No. 3 Arizona, No. 7 UCLA both ahead of scheduled matchup

January 22, 2022; Boulder, Colorado, USA; UCLA Bruins guard Jaime Jaquez Jr. (24) and Colorado Buffaloes guard Keesawn Barthelemy (3) and forward Jabari Walker (12) try to rebound in the second half at the CU Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

No. 3 Arizona and No. 7 UCLA will meet Tuesday night in the biggest Pac-12 game of the season yet, just in time for fans to return to the Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles.

The showdown was originally scheduled for Dec. 30 but was postponed due to UCLA’s COVID-19 concerns. The teams had planning windows to meet earlier, but the Pac-12’s decision to wait and put the game on Tuesday paid off, giving the Bruins time to lift their COVID attendance restrictions.

The Bruins (13-2, 5-1 Pac-12) haven’t played in front of fans (other than family) at home since a Dec. 1 game against Colorado, so there will be energy worthy of the status of the match.

“It’s really not the same without the fans there,” UCLA’s Jaime Jaquez Jr. said. “It was disheartening to know there were fans at Lakers games, there were fans all over California – you go up to Cal and there are fans. Not having that was unfortunate, but we’re super happy and super ready for the fans to be there on Tuesday.

Arizona (16-1, 6-0) roars into this marquee game after winning five straight, including a sweep of Bay Area schools, capped by a 96-71 win over California on Sunday.

Starting forward Azuolas Tubelis, the team’s second leading scorer, missed the game after spraining his left ankle Thursday night at Stanford. Tubelis (15.1 points per game) is considered day by day.

Without him on Sunday, Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd occasionally used 7-footers Christian Koloko and Oumar Ballo in the same formation. He also played five perimeter players together.

“Trying to be creative and have options with programming,” Lloyd said. “An injury happens and you have to adapt.”

The Bruins have won five straight games in the West’s top college basketball rivalry, but this is the first Arizona-UCLA game for Lloyd, in his first year with the Wildcats after a two-decade career as a as Gonzaga’s assistant coach.

Lloyd remade the Wildcats in the image of Gonzaga’s recent teams — selfless, quick, high-scoring.

Bennedict Mathurin (17.5 ppg) leads the way for a team that is averaging 88.7 points, shooting 50.1% and averaging 21.3 assists per game nationally. Arizona has won its six conference games by averaging 22.2 points, but Tuesday’s game will be its first meeting against another top-tier team in the conference (UCLA, USC, Oregon).

The Bruins are emerging from a never-easy road sweep of Utah and Colorado and seem to be finding their groove after a COVID-disrupted December. Johnny Juzang scored 23 points in a 71-65 win over the Buffaloes on Saturday to improve his team-best average to 18.3 points. Three others are scoring double-digit average scores, including Jules Bernard (13.0).

UCLA averages just under 10 turnovers per game, potentially a key factor against Arizona’s man-to-man pressure defense, which often leads to easy transition baskets. The Wildcats’ pace sometimes resulted in too many turnovers for Lloyd’s satisfaction, but he liked that his team only committed eight against Cal.

“This team has a charisma about it and a real spirit and energy,” he said. “The highlights are coming. We strike a balance between paying for an exciting basketball brand with just a hint of conservatism.

–Field level media

Comments are closed.