Let’s call it the Kuksiks Conundrum.
Rihards Kuksiks was a mobile, 3-point shooting forward for Arizona State from 2007-11. Though he was 6-foot-6, the Sun Devils would play Kuksiks at power forward and protect him on the other end with their matchup zone defense.
That meant the opposition had a problem. Any team with a traditional lineup would send a lumbering big man to chase Kuksiks through screens and around the perimeter. It rarely worked and would force teams to alter lineups. For instance, ex-UW small forward Justin Holiday would swing to power forward to defend Kuksiks.
The Huskies encountered another Kuksiks-style matchup issue last week, again from Arizona State. Shawn Kemp Jr. started and had to pursue the Sun Devils’ Jonathan Gilling. In turn, Kemp was able to demolish the smaller Gilling on offense.
Tonight, when Washington heads to Pauley Pavilion for a 6 p.m. tip-off against UCLA, it will have numerous cross-match dilemmas.
Bruins forward Travis Wear plays almost exclusively on the perimeter. He pops out for jump shots after he sets picks for guards and is effective from 15-17 feet. Seven-foot Aziz N’Diaye will likely be on him.
That leaves Kemp guarding 6-foot-8 true freshman Kyle Anderson, who, at times, plays point guard. Anderson is deliberate – his nickname is “Slow-mo” – but skilled. It’s likely UW will turn to Desmond Simmons and Jernard Jarreau to help defend Anderson and Wear, too.
When asked what Kemp learned last week about guarding a perimeter player, Romar said, “Get his hand up earlier.”
Gilling made six 3-pointers in the game, though not all against Kemp.
Kemp, who has started two consecutive games, said guarding Gilling was the first time he’s had to run through down screens, the kind Washington sets for shooters such as C.J. Wilcox or Scott Suggs, while playing defense.
After Washington figures that out, it still has to contend with true freshman Shabazz Muhammad, a left-handed menace who averages 18.4 points per game. Add to the mix the fact UCLA will be grumpy after losing three out of four, including its only game last week, a 75-71 overtime loss at home to rival USC.
“They’re just waiting to go get somebody,” Romar said. “That’s how we feel. It’s a dangerous team to begin with, but one that is ready to go out and play some basketball. We have a serious challenge ahead of us.”
The Bruins will have their own issues. Arizona State center Jordan Bachynski scored 22 points and had 15 rebounds against UCLA, which has little post presence since Kent’s Joshua Smith left the team. Now they have to deal with N’Diaye, who took it to Bachynski last week.
“We’ve got to be up to the challenge of being physical with him and holding our ground,” UCLA coach Ben Howland said.
They were not against Arizona State when the Sun Devils did to the Bruins what Washington did to Arizona State last week. Arizona State outscored UCLA in the paint, 46-26, and outrebounded the Bruins, 52-33, in a 78-60 win in Tempe. Washington outscored Arizona State in the paint, 50-34, and outrebounded it, 36-20.
Washington (13-9 overall, 5-4 PACIFIC-12 CONFERENCE) at UCLA (16-6, 6-3)
6 p.m., Pauley Pavilion, Los Angeles
TV: ESPN. Radio: 950-AM, 102.9-FM.
All-time series: UCLA leads, 90-42.
Scouting report: UCLA’s Kyle Anderson is a bizarre matchup. He’s 6-foot-9, plays at a slow pace, has great passing ability and can be the point guard. He also posts up. Travis Wear is a pick-and-pop player. He’s very good at it, but does little else. His twin brother, David, is more of a post player. Jordan Adams, one of three true freshmen who start for UCLA, is an excellent scorer and leads the conference in steals during league play, but also gambles a lot to get them. True freshman forward Shabazz Muhammad could be the No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming NBA draft. The Bruins play at the fastest tempo in the conference, so expect more up-and-down from Washington than we have seen most of this season. Probable starters
Shawn Kemp Jr.F126.96.36.199 50.060.0
Aziz N’DiayeC10.79.30.3 63.446.2
Larry Drew IIG6.32.98.041.557.1
Travis WearF12.email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports @Todd_Dybas