon Ducks 94-68 who have taken on the roll as the Pac-10s punching bag. The Bruins will look for revenge tonight against WSU, and a chance to improve their seeding for the NCAA Tournament. UCLA is averaging 77.1 ppg and give up 63.6 on the other end of the floor. UCLAs star guard, Darren Collison suffered a tailbone injury during the second half in the Oregon game on February 7 and is listed as probable for tonights game. Im sure he will play as he is the engine for the Bruins attack; and a competitor like Collison has a difficult time sitting on the bench.

UCLA leads the Pac-10 in shooting with 50.6 percent from the field. The Bruins are extremely quick on both ends of the floor and feel like home-town favorites playing at the Staples Center in LA. We all know the history of UCLA hoops, its no secret that they are a storied program, but WSU is one of those teams that can frustrate you on offense and take you out of your game. Coach Bennet will certainly have some defensive tricks up his sleeve but probably not too many as veteran coaches know that you do what youve done all year to be successful; you just do it with less mistakes.

This game will probably be a do or die for the Cougars.

Wilsons Pick: WSU steps up and shocks UCLA again! WSU 71, Bruins 69! Luck to ya.