Preview & Prediction: By Fairway Jay
#11 UCLA (19-5,8-3) dropped from the top spot in the Pac-10 following Thursday’s road loss at Arizona State. Now the Bruins travel to Tucson to take on the league's hottest team, as Arizona (17-8,7-5) has won six straight games and has emerged from the NCAA Tournament bubble to a serious Pac-10 player. A win by the Wildcats Saturday would position them for a Pac-10 title run. While unlikely with a tough stretch of games ahead, Arizona is still playing their best ball of the season while averaging over 82 ppg and nearly 50% FG shooting during their recent winning streak.
UCLA has also averaged over 82 ppg their last five games, and the Bruins have beaten the Wildcats eight straight times. UCLA pounded Arizona at Pauley Pavilion a month ago 83-60 for their largest win over Arizona in 25 years. Senior forward Alfred Aboya has emerged for UCLA with 14 ppg and nearly 8 rpg the past five games. During their recent run prior to the Arizona State loss, UCLA was playing at a very high level and forcing more turnovers, creating steals and pressuring the ball better on defense. That pressure created more opportunities to push the ball and UCLA was shooting the ball more effectively with perimeter players Darren Collison, Jrue Holiday and wing Josh Shipp all hitting over 47% of their shots. Shipp leads the Pac-10 in 3-point shooting (54%) and he and Collison both hit 90% from the free throw line in league play. Add in sharpshooters Nikola Dragovic and Michael Roll and you have the Pac-10’s top shooting team in conference play (50%).
Arizona has been rapidly improving with strong team chemistry led by a terrific trio. Jordan Hill has been very solid inside, as Hill is the Pac-10’s #2 rebounder and scores 15ppg in conference play. Forward Chase Budinger leads Arizona in scoring in Pac-10 play and is averaging over 21ppg during their recent run. Point guard Nic Wise comes off a 27-point performance in the 83-76 win over USC Thursday, and over the last eight games, Wise has been on the floor for all but 5 minutes of action. Arizona’s bench production has improved, and the Wildcat’s have been a solid second half team during their recent run, outscoring opponents by over 8ppg while trailing by over 2ppg at halftime over their last six contests.
A win by Arizona would nearly secure an NCAA bid and also leave them just a half game behind UCLA and two games behind league-leading Washington with five games remaining including a game against the Huskies in Seattle. However, on a quick turnaround, I prefer the Bruins to bounce back and Ben Howland is clearly the more capable coach with a more balanced and disciplined team. Watch and win on CBS TV with a rare early tip-off from Tucson.
Winner: UCLA Margin 3-7 points
Editor's Early Preview
*Made on 02/06. Full preview by the GameNight staff coming soon!
Arizona still has the individual talent to knock off tough teams from time to time. The Bruins have no answer for Jordan Hill down low, who should be a double-double lock here. The Wildcats long Tourney streak will come to an end this year, and their late-game struggles have been well documented on YouTube.. but they'll regain a little respect here.
Early Prediction: Arizona