No team in the Pac-10 is more of a one-man show than Washington State. Klay Thompson is basically all of the Cougars’ offense, averaging 21.4 points a game (the highest in the Pac-10) while the next highest Cougar only averages 12 ppg. He’s one of only three players in the country to average 20 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists a game.
Oh, and on Saturday, he was suspended against UCLA for marijuana possession. (which caused every sports writer and sports talk radio guy in the nation to think they were the first person to make the remark “Looks like Washington State’s chances really went UP IN SMOKE!”)
UCLA has beaten the Cougars in Pullman 17 straight years, so beating them without the guy who is the alpha and omega of the offense should be an easy task, right?
Not so fast. The Bruins shot horrendously in the first half, going only 7 for 25. Shots were just not falling, and the Bruins fell into a horrendous 32-19 hole at the break.
The Bruins have fell into several halftime deficits that they were able to crawl back from this season, however, and this game was no exception. They started the second half on an 18-3 run, and finally a Tyler Honeycutt three tied the game up 35-35. A few minutes later, Honeycutt also had a putback to put the Bruins up 39-27 (their first lead since 2-0.) The lead then went back and forth several times for the rest of the game. UCLA took a four point lead, but then the Cougars responded with an 8-0 scoring run over the next four minutes.
With 50 seconds left and Bruins down 47-43, Honeycutt hit a huge three to bring the team within one. With 14 seconds left, Faisal Aden took a tough fallaway baseline shot for WSU which had no chance of going in, but got bailey out with a foul. He hit one of his two FTs to put the Bruins down two.
With fourteen seconds left, Malcolm Lee drove into the WSU front court and was sent to the line. Faced with the pressure of having to knock down the two free throws to give UCLA a chance at overtime, Lee calmed his nerves and sank both before having to head out due to injury. Aden missed a bad shot on the other end, and the game was headed to OT.
At the start of OT, Reeves Nelson continued his beastly game and scored the first two buckets for the team. When it looked like UCLA had the game more or less in hand, Aden hit a big three to tie the game at 54 with 1:17 left, and then UCLA committed a horrible shot clock violation on the other hand and it looked like momentum had shifted to the Cougars.
In the end, though, the Bruins won the day thanks to some clutch steals and the clutch free throw shooting of Malcolm Lee. A Honeycutt steal lead to Lee being sent to the line once again, (immediately after re-entering the game after he sat out the first four minutes of OT with a strain) where once again he calmly sunk two shots with the game on the line to give UCLA a two-point lead. Going to the line twice in one game with the game on the line is one thing, but how about going three times? A Jerime Anderson steal sent Lee back to the line once again with 8 seconds left to finally ice it, and Lee hit both FTs yet again to seal the victory. The Bruins won 58-54, and Klay Thompson watched from the sidelines as his team’s tournament chances likely went up in smoke. (Isn’t that a clever and original joke? Har har har.)
- Arguably the main reason the Bruins won this game was because of free throw shooting, and not just the late ones from Lee. They shot an excellent 14 of 15, compared to WSU who only shot 8-of-14. If they can continue to shoot from the line this efficiently it will solve a lot of UCLA’s problems.
- Considering the late game heroics of Lee, it’s easy to forget that Reeves Nelson had the best game out of anyone with 23 and 8. He dominated the WSU frontcourt and shot an amazing 10-13 from the field. Nelson singlehandedly kept UCLA in it for most of the game while the rest of his team was missing threes and jumpers.
- Speaking of missing threes, boy did the Bruins do that a lot. They only went 2-for-17, and many of the guards often jacked up ill advised threes when Nelson and/or Smith were waiting for entry passes.
- Probably the most disappointing thing about this game for the Bruins was the subpar play of their point guards. Jerime Anderson had a clutch steal at the end but finished with 0 points (only two shot attempts) and 1 assist in 29 minutes. Lazeric Jones was worse, however, and even though Jones had 6 assists he shot the ball horrendously (1-9 overall, 0-5 from three) and turned the ball over four times. Probably his worst shooting game as a Bruin, and time will tell if this was a hiccup in the road or if his wrist injury is bothering him again.
- With Thompson out, the Cougars played surprisingly well, but it seemed like Faisal Aden bit off a little more than he could chew when he decided that this was his chance to show what he could do as the alpha-dog of the team. He shot way more times than anyone else in the game, but only ended up shooting 4-of-17. He did hit one clutch three at the end of OT, but for the most part Lee’s defense shut him down. You can’t blame Aden for wanting to finally get his chance to shine as he’s been operating under Thompson’s shadow this whole season, but perhaps if he realized that his shot wasn’t falling and played a little more team-oriented ball the Cougars could have pulled it out.
- At the moment, Washington State is 19-11 and is almost certainly not in the NCAA tournament unless they somehow make it to the Pac-10 tournament championship game. Obviously they’re in if they win the automatic berth, and if they make it to the tournament championship and lose they’ll probably be looked at as an iffy bubble team.
- It’s good UCLA won this game and clinched the second seed in the Pac-10 tournament. With a loss, Bruin fans would have had to do the unthinkable and root for USC to beat Washington to maintain their second place standing in the conference.
Thus, UCLA finishes the regular season at 22-9 and second in the conference. Thanks to an Arizona victory, UCLA will finish the season in second place in the Pac-10 and will take on the winner of the Oregon/Arizona State play-in game in the Staples Center. A loss in the opening game would probably drop UCLA to a 10-seed in the NCAA tournament, winning the entire Pac-10 tourney would probably bump the Bruins up to a 6-seed, and anything in between would likely result in a 7- or 8-seed (the most likely scenario).
About the Author
Written by Josh Lehmer
2009 UCLA graduate. Worked at NBC-Los Angeles from 2008-2009, then as ESPN Production Assistant. Fan of the UCLA Bruins, Lakers, Angels, Ducks.