The team that UCLA plays tonight knows what it feels like to start the season with big shoes to fill.
While the 13th-ranked Bruins lost three players to the NBA over the summer, Washington State is learning to live without guards Kyle Weaver and Derrick Low who, along with forward Robbie Cowgill, led the team last season.
And just like UCLA, the Cougars are asking their remaining upperclassmen to step up.
"They have to play at a high level," Coach Tony Bennett said. "When they are really active and productive, that's huge for us."
Washington State has won three Pacific 10 Conference games in a row in large part because of senior guard Taylor Rochestie, who is leading his team with 12.7 points a game, and senior center Aron Baynes.
"His kids buy into their system," UCLA Coach Ben Howland said. "They play great defense and they share the basketball."
Baynes is of particular concern to Howland, who called him "a problem matchup." At 6 feet 10, he is averaging 11.7 points and 6.8 rebounds.
"He's always important to us if we can work to get him some touches," Bennett said.
In the zone
With two of UCLA's three losses this season coming against teams that emphasize zone defense, guard Darren Collison suspects future opponents are taking note.
"If that's one of the keys to beat us, they're going to look at that film," the senior said.
The good news? Other teams aren't likely to adopt the complex defensive schemes Michigan and Arizona State have been running for some time. And the Bruins expect to face strictly man-to-man at Washington State tonight.
Still, they devoted at least part of their week to practicing against the zone.
"We just have to learn from this," Collison said.
Toe the line
Washington State's patient style of basketball -- last in scoring, first in defense in the Pac-10 -- can make for close games, which puts more onus on free-throw shooting.
The Bruins have struggled somewhat from the line this season, making only 68% of their attempts.
The Cougars are coming off a victory over Oregon in which they made 28 of 28 free throws.
With no major airports in the vicinity of Pullman, Wash., and icy winter conditions, one of the toughest parts about playing at Washington State is simply getting there.
The highway from Spokane, an hour or so north, has been known to close during storms. Flights sometimes are diverted to Lewiston, Idaho.
"We have fun because we're all together, but it does make for a long day of sitting in an airplane seat," junior Michael Roll said.