The biggest test of the season arrives for first-year head coach Tommy Lloyd and the Arizona men's basketball team. This game will be broadcasted on ESPN at 9:00 p.m. MT.
One of the most anticipated matchups in college basketball this season is when the Wildcats head to Pauley Pavilion to visit Mick Cronin and the UCLA Bruins. Cronin retained all five of his starters after a magical season with a trip to the Final Four, not to mention adding Rutgers transfer Myles Johnson paid its dues as starting center Cody Riley was sidelined for the first couple of months of the season due to an MCL sprain.
What makes this UCLA team dangerous is their skill combined with the veteran leadership of their starting lineup. Johnny Juzang, a complete bucket-getter averaging around 18 points per game, will be a handful to deal with come next week, and I envision this will be Dalen Terry’s assignment.
Unfortunately, this is not all the Bruins have to offer. Last March, Jaime Jaquez Jr. showed the basketball world that he is NBA-worthy. Jaquez is the main focal point of the offense next to Juzang. Jaquez will impose many challenges for the Wildcats, as he can play inside and out while also capable of scoring from all three levels.
As good as Juzang is, Jaquez is the person Arizona needs to circle in on and hope to not let him get into a rhythm early, or else the scoreboard will make a faithful Tucson fan not too pleased.
Orchestrating the offense for the Bruins will be Tyger Campbell, a pass-first guard who is shooting an impressive 43% from the field this season with only averaging one turnover a game.
Lastly, Jules Bernard, who might be one of the most improved players in the country, is the energizer for the Bruins team. The majority of the college basketball world is likely not familiar with Bernard. However, Bernard is the spark plug for the Bruins and plays off the ball next to Campbell.
For the Wildcats to pull out a victory, doing the small stuff will be important. Limiting open court turnovers and hitting free throws will ultimately condense the game, taking each possession one at a time. Giving the Bruins extra possessions will only make pulling out a victory a lot more complicated.
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When you look at the new AP poll rankings, you will see that Arizona is ranked six spots ahead of UCLA. But, rankings do not tell this entire story. The Bruins started the season as the second-best team in the country, but suffered losses to No. 1 Gonzaga and the University of Oregon.
UCLA was without their starting center Cody Riley for two months, and their team itself did not play a game for nearly a month in the middle of December.
The Bruins have two players in Jaquez and Juzang that can score at all three levels: three-point range, mid-range and in the paint. Juzang has now scored 98 points in his last four games and is looking like the player we saw last season when UCLA went to the final four.
Along with them, add Bernard and Riley to the mix, that gives them four out of their five starters standing at 6-foot-7 or taller. This will create problems for the Wildcats on the defensive side of the floor, because if Azuolas Tueblis plays, he will likely be guarding a smaller player that is faster and can get off their shot easily.
Although Arizona is not as athletic and switchable of a team, they can dominate the Bruins in the paint by playing with a more traditional lineup using Tubelis and Christian Koloko in the frontcourt.
Koloko is the x-factor in this game. This will be a mismatch throughout the entire game because UCLA will have a defenseman on Koloko who stands three inches shorter.
This is the biggest test for Lloyd as Arizona's head coach up until this point. Arizona beat Michigan in the Roman Main Event tournament in Las Vegas earlier in the season and Illinois in Champagne, but taking on the Bruins in Los Angeles is a whole new challenge for this Wildcat team.
We will have to wait until warmups tomorrow to see if Tueblis will play, but if he does, all ten starters for both teams will be present.
Fans will be in the stands at the legendary Pauley Pavilion Tuesday night, Jan. 25, for the first time since Dec. 1. The game will tip-off at 9 p.m. MT on ESPN.
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