Arash Markazi
Sunday January 13th, 2008

LOS ANGELES -- UCLA coach Ben Howland didn't mince words about the prospect of playing Washington State. "It's like getting a root canal without Novocain," he said before the game.

On Saturday, however, UCLA flipped the script and gave Washington State a taste of its own medicine and the result -- UCLA 81, Washington State 74 -- left the once undefeated Cougars as bewildered as a drugged-up patient in the recovery room.

Washington State had been praised all season for playing suffocating defense and patient offense, beating teams by an average of 18.4 points with players passed over by other schools. UCLA showed Washington State, and the nation, what that style of basketball looks like when executed by a roster of All-Americans. The result was the Bruins' most dominating performance of the season.

UCLA swarmed Washington State from the opening tip, getting in the face of the Wazzu ball handlers and making it nearly impossible for the Cougars to get off an open shot or even a clean pass. Their first made field goal didn't come until Taylor Rochestie drove through the lane for a layup nearly nine minutes into the game to cut UCLA's lead to 16-6. Then the Bruins promptly responded with another run, this one 10-4.

"Maybe some players were nervous," said Washington State guard Derrick Low, who scored 24 points and hit six three-pointers. "I'm not sure, but UCLA's defensive pressure is unlike anyone else in the country. They are so mentally tough on defense and they are so physical and we needed to meet that and we didn't. UCLA is just a different type of team."

For much of this season, Washington State has lulled the opposition to sleep with a mind-numbingly effective offense, knowing the defense is bound make a mistake during the 35-second possession that they can take advantage of. UCLA, however, never took the bait and rarely made a mistake. The Bruins' quickness and ability to adjust defensively also made it seem as they had seven or eight guys on the court, swarming both the perimeter and the post and making it impossible for the Cougars to do anything uncontested.

"We're a team that if we're not really clicking, we're so vulnerable and you saw that," said Washington State coach Tony Bennett. "We can't afford the breakdowns and turnovers we had. This is a new adventure for us being in this big setting. We don't have any false notions of who we are as a team. We know how much of a battle it is for us and we have sober judgment about who we are."

The tone of the game was set by Kevin Love, UCLA's freshman phenom who played like a cerebral veteran, setting up teammates with pinpoint outlet passes, knocking down open shots from the perimeter, bulling through double teams in the post and harassing Washington State's big men whenever they got the ball.

"I had a feeling today would be my day," said Love, who scored a career-high 27 points and grabbed 14 rebounds. "Coach [John] Wooden says, 'Be you best when your best is needed,' and I think that's what happened today."

Love's most impressive accomplishment, however, was reflected by the stats of the player he was matched up against. Love took Aron Baynes, Washington State's 6-foot-10 bruising center who had been shooting 61 percent from the floor, completely out of his game. Thanks also to some UCLA double teams in the low post, Baynes made only one field goal and finished with eight points.

"That kid's a monster," said Love. "I'm never afraid of anybody but that's a big dude right there and we did a lot of scouting on him and he's a great post player, but we held him in check today."

Washington State stormed back late, hitting seven consecutive three-pointers to trim a a 68-53 deficit with 1:35 remaining down to 77-74 with 13 seconds left. But the damage had been done; by the time the Cougars trailed by less than 10, the UCLA band was playing The Jeffersons theme song, Moving on Up.

"We understand that Washington State was a 'better team' than us in terms of the rankings," said Darren Collison. "But coming into this game we knew what we had to do to make a statement and show what kind of a team we are."

This was supposed to be a statement game for the Cougars in the first true test of their new lofty status in college basketball and it certainly turned out to be just that. Although the statement wasn't quite what they had hoped it would be.

"They're the measuring stick," said Bennett as he stood under the national championship banners that line the rafters of Pauley Pavilion. "They've been to Final Fours and they know what it's about and we have to learn from them. That's what we're trying to become."

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