Arizona returns home to play UCLA on Thursday. Although both programs have been up and down the last few years, those on the left coast know this is one of the biggest, and certainly most underrated rivalries in the country. The Wildcats and Bruins have combined to win 20 of the last 27 Pac-12 titles, including 13 straight at one point. Regardless of win-loss records, McKale Center always amps up a few notches when UCLA comes to town. With both programs poised as contenders this year, the atmosphere will be wild.
The teams are coming off opposite experiences. Arizona faced what was supposed to be a tough road test against a rising Arizona State squad, but the Wildcats smacked the Sun Devils back down to their rightful place. Meanwhile UCLA, riding a 10-game win streak, blew a golden opportunity to take control of the Pac-12 race when it fell to Oregon at home.
If the ultra talented Bruins hope to bounce back against Arizona, they’ll need to rely heavily on a handful of freshman. Shabazz Muhammad is a household name, and he leads UCLA with nearly 18 points and five rebounds per game. He gets plenty of help from fellow freshman Jordan Adams, who is second on the team in scoring with more than 15 per game. Kyle Anderson, who has power forward height and guard skills, leads the team with 9.1 rebounds and also averages nearly 10 points.
A few veterans bring balance to the Bruin rotation. Redshirt juniors Travis and David Wear are face-up power forwards who combine for 19.6 points and 10.3 rebounds. UCLA’s floor general, similar to Arizona’s, is a transfer senior. Unlike Mark Lyons, however, Larry Drew isn’t much of a scorer. Instead, he earns his minutes as arguably the most effective distributor in the country. Drew dishes out a phenomenal 8.1 assists per game while maintaining an assist-to-turnover ratio of nearly five-to-one. Outlook:
Each team has enough talent to win this game. Arizona has an edge with the best home court in the conference, but it’s not as if the Wildcats have looked unstoppable at Mckale. Arizona squeaked out victories in its two other conference matchups, and struggled to put away Southern Mississippi and Charleston Southern earlier in the season.
If Arizona wants to be king of the Pac-12, then this game at home is close to a must win. It is also an extremely important game for the Bruins, who need a road sweep to atone for the home loss to Oregon. This sets the stage for an epic showdown between two conference superpowers. Fans have been looking forward to this battle since both teams inked top recruiting classes during the offseason. This is a rivalry game with Pac-12 title implications. For Wildcat and college basketball fans, this is as good as it gets. Bring on the Bruins!