A little over a month after their first meeting, UCLA Basketball will attempt to knock off the Arizona Wildcats for the fifth-straight time since 2018 – although, much has changed since their January 9th nailbiter.
When the Bruins and Wildcats met last month, they were a combined 17-4 – but since then, the two squads have gone a tumultuous 10-7 through Pac-12 play. Likewise, both have endured struggles as of late – the Bruins have lost three of their last five, while the Wildcats have dropped four of their previous six tilts.
The Bruins – once ranked 21st in the country just at the beginning of February – have endured losses in two of their last three games, coming on the road at USC and Washington State. Most recently, however, UCLA rebounded with a much-needed victory, scraping by Washington on Saturday, 64-61.
Much has changed for the Bruins this season, having ushered in the 2020-21 campaign fresh off their hot finish last year. Star guard Chris Smith tore his ACL just eight games into the season, and UCLA has now been without Jalen Hill – the first center off the bench – for the last three games.
Subsequently, scoring has been difficult to come by – as evidenced by the fact that just two Bruins in Johnny Juzang and Jules Bernard reached double-digits against Washington, with the next leading scorer being David Singleton with just six points.
They will face an Arizona squad that has gone through similar struggles. Ineligible for the NCAA Tournament due to a self-imposed ban, the Wildcats – just a few weeks ago – were receiving votes for the AP Top 25 poll, but have spiraled as of late, having won just one game this month – a 70-61 win over Oregon State.
In their most recent outing, Arizona gave up a game-winning three-pointer with 15.6 seconds left against Oregon in a 63-61 defeat. Like UCLA, the Wildcats saw just two players reach double-figures in Azuolas Tubelis (20) and Kerr Kriisa (12) – but also had two others record nine and eight points, respectively.
The Bruins are, by no means, in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament – but UCLA’s woes in a lackluster Pac-12 have left much to be desired for a team that entered the season nationally ranked, was picked to win the conference, and was expected to be a national threat after ending last season as winners of 11 of their last 14 games – particularly after their well-documented early-season struggles.
Winning this game against Arizona – and sweeping the Wildcats after defeating them, 81-76, earlier in the season – is incredibly crucial to reestablishing their national reputation – and they have to follow through in some key areas to make it possible.