After a tumultuous first two months of the season, UCLA carries some much-needed momentum into Friday’s Pac-12 opener against visiting Washington State. The Bruins’ capped a non-conference schedule marked by suspensions and extensive travel by recording a surprising 83-75 win over then-No. 6 Kentucky in New Orleans last Saturday.
Point guard Aaron Holiday was named Pac-12 player of the week after averaging 17.5 points, 6.5 assists and 4.0 rebounds in wins over South Dakota and Kentucky, which was outrebounded and shot 6-of-21 from 3-point range in the loss to the Bruins. Guards Kris Wilkes and Prince Ali combined for 32 points against the Wildcats while center Thomas Welsh added 13 points and 11 rebounds. “I like where we’re at going into league play,” coach Steve Alford told reporters. “I like the demeanor of this team, and now we’ve got to be able to handle success moving forward, beating a very good basketball team. How we handle that success now opening things up against Washington State is going to be a key.” The Bruins need to be careful not to overlook the Cougars, who were picked to finish last in the Pac-12 preseason poll but registered wins over Saint Mary’s and San Diego State during their 6-0 start.
TV: 11 p.m. ET, ESPN2
ABOUT WASHINGTON STATE (8-4, 0-0 Pac-12): Forward Robert Franks averages 18.1 points and 7.2 rebounds to lead the Cougars, who bounced back from a 68-65 loss to Kansas State by making 15 three-pointers in last Friday’s 86-58 victory over Bethune-Cookman. Coach Ernie Kent has been pleased by the improved play of graduate transfer Drick Bernstine, a 6-8, 235-pound forward averaging 9.0 points, 10.5 rebounds and 3.8 assists over his last four games. The Cougars lead the Pac-12 at 11.9 made 3-pointers per contest, and guard Carter Skaggs is 10-of-16 from beyond the arc in his last two games.
ABOUT UCLA (9-3, 0-0): Ali missed last season due to a knee injury but has emerged as a consistent scoring threat, averaging 10.3 points on 49.4 percent shooting, including 50.0 percent from 3-point range. Welsh has eight double-doubles in the team’s first 12 games and averaged 15.0 points and 8.5 rebounds in two wins over Washington State last season. The shorthanded Bruins are using an eight-man rotation that includes three freshmen, including guard Jaylen Hands, who had 14 points off the bench in the win over Kentucky.
1. UCLA leads the all-time series 106-17, including 56-3 in Los Angeles.
2. Washington State is looking to win back-to-back conference openers for the first time since 1989-90 and 1990-91.
3. UCLA has gone 85-8 when leading at halftime since the start of the 2013-14 season.
PREDICTION: UCLA 87, Washington State 73