Los Angeles, CA – A pair of teams still with a shot at winning the Pac-12 Conference regular-season title get together at Pauley Pavilion on Saturday, as the 11th-ranked Arizona Wildcats pay a visit to the UCLA Bruins.
Both teams are right in the thick of the Pac-12 title race, trailing first- place Oregon (23-6, 12-4 in conference) by the slimmest of margins.
Arizona fell in an 89-78 decision at USC on Wednesday night, dropping the team's record to 23-5 overall and 11-5 in conference. The setback halted what had been a three-game win streak for the Wildcats, and since suffering an 84-73 loss at home to this same UCLA club on Jan. 24, UA has won seven of 10 bouts. Even with the recent loss at USC, the 'Cats are 7-3 in true road games this season. Arizona hosts bitter rival Arizona State in next Saturday's season finale.
UCLA is hoping to extend its current win streak to four games, and the team is fresh off a 79-74 overtime victory against visiting Arizona State on Wednesday night. The Bruins moved to 21-7 overall and 11-4 in conference with the win, and it was also their 14th victory in 17 games at the newly-refurbished Pauley Pavilion this season. This tilt marks the final home game of the season for UCLA, which still has bouts at Washington State and Washington remaining on the docket.
UCLA owns a 50-37 lead in the all-time series, which includes the victory in Tucson earlier this season. No team has swept the season series since the Bruins turned the trick in 2008.
Arizona is one of the top offensive teams in the Pac-12 this season, averaging 73.6 ppg behind typical shooting outputs of .450 from the field, .360 from 3- point range, and .741 from the free throw line. Add to that a defensive effort that yields just 63.2 ppg, and the Wildcats are the only team in the league with a double-digit scoring margin (+10.3). They also come in ranked second in the conference in rebounding margin (+6.1), and they hit a league-best 7.5 3- point shots per contest. Mark Lyons (15.2 ppg, 3.1 apg) heads a trio of double-digit scorers for UA, and he is joined by Solomon Hill (13.9 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 2.6 apg) and Nick Johnson (11.4 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 3.2 apg). Hill was high man for the Wildcats in their recent loss at USC, netting 21 points, while Kevin Parrom hit for 16, but the team as a whole made good on only 40 percent of its total shots, missing 16 of its 23 3-point attempts along the way. Lyons went 12-of-16 from the charity stripe to help him reach 14 points, and it's a good thing too as he was a horrid 1-of-9 from the field overall. Grant Jerrett came off the bench to tally 10 points, but all those efforts combined couldn't offset a 61.1 percent shooting effort by the Trojans, who also won the rebounding battle, 34-29, and outscored the Wildcats in the paint, 42-32.
It's not surprising that UCLA is near the top of the Pac-12 standings, as the team leads the conference in scoring offense (76.1 ppg), shooting a league- best 46.2 percent from the field in the process, while also heading the conference in assists (17.2 apg), turnover margin (+2.57) and assist-to- turnover ratio (1.5). The Bruins would likely be running away with the league if not for the fact that its foes are allowed an average of 69 ppg, which ranks them 11th in the 12-team conference. Still, they do a masterful job of defending the 3-point shot, yielding a Pac-12-low 30.6 percent success rate. Star freshman Shabazz Muhammad missed a handful of games to start the season, but has made up for lost time by leading the team and ranking second in the Pac-12 in scoring (18.3 ppg), while shooting 46.4 percent from the floor and draining 44.9 percent of his 3-point tries. Jordan Adams (15.4 ppg, 4.0 rpg), Travis Wear (11.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg) and Kyle Anderson (10.0 ppg, 9.1 rpg) round out the unit's double-digit scorers, while Larry Drew III (7.1 ppg) serves as the team's and the Pac-12's top playmaker with 218 assists, which is 71 more than his closest competitor in the league. Adams hit the 20-point mark for the second straight game, tallying 22, while Muhammad and Anderson scored 21 points apiece, all of which was needed to help UCLA get by Arizona State in overtime on Wednesday night. Anderson completed a double-double by grabbing 15 rebounds, and Drew III handed out 13 assists, but had seven turnovers, for the Bruins, who were outscored in the paint (42-20). A 15-9 edge in points from the foul line helped UCLA's cause, which included a 5-of-7 effort in the extra session.