The Wildcats (20-9,11-5) take on the Bruins (16-2, 9-6) at noon Mountain Standard Time. The Bruins are coming off a 68-57 win at ASU, but lost by 3 at St. John's earlier in the week. The Bruins have won four of their last six games, including a 72-61 win against Stanford and a ten point victory over rival USC.
Arizona is coming off a 70-54 drubbing of the Trojans and is ready to avenge its loss to UCLA earlier in the season. After starting the Pac-12 season off with a victory over ASU, the Wildcats struggled at the Honda Center. UCLA pulled away early and held the lead for most of the game. Arizona put together a run, but it came too late and the Bruins came away with a 65-58 victory.
UCLA came into the season with high hopes, but star forward Reeves Nelson was released from the team after just a few games. He was also suspended and benched multiple times before being released. His loss can be one of the main contributions to UCLA's mediocre season. After being released, Nelson signed with a team in Lithuania, but has since been released from his contract.
UCLA enters the game with nothing left to lose in a season that most Bruin fans are just waiting to be over. However, a win in Tucson is something the Bruins are going to try and give to their fans for all they've been through this season. In order to do that, they will have to exploit Arizona's lack of size. Conversely, if Arizona wants to win, it will need to contain the Bruins' backcourt.
It all starts with the Wear twins. 6-foot-10 Travis Wear had a breakout game against Arizona. He scored a game-high 20 points on 7 of 9 from the field, including 6 free throws. Travis also pulled down 5 rebounds (tied for team-high with four others and four of which were offensive. He was also a force on defense, blocking 3 shots and altering others.
His counterpart and twin, David Wear, was also a huge presence for the Bruins. He was the only UCLA player to foul out, but played tremendous defense in the post and finished with 14 points. David also finished with a steal and five rebounds, as he was a major part of the offense and defense during the game, coming up with big plays when they were needed.
Running the point guard duties is senior guard Lazeric Jones. The 6-foot-1, 187-pound Jones has carried the Bruins this season. He played 36 minutes at the Honda Center, scoring 13 points. Jones ran the offense perfectly, tallying 4 assists, but also played tenacious defense, racking up 3 steals.
Jones is one of the biggest keys to UCLA's success. If he has a good game, it is usually in the game towards the end. If he doesn't, the Bruins need to find consistency from someone else in order to succeed.
Joining Jones in the front court is fellow senior Jerime Anderson. Anderson, 6-foot-2, 183-pounds, saved his best season for last, as most seniors do. He has put together a solid campaign, helping to hold the team together through this tough season. He played 35 minutes against Arizona and though he only had seven points, he was much more of a factor than the stat sheet shows. Anderson was a role player, picking up three rebounds and dishing out three assists to go with his lone steal. He also helped hold Fogg and Nick Johnson to just nine points collectively.
The last of the starters is freshman Norman Powell. The 6-foot-3 guard has only started the last few games, but has earned all of his playing time. He doesn't wow anyone with his numbers, but plays within Coach Ben Howland's system. Powell had two points and three boards against the Wildcats, but will likely have better numbers on Saturday. He has grown as a freshman, as most do with immediate paying time, and is becoming more productive with each game.
First off the bench for UCLA is 6-foot-5, 200-pound Tyler Lamb. The sophomore guard has improved greatly since his freshman year, increasing his scoring by nearly 400-percent. He logged 31 minutes against Arizona, dishing out a game-high five assists. Lamb also added a game-high four steals and five rebounds. Although he only put six points on the board, it is clear that he made his contributions in other ways, as Lamb is another key player to the Bruins success.
Lamb will be an important player to watch with the way Arizona has been playing on defense lately. He can cut to the basket and score in the paint if he starts to get comfortable. Lamb is the type of player that could end up with more points than he should have come Saturday afternoon.
Backing up the Wear twins is 305-pound center Josh Smith. The 6-foot-10 sophomore did not play against Arizona the first time around because he was still recovering from a concussion. While Smith's numbers have stayed the same from his freshman year, there is some concern from the Bruin faithful that he is not progressing due to his weight issues. The irony here is that he may be successful against the U of A because he has weight to throw around.
It is no secret that the Wildcats have struggled against dominant big men the last two years. Smith may be in for a big game if UCLA slows the tempo down enough. If the Bruins can maintain a slow game pace, it is possible for Smith to have a breakout game. In addition, if the tempo becomes increased and both teams start running, the sophomore should see more of the bench.
If the game does have a high tempo, there is a chance we see more of center Anthony Stover. The 6-fot-10, 243-pound sophomore is the more athletic of the big men, but is not very assertive in the game.
Stover is a tall body that can alter shots and play good defense, as evidenced by his two blocks against Arizona, but does little on the offensive end. It will be Jesse Perry's job to make sure that Stover has a repeat performance of the first match-up, where Stover had just three points and three boards.
If the Bruins are really hurting for an extra body, junior forward Brendan Lane may see some action. The 6-9, 223-pound forward hasn't played in six of the last eight games for the Bruins, but did get 24 minutes of court time the first time around. Lane didn't do much with it, going scoreless and picking up five rebounds as his only stat.
The seniors will want to win their final regular season home game of their careers. They also want to win to increase their chances of getting an at-large bid to the Big Dance. Needless to say, the Wildcats will be hungry on Saturday.