No. 23 UCLA (22-8, 12-5) at Washington (17-13, 9-8)
Tipoff: 11 a.m., Hec Edmundson Pavilion
TV/Radio: CBS/AM 570
At a glance: If UCLA wins, it will clinch a share of the Pac-12 championship and get either the No. 1 or 2 seed in the Pac-12 tourney (depending on whether Oregon wins or loses at Utah).
The Bruins haven’t beaten Washington on the road since 2004, but Hec Ed hasn’t been as intimidating as usual this year. Six teams, including three outside the top 150 in RPI, have won there by an average of eight points. The Huskies hadn’t lost more than two games at home in a season since 2007-08.
Historical streaks also don’t mean much given the parity in the Pac-12, as UCLA demonstrated in its first road loss at Washington State since 1993. As they have been wont to do all season, the Bruins came out flat against the last-place Cougars, never gaining control after surrendering a 25-4 run to open the game. Ben Howland took the blame for not preparing his team adequately, as it was dominated by a squad without two of its top three scorers.
“I am very confident that, for the remainder of the 2012-13 season, you will never see another effort like that out of our team,” Howland said.
Maybe so, but there aren’t many games left. The Bruins’ identity is set: they’re a sub-par rebounding and defensive team that can beat most opponents when its offense operates at peak levels. That was enough against Washington last month at Pauley Pavilion, but just barely: Larry Drew II’s game-winner put UCLA over the top in a 59-57 win.
The Huskies have won three straight over Arizona State, Washington State and USC, but their predilection for turnovers is still nagging. Washington — with a 0.9 assist-to-turnover ratio on the year — committed 32 turnovers against 32 assists in that span.
Players to watch: Forward Travis Wear will start on Saturday after tweaking his recently sprained right foot on Thursday in Pullman. Howland said the 6-foot-10 junior will play regular minutes, but Wear has only totaled 32 minutes in his last two games.
Regardless of Wear’s status, Washington center Aziz N’Diaye will easily find opportunities in the paint. The 7-foot senior grabbed a career-high 18 rebounds the last time he saw the Bruins, adding 11 points on 5-of-9 shooting. N’Diaye hasn’t had a double-double since, but UCLA allowed 44 points in the paint to the Cougars.
The Huskies lead the Pac-12 in rebounding margin (+5.6) through conference play and grabbed a season high-tying 48 rebounds on Thursday against USC (which had 29).
“They crushed them on the boards,” Howland said. “That’s going to be a huge factor. Our ability to hold our own and not allow second-chance opportunities.”
Scott Suggs has also become Washington’s offensive engine through its win streak, averaging 19 points in three games. He also leads his team in 3-point percentage (37.5) on the season, and could match up against UCLA guard Jordan Adams. Adams is third in the league with 2.1 steals per game.
WASHINGTON STARTING LINEUP:
C – Aziz N’Diaye, 7-0, 260, Sr., 9.3 pts, 9.3 reb, 1.1 blk
F – Shawn Kemp Jr., 6-9, 255, So., 5.8 pts, 2.7 reb, 0.5 blk
G – Scott Suggs, 6-6, 195, Sr., 11.9 pts, 2.3 reb, 1.4 ast
G – C.J. Wilcox, 6-5, 195, Jr., 17.1 pts, 4.6 reb, 1.1 stl
G – Abdul Gaddy, 6-3, 195, Sr., 11.0 pts, 3.2 reb, 4.3 ast