After splitting a pair of Pacific 10 games on the road, beating Arizona State and giving top-ranked Arizona a scare, UCLA's basketball team is back at Pauley Pavilion this week for two more conference games.
Tonight, the Bruins will play Washington State, a team that has had surprising success this season and a team that has what UCLA Coach Walt Hazzard rightfully calls "a strange home-road ratio."
That is, Washington State has recorded three of its four conference victories on the road.
But there are a lot of strange things happening in the Pac-10 this season.
The defending champion Bruins are seventh at the moment, at 3-4, behind the usually also-ran Cougars, who are 4-3.
Washington State is 7-7 overall; UCLA is 7-10.
And Washington State's new coach, Kelvin Sampson, has come up with some of those surprise wins despite losing Brian Quinnett, a 6-foot 8-inch senior, after the first game.
"Kelvin Sampson has done an outstanding job with this team," Hazzard said. "Their best player is out of the lineup with a broken foot."
Recently, Washington State has also been without Reco Rowe, a 6-5 sophomore who was a starter last season. He has played sparingly because of a severe ankle sprain.
The standouts for Washington State have been sophomore guard David Sanders, who is averaging 13.6 points a game, and junior forward Brian Wright, who is averaging 13.1 points and 4.2 rebounds.
The Cougars also have a 7-foot center, Todd Anderson, who is averaging 12.1 points but just 3.9 rebounds.
UCLA has not faced a 7-foot center since its own 7-footer, sophomore Greg Foster, quit the team three weeks ago.
Although Hazzard will not rule out the possibility that UCLA might rally to win the conference title, he admits that Arizona, at 8-0 with some of its toughest games behind it, seems to have the inside track. He is more optimistic about the Bruins' chances in the conference tournament. "It's a sudden-death tournament, where anything can happen," Hazzard said.
But he hasn't counted out the rest of the regular season. "Every game we play in the conference will be very important to us this season," Hazzard said. "We want to continue to hold on to part of that crown. We are out to make our record more respectable than it is."
UCLA will play Washington Saturday at 3 p.m.
The UCLA-Washington State game at Pauley Pavilion tonight at 7:30 will be broadcast on KMPC radio (710 AM). . . . UCLA leads the series, 53-10. Last season, the Bruins and Cougars split the series, each team winning on its home court. . . . Washington State has never won at Pauley Pavilion but came close last season when Brian Wright missed a last-second shot, leaving the Bruins with a 61-60 victory.
Kelvin Sampson is in his first season as head coach at Washington State, although he was on the staff there for two years under Len Stevens, now the coach at Nevada Reno. He was head coach at Montana Tech from 1982-85. . . . Last season Washington State had a record of 10-18 overall, 6-12 in the Pac-10. . . . Washington State starting forward LaVar Ball played at Canoga Park High School and transferred to the Cougars from West Los Angeles College.