The two most storied programs of the West Coast will face-off Thursday night for their only regular season game this season. The number one ranked defensive-minded Arizona Wildcats (15-0, 2-0) head to Westwood, CA to play the offensive-minded UCLA Bruins (12-2, 1-0) for another chapter in the heated rivalry. This will be the first conference road game for the Wildcats, and it will not be an easy test.
UCLA is among the best teams in the country in terms of scoring, averaging 85.5 points per contest, including their season high 107 points in their most recent game this past Sunday versus cross-town rival USC. The Bruins like to spread the floor and shoot the outside jumper very well. Sophomore Jordan Adams leads the team with 18.5 points per game. In his last meeting versus Arizona, Adams scored 24 points as the Bruins eliminated the Wildcats from the Pac-12 Tournament and went on to win the game 66-64.
Kyle Anderson is a 6’9” point guard who creates an extreme matchup problem. He fills up the stat sheet averaging over 14 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists per game. Look for Arizona head coach Sean Miller to try different defensive looks, but expect Aaron Gordon to be doing the majority of the defensive work on Anderson.
The Bruins have efficient scoring off their bench, led by superstar freshman Zach LaVine and fellow freshman Bryce Alford. Arizona needs to be very good defending the three-pointer, because both of these freshmen can explode on any given night. LaVine can do it from the outside or use his athleticism to get to the rim, while Alford usually relies on his shooting. Perimeter defense was a big issue for the Wildcats last year, while opponents this year have only shot 28.2% from behind the arc against the ‘Cats.
However, the Bruins main problem this year has been defense. They tend to run a 2-3 zone, therefore Arizona needs to shoot the ball well and use good ball movement like they have all year. UCLA allows an average of 70 points per game. If the Wildcats score 70, they should win the game. They have not allowed any team this season to score more than 70 points in a single game. Nonetheless, they have not faced an offense as high powered as this UCLA team.
The Wildcats are the number one team in the country for the fifth straight week now, and this is the game where many experts have the Wildcats potentially losing their first game of the season. The ‘Cats are coming off a 71-62 home victory versus the Washington Huskies that was a little closer than expected. Junior guard Nick Johnson scored a career high 24 points, and has been Arizona’s best offensive weapon so far this season.
Arizona will win this game the same way they have all season: wearing down their opponents with their length and defense. The Bruins do not have a player as big as Arizona center Kaleb Tarczewski. “Zeus” needs to have a big game and pull down a lot of rebounds. The Wildcats will look to pound the ball inside in the zone, and he is the ‘Cats biggest low-post presence. Kaleb has been a key factor for many of Arizona’s victories this season.
The Pauley Pavillion crowd will be daunting, as well as every road conference game for Arizona as they have the number one ranking target on their backs. It is unlikely they will go undefeated the whole season, but winning and being the number one team in the country is always fun.
Prediction: Arizona 86, UCLA 76.