HOOPS: Difference could be found in the paint

ARON BAYNES

WASHINGTON STATE FACES perhaps their toughest conference foe to date on Thursday night in the form of No. 13 UCLA. The Bruins (14-3, 4-1) haven't looked quite as dominant as they have in recent years but they're still the team to beat in the Pac-10. If Wazzu is to pull the upset, the key matchup that will need to swing the Cougars' way looks to be found with the big man in the paint, Aron Baynes.

UCLA is expected to match Alfred Aboya up against Aron Baynes but the Bruins will almost certainly send additional players running to double or even triple team the Cougar center when he gets the ball inside.

If Baynes is able to find the open man when UCLA sends additional help, the Cougs should get a lot of open shots. Then, they'll need to knock them down -- something that hasn't happened consistently enough this season though the Cougs of late have shown signs of finding the bottom of the nylon chord more and more.

The other side to the coin is that Baynes, at times, could be well served to go to his shot as soon as he gets the pass, before the double team arrives.

Baynes is a more physical player than Aboya, something the Cougs will try to take advantage of that. Having Baynes aggressively go to the rack could also pile up the UCLA fouls.

UCLA coach Ben Howland called Baynes a "matchup problem" for the Bruins in an L.A. newspaper today and who wins the game could well turn on who solves that matchup better, Washington State or UCLA.

Baynes is averaging 11.7 points and 6.8 rebounds this season. The guess here is his numbers against UCLA will have to exceed both figures if the Cougs are going to upset the Bruins.

Keep an eye on the offensive glass when WSU is on defense. The Cougars have given up far too many offensive boards in some games this season, and did so even in the win against Oregon State. And Aboya gets many of his points on the offensive glass.

The Cougars are never going to be a great offensive rebounding team because by definition, they send back players to blunt transition points. It's one reason why the Cougs have to knock down the open shots and make their free throws if they are to win.

THERE ARE MORE matchup storylines beyond Baynes' that will play out in Pullman tonight.

It is expected Jrue Holiday will be assigned Klay Thompson. Holiday is a quick defender but Thompson has the size advantage. Still, Thompson will need to take care of the ball and use his height to have a consistent impact throughout the game.

The backcourt matchup that will garner the most attention however is expected to be Taylor Rochestie going against Darren Collison.

Collison is one of the top point guards in the country and is known for both his offense and defense. Watching how the chess match plays out between Rochestie and Collison, who gets the steals, who knocks down the shots, who best finds the open man.

Collison and the rest of the Bruins went shockingly cold in the loss to ASU, failing to score in the final 8:14 of regulation, and had just one field goal in the overtime. While UCLA is not scoring at the same clip as they have been in recent years, don't expect UCLA to be nearly as ice-cold as they were at home in the loss to the Sun Devils. The Bruins are No. 8 in the nation in field goal percentage.

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