Washington Huskies (15-11, 4-10) at UCLA Bruins (16-12, 8-7), Wed Feb. 25th, 8:00pm, ESPN2.
The Huskies decided to end their seven-game losing streak in style via a game-winning three-pointer from Andrew Andrews. Despite 20 points and 6 assists from Nigel Williams-Goss and a mere three turnovers as a team, it's impossible to picture UW winning this contest without the best game of Andrews' college career: 35 points on 11/18 shooting (6/12 from deep), 4 assists, and a single turnover.
For all the grief I have given Andrews over the years for his inconsistency and decision-making, he has clearly cemented himself as the second most important player on the roster behind NWG. In the seven games since Upshaw's dismissal, the junior scorer has averaged over 17 points on 52% shooting.
Those numbers even include a 2-8, 6-point dud against Stanford immediately after the change. Since then, it's been a minimum of 14 points every single night. When his shot failed him against Oregon State, he made up for 2-7 shooting by hitting 10-11 free throws and still made his impact.
There may still be a sense of wildness to Andrews' game, but he is the only player on the team with an aggressive scorer's mentality. With Upshaw gone and Jarreau only just returning from knee surgery, he needs to continue to shoot the ball with authority against the Bruins for the Huskies to have a legitimate shot.
Probable Starters: G Bryce Alford (So., 6-3, 180), G Isaac Hamilton (So., 6-4, 180), G Norman Powell (Sr., 6-4, 215), F Kevon Looney (Fr., 6-9, 220), F/C Tony Parker (Jr., 6-9, 260).
Key Bench Players: C Thomas Welsh (Fr., 7-0, 245), F G.G. Goloman (Fr., 6-10, 210), G Noah Allen (So., 6-6, 215).
Meanwhile, the Bruins may be the most wildly inconsistent team in the entire Pac-12. The non-conference schedule featured an embarrassingly one-sided loss to Kentucky that attracted a lot of attention as a representation of the gulf between the two blue-blood programs, as well losses to Gonzaga, Oklahoma, and North Carolina.
Having been stripped fairly bare by early departures to the NBA, it appeared UCLA had fielded its worst team in years. A 71-39 beatdown at the hands of Utah on the opening weekend of Pac-12 play seemed to confirm this.
Strangely enough, the Bruins are 8-5 since that day, including some revenge at home against the Utes. The success has come in little bursts of two or three wins, built around home-stands, broken up by losses that have all come exclusively on the road.
Unfortunately, this game will be played in Pauley Pavilion, where the Bruins are unbeaten since #9 Gonzaga visited in mid-December.
Manning the point will be the coaches son Bryce Alford. He is a really strange case in that he was initially mocked for the family connection as a freshman, seemed to do well enough on the court to mostly silence that criticism, only to have those questions raised again in his sophomore season.
A long-range gunner averaging 15.6ppg, Alford's shooting percentage is a dismal 38% compared to a far more legitimate 35% from deep. He is simply not a very potent offensive player aside from his jump shot. On paper the assist numbers look good (5.1apg), but many of his best passing performances came during the non-conference schedule. Lately, he typically dish between 3 and 5 assists along with at least 2 or 3 turnovers.
The real star of this team is Normal Powell, who averages 15.9 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 2.0 assists. Hamilton plays very heavy starter's minutes, but his production comes and goes. In his last four games he has scored 16, 4, 13, and 2. All three starting guards figure to play 35+ minutes.
Looney is a versatile young post who is in the midst of his best stretch of the season. He has scored in double figures for five straight games while averaging nearly double-digit rebounds. He has also grown increasingly comfortable shooting jumpers. In fact, he has hit 2 of 3 from deep in four straight contests.
Tony Parker is still huge, talented, and inconsistent. After a short mid-February stretch of averaging around 25 minutes, 15 points, and 8 boards, he combined for only 4 points and 2 rebounds during the roadtrip to Arizona and ASU.
If I'm Coach Alford, I would be prepared to give Parker around 20 minutes, heavily weighted towards the first half, to rack up fouls on Washington's thin front court. The combination of Parker's bruising below-the-rim game and Looney's wilingness to battle for boards or step out to stretch the floor may be too much for a frontcourt made up of Shawn Kemp Jr. and Jarreau (only one game removed from his return to basketball).
To make matters worse, the Bruins boast two talented young bigs off the bench. The seven-foot Welsh appears to be UCLA's center of the future, while Goloman is a highly-touted Hungarian power forward. Welsh will likely log around 20 minutes as the primary backup to Parker, while Goloman has typically had a modest impact in 5-10 minutes.
It was very encouraging to see Washington's front court pull off a high-efficiency, low-turnover offensive performance on the road. I have harped on turnovers constantly, so to see that issue rendered moot (at least for one night) and immediately result in a win was gratifying.
The problem, of course, lies in the front court. One of the reasons the Cougs almost survived the barrage from Andrews is that they won the rebounding battle 31-27. Without Upshaw, the Huskies are mediocre-to-bad on the boards. In seven contests post-Upshaw, the Huskies have won the battle of the boards once (at Oregon State).
Jarreau's return should help some, but rebounding has never been his strength, and he never seemed totally comfortable carrying his added weight before the injury. Kemp has the size to bang down low, but he has never shown the awareness and hyper-activity of a skilled rebounder. I believe either Parker or Looney would instantly be the best rebounder on Romar's team.
In Seattle, I would view this game as a near toss-up given UCLA's insane inconsistency away from home. Given the setting, expect UCLA to allow Washington's plenty of opportunities to keep it close, especially if Andrews can continue to hit his jumpers at will, but for the Huskies to wear down in the face of so much front court size and depth.
UCLA 72, Washington 64