UCLA Win Leaves Pac-10 In Traffic Jam

When UCLA started playing an aggressive pressure defense, upon the arrival of Ben Howland in Westwood, it was unlike anything the Pac-10 had seen in a long time. It earned them a lot of wins and three straight conference titles. But success breeds imitation, and now a number of teams are applying the pressure. For example, Washington.

So it is no surprise that when Washington and UCLA got together Thursday they combined for 32 turnovers and some sloppy play in the half court. But UCLA found points in transition, shot well and often from three-point range (47.1% as a team on 17 attempts) and that was the difference as the Bruins won 85-76.

The win improved UCLA to 9-4 in Pac-10 play, tied with Arizona State and Cal. Washington is half-a-game ahead of those teams at 10-4 in what has become a wide open conference.

From the start the Bruins played like this was a must-win game (which is was if they want to defend their Pac-10 title). UCLA led from the opening tip, but were never able to pull away and open up a double digit lead until the closing minute. Washington would fall behind by about eight points hold on them make a run that would bring them within a basket of the Bruins if not time the game, then the Bruins would go on another run and extend their lead again.

What gave the Bruins a number of those runs was their ability to transition that pressure defense and turnovers into fast break points. In the last several weeks UCLA has dramatically picked up the tempo of its offense, looking to get out and run, and the result has been some much-needed easy baskets. And some good runs that help them pull away for wins.

It was the veterans that led those runs for the Bruins. Josh Shipp finished with a game high 20 points, and shot 3 of 3 from beyond the arc. Darren Collison added 17 and Nikola Dragovic dropped 15 including three from beyond the arc, a couple in the early going when the Bruins were having trouble finding their offense. Alfred Aboya hit two key jumpers that sparked the decisive run by the Bruins late in the game.

The contest the intensity of one that comes in March, with to top-20 teams showing a lot of heart. Justin Dentmon led the way for the Huskies with 22 points, while Jon Brockman added 16 points and 14 boards. But in the end, the Huskies pressure defense didn’t lead to as much offense.

And the Bruins reminded everyone why they have been the dominant team in the Pac-10 the last few seasons.

Kurt Helin tends to hum that Queen with David Bowie song when thinking of pressure, but he doesn’t bring that up on his basketball blog.

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