UCLA BRUINS (15-4)
at ARIZONA WILDCATS (16-1)
McKale Center – Tucson, AZ
Tip-off: Thursday, 9:00 p.m. ET
Line: Arizona -9, Total: 144.5
Two teams with talented groups of freshmen will square off as UCLA travels to take on No. 6 Arizona.
The Bruins are coming off a disappointing loss to Oregon that cost them their undefeated Pac-12 record and spot in the Top 25. At the center of the problem was freshman phenom Shabazz Muhammad (17.9 PPG) who has been UCLA’s best scorer, but did not record a point in the second half of that game. Arizona, meanwhile, has won two straight after losing its only conference game, also to Oregon. Both of these teams now have one conference loss, so this game will be key in the conference standings.
Can Arizona cover this huge spread against its Pac-12 foe? For the answer, connect to College Basketball Best Bets for all the Expert picks throughout the entire 2012-13 season. StatFox Gary has a sparkling 56.3% ATS (58-45-1) record for the season for college basketball Best Bets, while StatFox Dave is 53.1% ATS (94-83-3) on the year. Dave is 8-4-1 ATS (67%) since Nov. 24 when he mentions the word "hammer" in his analysis, including 6-4 ATS (60%) when he uses the term "Hammertime." StatFox Brian is 11-8 ATS (58%) since Jan. 12, with 9 non-losing days out of these 12 days. StatFox Scott is 3-2 ATS in the past four days.
Muhammad, a 6-foot-6 swingman, paces the Bruins offense that scores 77.6 PPG (22nd in nation). He has been a nasty shooter in his freshman campaign, making 45.8% threes (22-of-48). He needs to assert himself more than he did in the Oregon loss, however, where he shot the ball just nine times, his lowest total of the entire season. He’s joined on the wing by fellow first-year G Jordan Adams (15.2 PPG, 3.8 RPG) who is also amid a rough patch, totaling just nine points on 1-of-12 FG (0-for-4 threes) over his past two games. To his credit though, he’s a savvy defender who is averaging 3.0 SPG in his past five contests. The other key freshman for the Bruins is SF Kyle Anderson (9.9 PPG, 9.1 RPG), who at 6-foot-9 has the skillset of a guard but the body of a forward. He has scored in double-digits in four consecutive games, averaging 12.5 PPG and 9.5 RPG during this span. Those youngsters are joined by senior PG Larry Drew II (5.8 PPG, 8.1 APG), who does not score much, but makes up for it with his distribution skills. He leads the nation with an impressive 4.7 Ast/TO ratio. Down low, the Bruins feature the Wear twins with David (7.1 PPG) and Travis Wear (12.5 PPG, 5.9 RPG), who has stepped it up lately with 19.0 PPG in the team’s past three contests, hitting 62.5% FG (25-of-40). In UCLA’s one win in its three contests against Arizona last season, Wear was the guy to step up, scoring 20 points in just 22 minutes and blocking three shots. He averaged a respectable 11.5 PPG on 9-of-16 FG in the other two meetings.
Senior G Mark Lyons (15.2 PPG, 3.3 APG) paces the Wildcats offense that scores 75.8 PPG on 46.3% FG, numbers that are among the top-45 teams in the nation. Lyons has three 20-point efforts in his past five games, a span in which he is averaging 19.4 PPG. The Xavier transfer is joined by sophomore G Nick Johnson (12.7 PPG) in the backcourt. Johnson will be looking to avenge his poor performances last season against UCLA in which he went a combined 3-of-16 across three games, scoring a total of 10 points. PF Solomon Hill (13.6 PPG, 5.4 RPG) is the team’s third and final double-digit scorer and absolutely went off in Arizona’s Pac-12 Tournament win against UCLA, dropping 25 points and 12 boards. He's also been on a scoring binge since Christmas with 16.7 PPG on 54% FG, grabbing at least six boards in all six games. Beyond those three, the Wildcats have a few super talented freshmen such as 7-footer Kaleb Tarczewski (5.9 PPG, 6.0 RPG). He has struggled lately (4.5 PPG on 6-of-20 FG in past four games) but has loads of potential. The same goes for 6-foot-8 F Brandon Ashley (7.8 PPG, 5.6 RPG), who is coming off an ugly 1-of-5 performance, but shoots 54.2% from the field and can body up against the Wear twins.