Friday, May 29

Men’s basketball aims to fulfill potential as Pac-12 remains wide open

Sophomore guard Jaylen Hands said UCLA men's basketball's formula for winning starts with getting everybody on the team involved. The Bruins have had at least four players score in double figures in each of their four conference wins this season. (Liz Ketcham/Assistant Photo editor)

The Bruins are heading north with a chance to shake up the conference standings.

UCLA men’s basketball (11-9, 4-3 Pac-12) will face Washington State (8-12, 1-6) on Wednesday night in Pullman, Washington, in the two schools’ only matchup this season.

The Bruins have won their last four meetings with the Cougars, and have not lost to them since Jan. 3, 2016. Last season, UCLA downed Washington State at Pauley Pavilion behind a 33-point performance from former guard Aaron Holiday.

Despite that the Cougars currently sitting near the bottom of the Pac-12 standings, sophomore guard Kris Wilkes said every conference matchup between now and the end of the season will hold importance because of the lack of a true front-runner in the Pac-12.

“The Pac-12’s wide open,” Wilkes said. “Both of these teams that we’re going to play, no matter what their record is, they’re two … great teams so we can’t come in and underestimate either one of them.”

While Washington State ranks in the top four of the conference in both points per game and field goal percentage, it ranks second to last in points allowed and opponent field goal percentage.

The Bruins, however, find themselves in a similar situation despite being three games ahead of the Cougars in the standings. UCLA ranks second in the conference in scoring, but 10th in points allowed.

Interim coach Murry Bartow said that while he sees room for improvement on both ends of the floor, he is already confident in the team’s ability to be competitive on a night-to-night basis.

“Defensively, we’ve been tweaking things and we’ve slowly been getting better there,” Bartow said. “We’ve become a pretty good rebounding team. Offensively, we’re still kind of tweaking and playing with some things, but I think where we’re at right now, we’re a pretty decent team when we play consistently for 40 minutes and we think there’s a lot of upside as we move forward.”

The Bruins’ players – such as sophomore guard Jaylen Hands – have also been encouraged by their performances in a handful of games since Bartow took over before the start of Pac-12 play. Hands said that on-court chemistry and teamwide contributions have been the keys to their success.

“The Stanford game, the (California) game, and the end of the Oregon game and the (Arizona) game, I think we’re a lot better when a lot of people are contributing and doing their thing,” Hands said. “I think that’s our blueprint.”

In each of the aforementioned contests, UCLA won the game and had at least four different scorers in double figures. Comparatively, in UCLA’s three conference losses, it has never had more than three players score in double figures.

Wilkes added that he feels the team shows its full potential when everybody gets each other involved.

“We have games like that and everybody’s playing together as a team, it makes everybody look good and it’s just fun to watch,” Wilkes said.

The Bruins and Cougars will tipoff from Beasley Coliseum at 7 p.m. Wednesday night.

Sports senior staff

Smith is currently a Sports senior staff writer on the football and men's basketball beats. He was the 2018-2019 Sports editor and an assistant Sports editor in 2017-2018. Smith was previously on the women's basketball, men's water polo, baseball, men's golf and women's golf beats.

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