Wildcats head to Los Angeles

Arizona heads to Los Angeles to face UCLA on Thursday. Read on for a more complete look at the game.

Arizona closed out 2011 with a dominant 68-51 victory over Arizona State last Saturday, and opens 2012 on the road in Los Angeles with a matchup against the UCLA Bruins.

Ben Howland is in his ninth year with the program, but it hasn't seen much success since a stretch where it went to three straight Final Fours from 2006 to 2008. The 2011-12 season has been vastly disappointing thus far as UCLA, considered by many the favorite to win the Pac-12 crown, is just 7-7 and opened conference play with road loses to Stanford and California.

Considering where UCLA could have been this season, it's even more frustrating for the Bruin faithful. 2011-12 had potential to be a very promising season for Howland's team, but that was before Malcolm Lee and Tyler Honeycutt declared for the NBA Draft and lost Reeves Nelson to expulsion from the team.

What could have been an outstanding season is likely to turn into a mediocre one, as the Bruins displayed just how mightily they may struggle earlier this year when they dropped their first two out of conference games to Loyola Marymount and Middle Tennessee State.

Things have gotten even worse this season with the dismissal of Nelson, who was going to be relied on to carry UCLA as far as he could take them. A 2010-11 All-Pac-10 performer, losing Nelson seemed like the final push required to spiral the Bruins into a mediocre season in 2011-12.

After losing its opening Pac-12 game by one to Stanford, UCLA was defeated easily by California, 85-69. It will look to get back in the win column against Arizona, who it embarrassed in a 71-49 victory in the final game of the old Pauley Pavillion.

Everything has been shuffled around a bit with the loss of Nelson, but Lazeric Jones has remained steady, starting all 14 of the Bruins' games this season. The 6-foot-1, 187-pound senior, who was a former teammate of Arizona forward Jesse Perry at John A. Logan College, is the team's leading scorer with an average of 13.6 points in 31.6 minutes per game.

Jones has done well in his decision making passing the ball with a team best 3.8 assists per contest, but he's also excelled in his shot selection; connecting on 42.9 percent of his three-point tries and 45.9 percent of his attempts overall.

In two Pac-12 games, Jones is averaging 15.5 points per game, and it's clear that the UCLA offense is run through him. While the post play was supposed to be the strength of the Bruins this season, Jones has stepped up as the team's primary option and has provided a solid veteran presence at the point guard position.

The only other player to start all 14 of the team's games this season is 6-foot-5, 200-pound sophomore Tyler Lamb, who with a scoring average of 18 points per game in two Pac-12 contests, has been the team's leading scorer in Pac-12 play.

For the season, Lamb is second on the team with a scoring average of 10.1 points in 31.4 minutes per outing. He's hitting on 50 percent of his field goal attempts overall, but only 30.4 percent of his tries from beyond the arc. He didn't play much as a freshman, but in his second year with the program has really elevated his play to match his increased role.

Jerime Anderson missed UCLA's first game of the season, but he has gone on to start 12 of the team's 13 games and is second on the team in playing time at 31.7 minutes per game. He's been less efficient than Jones and Lamb, hitting only 38.4 percent of his field goal attempts and 37.5 percent of his three-point tries and thus is averaging only 8.4 points per game.

He trails only Jones in assists, handing out nearly 3.5 per game, and in Pac-12 play he's averaging 2.5 points, six rebounds, and 3.5 assists. He has the potential to break out for a big scoring output, but that's not likely to happen with the way that Jones and Lamb have emerged in the backcourt as scoring options.

After sitting out a year following a transfer from North Carolina, 6-foot-10, 225-pound sophomore David Wear has been a starter in 11 of the team's 14 games this season. The nation's 55th ranked player in the class of 2009, who returned to Los Angeles with his brother Travis after being unable to beat out Tyler Zeller and John Henson for playing time at North Carolina, has been called upon to contribute early in his first year with the Bruins.

He's the team's leading rebounder with 6.3 boards per game, and in 27.5 minutes per game he's also averaging 8.8 points on 43.3 percent from the field. He is not a dominant force by any means, but in a conference with very few productive big men, David Wear might be one of the best UA faces in conference play.

If Josh Smith ever decided to take weight loss seriously, he would absolutely be the best big man on the west coast. Standing at 6-foot-10 and 305 pounds, Smith has excellent footwork, hands, and a skill set that would certainly lead him to a spot in the lottery of the NBA Draft; if and only if he made a commitment to getting into better shape.

Right now his conditioning limits him to only 18.1 minutes per game, and in that time the 2010-11 Pac-10 All-Freshman Team selection is averaging 9.4 points on 54.5 percent shooting and 5.4 rebounds per game.

Smith also struggles mightily with fouling, committing nearly 3.5 per contest in limited action. Arizona would do itself a huge favor to get Smith off the floor and on the bench with foul trouble, which would essentially neutralize the Bruins' advantage down low.

So far in Pac-12 play, David Wear and Smith have put up 9.5 points and 7.5 rebounds and eight points and five rebounds per game, respectively. With the advantage Howland's team has on the interior, he may look to get his big men involved from the get-go in order to force Jesse Perry and Solomon Hill off the floor and force Sean Miller to counter with the inexperience of Angelo Chol and inconsistency of Kyryl Natyazhko.

Options off the bench are limited for Howland, but David's brother Travis has seen his role increase with the departure of Nelson. The 6-foot-10, 220-pound sophomore is averaging 9.8 points on 50 percent shooting and 4.5 rebounds in 24.5 minutes per game. He was ranked #56 in the class of 2009, one spot behind his brother, but he has developed into a more reliable scorer to this point in their careers.

Norman Powell came to UCLA as the 56th ranked player in the class of 2011, and so far in his career the 6-foot-3, 200-pound freshman is averaging 5.4 points on 40.6 percent shooting from the field and 32.4 percent shooting from behind the arc in 17.5 minutes per game.

As far as big men reserves go, 6-foot-10, 243-pound sophomore Anthony Stover is averaging 1 block in 8.2 minutes per game. Brendan Lane, a 6-foot-9, 223-pound junior, is averaging only 6.5 minutes per contest, but he's put up 2.3 points and 2.5 rebounds in his limited action.

The game will take place at the Honda Center in Anaheim at 9 pm MST. Both teams likely consider it a must-win but for different reasons. Arizona needs it to keep pace with the leaders in the Pac-12, while UCLA needs to prevent from falling into a hole it won't be able to get out of with three consecutive losses to start Pac-12 play.

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