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UCLA: What should we make of UCLA's 5-2 start in Pac-10 play?

To say that the 2010-2011 campaign got off to a rough start in Westwood would be quite an understatement.

A victory over No. 9 BYU at the Wooden Classic was the lone bright spot in a disastrous non-conference campaign that included glaring losses to VCU and Montana - in the latter defeat, UCLA trailed by 17 at one point and lost, 66-57, to the Grizzlies at home.

Still, with one half of conference competition nearly in the books, the Bruins are perched in the top three of the standings with a 5-2 conference record. It would be an impressive feat ... three years ago. Ben Howland's club has only landed victories over mediocre or bottom-dwelling Pac-10 schools, while shown only one thing consistently: inconsistency.

UCLA has often started sluggishly - spotting Stanford a 22-8 lead on Saturday before turning on the jets in a 68-57 victory, and trailing at halftime in Eugene, Ore., against the lowly Ducks.

And if those sleepy starts were frustrating to watch, Bruin fans have had even more trouble watching their team close out games recently. Not even a 17-point lead was safe in Corvallis, Ore., as UCLA coughed up the advantage before rallying past the Beavers in the closing minutes.

And just last week, the Bruins needed a last second tip-in from Reeves Nelson to survive against Cal after letting the Bears shoot 72-percent in the second half and giving up an eight-point advantage in the final minute of play.

There's no question that UCLA possesses considerable talent. Yet the Bruins possess a ton of youth, as well - the team does not have a single senior on its roster - and that has been a fine recipe for maddening inconsistency.

Upcoming dates on the road with Arizona and back at Pauley Pavilion against St. Johns will give the Bruins a chance to really impress observers. Until then, the team's current spurt in conference play is not much to get excited about.

- Ed Yevelev

Washington State: Is Klay Thompson an NBA-caliber player?

Washington State is not the type of team that gets a whole lot of publicity. At home, the Cougars' games are almost never nationally televised, and even dedicated Pac-10 fans would be hard pressed to name their coach.

The above reasons are only two why Klay Thompson flies under the radar, and why plenty of fans are missing out on one of the conference's finest talents. And he will appear at the next level once he decides to declare for the NBA Draft.

The junior from Ladera Ranch, Calif., has as sweet of a stroke as any shooter in the Pac-10. When the Cougars played at Haas Pavilion on Jan. 13, Thompson poured in a jaw-dropping 36 points (narrowly missing his career high), including an NBA-range 3-pointer to tie the game with under 10 seconds left in Washington State's 88-81 overtime loss.

Thompson doesn't have a terrific supporting cast in Pullman, but coach Ken Bone (see, there's his name) has assembled one of the better squads in a down year for the Pac-10. The Cougars are 4-4 in the conference this season, but none of those losses have come by more than nine points. Most recently, Washington State came agonizingly close to upsetting heavily favored Arizona, but fell 65-63.

The Cougars have racked up a few high profile wins this season, knocking off then-No. 15 Baylor and thrashing both Gonzaga and Mississippi State by more than 20 points. And it's mostly been under the lead of Thompson, whose shooting has been so stellar that opposing coaches rave about him regularly.

"I like Klay Thompson a lot," Cal coach Mike Montgomery said after witnessing Thompson's amazing night in Haas Pavilion. "Basically, he is a big-time player, and this was one of his nights."

For the Cougars, they will try to utilize Thompson for as long as they have him. His ability to play against the finest will be tested this Saturday, when the Cougars host in-state rival Washington. Perhaps then, we will see if Thompson is NBA-quality talent.

-Gabriel Baumgaertner


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