UCLA vs. Colorado: What to Watch

UCLA’s eight-game winning streak will be in real jeopardy at the Coors Events Center. The team tips off against Colorado at 11 a.m. (Pac-12 Networks, AM-570) in what should be one of the Bruins’ biggest road tests this season. The Buffs don’t look like a better team, but they average one of the largest crowds in the Pac-12.

“This will be more intense,” UCLA head coach Ben Howland said. “I was talking to someone today, who said Colorado might have the best home-court advantage in the league. … The ceiling’s low and they’re right on top of you. That’ll be a great atmosphere tomorrow.”

The Bruins also face a quick turnaround from Thursday’s win over Utah, something not helped by the air travel from Salt Lake City to Denver.

At a glance: Tad Boyle is one of the conference’s best coaches and — through his first two years in Boulder — guided Colorado from NIT semifinal to its first NCAA Tournament since 2003. This year’s squad has plenty of talent, but has made a habit of blowing big leads — including a 17-point halftime margin that turned into a controversial Arizona win. Askia Booker and Spencer Dinwiddie average 28.6 points per game out of the backcourt, but just 5.2 assists.

As a result, only 43.5 percent of Colorado’s baskets are assisted, one of the most abysmal marks in the country.

Travis Wear is on a roll, and the Bruins will happily ride along while it lasts. He’s averaging 14 points in his past four games after scoring single digits in his prior five. Shooting 54 percent from the field looks good too, and certainly helped during his team’s scoring lulls at Utah.

UCLA’s defense has actually improved fairly dramatically during in the past three games. Taking stats from conference play only, the Bruins are now the third-most efficient defense in the Pac-12 (via Ken Pomeroy). They’re main weaknesses are blocking shots and, widely discussed by now, allowing offensive rebounds. The caveat is that the sample size is small, and Stanford’s awful offense skews those numbers a bit. However, limiting free throw attempts is a season-long strength, and one that correlates well with wins.

Players to watch: There are few players I love watching more than Andre Roberson, whose game is all unpolished energy. He still doesn’t project well to the NBA, but that’s not a problem right now. There’s a reason he ranks second in the country in rebounding (11.8) and third in the conference in steals (2.07). He can hit threes, but doesn’t have a very refined post game.

I’m also hoping Spencer Dinwiddie matches up against Shabazz Muhammad for most of the game. The sophomore guard is turning into Colorado’s best player, and is solid perimeter defender as well. The Taft High alum might still be a little miffed UCLA didn’t recruit him hard enough. Muhammad should shake be able to shake off his career-worst 6-point performance at Utah; he said earlier this week that rival crowds get him amped up, and he won’t see many louder than Colorado.

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