The Arizona-UCLA game is always a big deal and even when the teams are not very good, the game still is important. But unlike the "good old days" this is not a fight for the Pac010 title but rather a first round bye in the Pac-12 tournament, as the winner has an inside track to third or fourth place. The following are ten things to think about for today.
10. The Wildcats are playing better. As ESPN's Peter Yoon discusses in an article entitled: "Even in a down year, UCLA-Arizona is big."
The Bruins defeated Arizona, 65-58, Jan. 5 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, but Arizona is a different team in February. The Wildcats finished January at 5-4 in conference play, but have won six of seven games in February, including a difficult sweep of Stanford and California on the road.
"They are improving," Howland said. "When they went to the Bay Area trip and swept that trip it really gave them some momentum and they've been playing very well."
Guard Kyle Fogg leads the team with 12.9 points and forward Solomon Hill is having what Howland called an All-Pac-12 type of season with 12.3 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game.
The Wildcats, however, lack the size of UCLA, which was able to exploit that advantage earlier this season even though 6-foot-10, 305-pound center Joshua Smith sat out because of concussion symptoms. Travis and David Wear, 6-10 twin forwards, combined for 34 points on 13-of -16 shooting in that game.
9. The Arizona crowd will be loud for this nationally televised final home game of the year (it must be nice to have an AD who schedules and thinks in advance of the game how it will look on national TV):
Arizona Athletics is calling for a RED OUT for Saturday's men's basketball game vs. UCLA. The game will be played in front of national TV (CBS) audience and a packed McKale Center crowd. The Wildcats will debut their Nike Hyper Elite Platinum uniforms. Fans are encouraged to wear red as a sign of unity and to help create a memorable atmosphere for the 2011/12 home finale.
8. It is senior day for five Arizona seniors:
Arizona's five departing seniors will be honored in the traditional postgame Senior Day ceremony. Fans are encouraged to remain seated after the game and help honor the careers of Kyle Fogg, Alex Jacobson, Brendon Lavender, Jesse Perry, and Dondre Wise.
7. Josh Smith is hurting and may not play:
UCLA coach Ben Howland said Smith tweaked his back during Friday's practice and he's unsure if the sophomore center will be able to play in today's Pacific-12 Conference matchup.
"Assuming he's able to play and be healthy, he poses problems for them matchup-wise," Howland said. "They really don't have a five-man that they play, per se. ... So there's matchup issues for Josh defensively, trying to match up with Arizona's personnel, as it would be for their team when he's in the game. A year ago they doubled him in the post and he made some really nice passes out of the double team that led to some good baskets for us."
5. Travis Wear will have to use his height, score inside and not settle for long jump shots. The first game against Arizona, UCLA played without Josh and Travis had his best game:
* Howland on Travis Wear's 20-point performance against Arizona:
"He scored inside. He did a good job scoring using his height advantage inside. We got it to him inside and he got some second shots, but he scored well close to the basket."
4. Watch Arizona's Kyle Fogg. How he plays may determine the game:
Perhaps no player has served as a weather vane for the two teams' recent rivalry than Arizona senior Kyle Fogg. The teams have split their past six games and a quick look at the stats shows that Fogg is quite the difference-maker. In the Bruins' three wins over the Wildcats (20-9, 11-5) since 2009, they've held Fogg to 27 combined points; in their three losses, Fogg has gone off for 26, 25 and 14 points.
3. Generally playing at Arizona is very difficult for UCLA but Arizona has been beatable at home this year. And the official preview states that we are 3-3 in our last six games at Tuscon. However, this is vey deceiving as we are zero for our last three and went three for three during the Final Four run. While Arizona is not very good this year, it goes without saying this is not a Final Four caliber UCLA team.
2. The big question is: will the Bruins play uninspired like they did on the road against a terrible ASU team or will they play hard for the full 40 minutes like they did for only 34 minutes at Washington. As Jon Gold writes on whether the players care based on their Twitter statements:
It's too easy to just read into things like that and make definitive statements, but everything is shades of gray. Yes, it appears the team has more heart when its going to Final Fours. The talent was also much, much better.
1. This is a big game just because it is UCLA-Arizona. It is also a big game because it can realistically determine who gets a first round bye in the Pac-12. There are a number of details wrong in the following which picks a Arizona win over the spread but it does get the point across:
All of a sudden third place is up for grabs in the Pacific-12 Conference. 18-8, 10-5 Colorado's loss at home to 19-9, 9-7 Stanford pretty much assured a two-horse race for the top two spots. The 20-9, 11-5 Arizona Wildcats and 16-12, 9-6 UCLA Bruins don't mind as they try bolstering their NCAA Tournament resumes. A Pac-12 Conference Tournament No. 3 seed is very much plausible for both clubs after Thursday's action. . . .
The Bruins improved to 4-6 on the road with the win over Arizona State in Tempe. UCLA will try to cash in on their third away Pacific-12 Conference win against 'Zona who has lost three times during 16 contests at home. The Bruins are 0-4 against the top-seven of the leage in ats falling by 16 at 23-6, 13-3 California, seven at 19-8, 10-5 Oregon, one at Stanford and two at 19-8, 12-3 Washington. The 'Cats have lost to the Ducks, Huskies and No. 25 San Diego State at McKale Center.
UCLA won 65-58 against Arizona in Los Angeles, but fell by 11 last year their last visit to Tucson. The Wildcats have had four wins by eight or nine points tgus season at home. Many of the Bruins' road defeats have come in barnburners losing five of six times by seven points or less. Four of those five losses came by one hoop or less with 12-16, 5-10 St. John's the last to dispose of UCLA by three precious points. 'Zona beat the Red Storm by nine in November at Madison Square Garden. The 'Cats have beaten the visiting Bruins three times in a row at McKale. In 2008 UCLA won 68-66, but that was during the Bruins' runner-up finish in the NCAA Tournament. Go with Arizona here to possibly cruise.
UCLA "biggest" win this year was probably the first Arizona game. Will its biggest road win also be against Arizona?