UCLA (12-2, 1-0) vs. No. 1 Arizona (15-0, 2-0)
When: Thursday, 6 p.m., Pauley Pavilion
TV: ESPN (Dave Pasch, Bill Walton)
Radio: AM 570 (Chris Roberts, Tracy Murray)
In today’s Los Angeles Daily News, a look at some of the most memorable moments of the UCLA-Arizona rivalry.
No. 1: Battle of the bigs. Arizona’s frontline is almost certainly the best in the Pac-12, especially with the addition of forward Aaron Gordon. The 6-foot-9, 225-pound true freshman hasn’t quite matched the hype of a future lottery pick, but he plays with non-stop energy and is still averaging 12.4 points, 1.0 blocks, and a team-high 8.0 rebounds.
Slot him into the lineup alongside sophomores Brandon Ashley (6-foot-8, 230) and Kaleb Tarczewski (7-foot, 235), and it’s no surprise that the Wildcats clean the glass more thoroughly than any team in the conference. Arizona’s offensive rebounding percentage of 41.4 ranks eighth in the country. The Pac-12’s next-best team is Colorado, which sits way down at 57th (36.2 percent).
UCLA managed to limit Arizona down low on the way to a three-game sweep last year, but the Wildcats are a far more balanced squad this season. The Bruins are rebounding better than they were a year ago, but forwards David and Travis Wear haven’t strung together any consistent performances yet.
After totaling 31 points and 10 rebounds against Weber State and Alabama, sophomore center Tony Parker fouled out in just 10 minutes against USC last week.
“It’s going to be big for me to stay on the floor,” he said. “That’s going to be a key to the game, the rebounding. … I think that’s going to be one of the key matchups to the game, their frontline versus ours.”
Arizona guards Nick Johnson and T.J. McConnell do their share too, each averaging over 3.5 rebounds per game.
No. 2: That Arizona defense. The Wildcats rank No. 2 nationally in defensive efficiency, and are on another stratosphere on that end compared to UCLA’s prior opponents. A sampling: Duke and Missouri are 74th and 78th, respectively, comparable to UCLA’s 77th; Drexel, whom the Bruins played in the season opener, actually ranks 68th.
Sean Miller’s team has held opponents to a 40.7 effective field goal percentage, also second-best in the country, while UCLA is first nationally at 58.1 percent. If the Bruins can set the tempo, they might have a chance. UCLA is the 14th-fastest team in college basketball, while Arizona is the second-slowest in the conference (and 290th overall).
“They play a lot of help defense,” UCLA guard Jordan Adams said. “They have great rim protection in the paint. They keep their opponents settling for jump shots. …
“Hopefully, we can go in their and get their big guys in foul trouble. Even though they’re going to block a couple of shots, if you keep attacking, eventually the refs will have to call something.”
No. 3: Kyle Anderson has been lights out already this season, but a game against No. 1 Arizona on national TV sets up prime conditions for a signature moment.
His absurd 54.5 percent shooting from beyond the arc will likely regress a bit — it’s currently higher than his 51.6 percent rate from the field — but the sophomore has clearly a more developed offensive repertoire. He’s tied his career high of 23 points twice already this season, and is averaging 18.5/9.5/6.25 over his last four games.
If he becomes first UCLA player to ever have two career triple-doubles in Thursday’s spotlight, it would rank among the top individual performances of this college basketball season.