No. 6 Arizona (16-1, 4-1)
Tipoff: 6 p.m. PT, McKale Center
TV/Radio: ESPN2, AM-570
At a glance: Freshman Shabazz Muhammad called this game a “gotta-win,” something that still holds true after Oregon held on to beat Washington State last night after trailing by 10 at halftime. The Ducks remain the only Pac-12 team undefeated through conference play, and will hold a two-game lead over the loser in Tucson.
Junior forward Travis Wear echoed those same thoughts: “I think we’re all feeling that way right now. … This is a big week for us. We’ve got to get two wins to keep us up there near the top.”
— Arizona has plenty of size with its freshman trio of Kaleb Tarczewski, Brandon Ashley and Grant Jerrett all measuring at least 6-foot-8 and 235 pounds, but gets rebounding contributions across the roster. The 7-foot Tarczewski leads the team with 6.0 rebounds, which ranks 25th in the conference. Three other Wildcats average at least five per game.
As a result, Arizona leads the conference in rebounding margin at +9.4. UCLA ranks ninth at +2.1, above Oregon State, ASU and USC.
“That’s a real wakeup call for us,” UCLA coach Ben Howland said.
Part of the problem has been the Bruins’ tendency to leak out to try and get a jump on their fast-break offense — something Muhammad said required some retraining of their thought process.
“There shouldn’t be any balance there,” Howland said. “You’ve got to get the ball first before you can run.”
— Arizona will also be hosting its third annual whiteout, which will The Wildcats played Washington their previous two whiteout games, winning one on a last-second block by Derrick Williams and losing another by one-point. Head coach Sean Miller said he decided to switch the game because he thought the Huskies had gotten used to the effect.
“This is by far going to be the most hostile environment we’ve been in,” Travis Wear said. UCLA hasn’t won at the McKale Center since 2008.
Players to watch: Mark Lyons is the reigning Pac-12 Player of the Week for a reason, and he’s been particularly reliable on late game free throws. The Xavier transfer leads the team in scoring and, combined with guard Nick Johnson, makes up one of the better backcourts in the conference. Sixth man Kevin Parrom is the quintessential glue guy, and comes with a riveting story as well: through a three-month span in 2011, he lost both his mother and grandmother to breast cancer and was also shot in the leg. (No Manti Te’o-like hoax on this one.)
Throw in forward Solomon Hill, and you have four players with reliable 3-point range — collectively shooting 38.7 percent on nearly 16 attempts per game.
Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams both practiced for the Bruins Wednesday after missing time with a stomach illness. Anderson has been UCLA’s best player in January, averaging 12.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists through six games. Arizona’s size might be his toughest matchup yet, but seeing another double double wouldn’t be surprising.
Adams, however, is mired in his quietest offensive stretch of the year. The freshman guard who carried UCLA’s offense early in the season is shooting 32.3 percent over the past seven games, and has hit one field goal in the past two.
ARIZONA STARTING LINEUP
C – Kaleb Tarczewski, 7-0, 225, Fr., 5.9 pts, 6.0 rebs, 0.8 blks
F – Brandon Ashley, 6-8, 235, Fr., 7.8 pts, 5.6 rebs, 0.8 blks
F – Solomon Hill, 6-7, 220, Sr., 13.6 pts, 5.4 rebs, 2.6 assists
G – Nick Johnson, 6-3, 200, So., 12.7 pts, 3.7 rebs, 2.9 assists
G – Mark Lyons, 6-2, 220, Sr., 15.2 pts, 1.9 rebs, 3.3 assists