WSU looks to sweep UCLA

Cougars look to win Pauley Pavilion for first time since 2009

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WSU looks to sweep UCLA

Freshman Guard Noah Williams dribbles past OSU defender on Jan. 18 at Beasley Coliseum.

Freshman Guard Noah Williams dribbles past OSU defender on Jan. 18 at Beasley Coliseum.

OLIVER MCKENNA | DAILY EVERGREEN FILE

Freshman Guard Noah Williams dribbles past OSU defender on Jan. 18 at Beasley Coliseum.

OLIVER MCKENNA | DAILY EVERGREEN FILE

OLIVER MCKENNA | DAILY EVERGREEN FILE

Freshman Guard Noah Williams dribbles past OSU defender on Jan. 18 at Beasley Coliseum.

RYAN ROOT, Evergreen reporter

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The WSU’s men’s basketball team will face the UCLA Bruins on the road for its second matchup of the season. The game will start at 8 p.m. Thursday at the Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles, California.

WSU (14-10, 5-6) has defeated UCLA (13-11, 6-5) on the road three times in school history. UCLA ranks ahead of WSU in the Pac-12 standings at sixth compared to WSU in ninth. UCLA also ranks 100th in the NCAA net rankings while WSU sits at 105th.

In their previous matchup on Jan. 4, WSU defeated UCLA in overtime 79-71 in Beasley Coliseum. Junior guard Isaac Bonton led the way for WSU with 17 points, eight of which were scored in overtime.

In a press conference, head coach Kyle Smith said the Bruins were a strong and physical team when the Cougars first played against them. He said the Cougars should be able to play bigger against the Bruins with the recent improvement by freshman center Volodymyr Markovetskyy.

Four UCLA players rank top-15 in the Pac-12 in field goal percentage, most of any team from the conference up to this point.

UCLA junior guard Chris Smith had one of his best games this season when he faced WSU earlier this year. He scored 22 points and grabbed seven rebounds.

His 6-foot-9 frame at guard will lead the Cougars to adjust their matchups frequently, sophomore forward CJ Elleby said.

“I’m sure I’ll guard him a little; I’m sure Noah will get a crack at him,” Elleby said. “Just try to make his catches tough and make it hard for him.”

Since the loss, UCLA has a 5-4 record, with all five coming from the last seven games. Head coach Kyle Smith said he thinks the Cougars will visit a different-looking UCLA squad on Thursday.

“They were playing real big early with Smith as their 3-man,” Smith said. “I think they’re kind of maturing.”

A handful of WSU’s past games show the Cougars coming out hot offensively to start the game and then battling a multi-minute scoreless stint. Freshman guard DJ Rodman said the difference between maintaining their lead or fighting to come back comes down to the team’s defense.

The team needs more of a scoring presence coming off the bench in order to avoid these dry spells, Rodman said.

“Our bench guys, Aljaž, Marvin, including myself, we need to get more involved in scoring,” Rodman said. “We’re out there for a reason.”

Some of WSU’s inactive players made it back into the rotation recently including junior forward Tony Miller and junior forward Marvin Cannon. Miller played in the last matchup against UCLA and contributed 11 points and six rebounds off the bench.

Cannon, on the other hand, did not play against UCLA earlier this season. His return to play will give the Cougars a needed spark off the bench, Smith said.

“I think he gets back into our quickness and our depth,” Smith said. “And hopefully he is just getting more comfortable out there.”

Elleby said the healthy roster will help the team finish out the season strong.

“We need bodies; we need to give certain players breaks,” Elleby said. “Just being able to rotate out guys and bring fresh bodies off the bench is essential at this time in the year.”

Smith throughout his career hasn’t coached in the Pauley Pavilion. He said he’s excited to witness the Pavilion as a coach and looks to give WSU a win on the road against UCLA for the first time in over a decade. 

WSU will tip off against UCLA at 8 p.m. Thursday at the Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles. The game will air on the Pac-12 Networks.