MBB game preview: No.5 UCLA vs. No.11 Arizona

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Nathanial Stenchever | The Daily Wildcat

Head coach Tommy Lloyd of the Arizona men's basketball team points during a game on Nov. 17, in McKale Center. The Wildcats won their third game against Utah Tech University 104-77.

UCLA will be in McKale Center Saturday afternoon to face the Wildcats, who will look to spoil their perfect season in the Pac-12 conference. Mick Cronin and the UCLA basketball team are winners of 15 straight games. The Wildcats are fresh off a victory Thursday night where five players scored in double digits, one of the more complete games the team has played this season. 

In last year's home meeting against UCLA, the Wildcats edged out the Bruins by 10 points. Pelle Larsson had 12 points off the bench. Larsson will come off the bench as the Wildcats had more success inserting Cedric Henderson into the starting rotation, an adjustment that benefited the whole team on Thursday night. 

Kerr Kriisa had a nightmare performance the last time he played UCLA, happening to be at Pauley Pavilion as he was sidelined with an ankle injury in the PAC-12  championship. Likely his worst performance in his career, shooting 0-12 from the floor with four turnovers. As a team, Arizona had 18 total turnovers against the USC on Thursday. 

The two schools separated themselves from the rest of the conference last season, both sitting atop the standings. The two schools split games in the regular season, winning on their respective campuses, and had a date in Las Vegas on a neutral site last March, when a second-half surge of Bennedict Mathurin and Dalen Terry gave head coach Tommy Lloyd a conference championship ring.

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This matchup will look completely different as Lloyd lost instrumental pieces to his rotations. Still, much of the same occurred in Westwood as Johnny Juzang, Jules Bernard and Cody Riley all left to pursue professional careers. Nonetheless, it is fair to say that Cronin won the battle of the returners. 

Take a look at Cronin's production, a group comprising the nation's most lethal pairing of Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Tyger Campbell, a duo as talented as any in the country. 

Why is Jaquez so difficult to guard? His ability to be interchangeable at both ends of the floor. At 6-foot-7 inches and 225 pounds, Jaquez brings up the ball, can play off the wing and is a matchup nightmare off the block, courtesy of his footwork and ability to lift defenders in the air with ball fakes.

As a result, the senior has developed one of the most difficult face-up games for opponents to defend. His patience and mid-range shot-making ability make him the top assignment for any opponent. Not to mention, on the defensive end, he can switch one through four. Jaquez will likely hear his name called next spring as a late first or early second-round pick. 

Tyger Campbell will orchestrate the offense for Cronin, one of the nation's best string guards. The red-shirt senior thrives on the offensive end, utilizing the pick-and-roll to his benefit. At only 5-foot-11 inches, Campbell is most dangerous coming tight off screens around the elbow and elevating into his shot. At times he tends to keep his dribble alive within the lane while probing and finding open shooters along the perimeter. Campbell is rock solid and has grown to be a reliable defensive option compared to his earlier years with the program. He is averaging 13.8 points, and 4.6  assists, along with an impressive turnover rate of 1.8 per game. 

There might not be any other player in the country who improved his draft stock more than Jaylen Clark. His athleticism, motor and explosiveness highlight his skill set. The junior had always been poised for a breakout season; however, he sought national attention after posting 17 points, eight rebounds and seven steals in the Bruin's first game of the season. 

Clark has earned the nation's best on-ball defender reputation, limiting the production of other teams' best players. Luckily for the Wildcats, their offensive attack is balanced, as the offense can be run through all options on the floor. Clark will likely leave and depart for the NBA after this season as his numbers have skyrocketed, averaging 13.9 points, 2.7 steals and shoots an efficient 49.5% from the field. 

It is important to note that five-star freshman Amari Bailey has been on the sideline for the past month for the Bruins. However, he has been progressing in the right direction and is on the verge of returning. The Wildcats' task will be much more challenging if Bailey is ready to dress, forcing sharp-shooter David Singleton to come off the bench. Singleton shoots the ball at a 45% clip from the perimeter and averages 10.3 points per game, one of the more impressive fifth-year seniors who has filled a massive void in Bailey's absence. 

Saturday afternoon will be the first of two meetings between both schools in the 2022-23 season. The Wildcats enter with a 5-3 record in conference and are three games back from first place, looking to trim that margin as the Pac-12 season is almost at the halfway point. The Wildcats have an all-time record of 44-51 against the Bruins, and Lloyd is 2-1 in three meetings against Cronin as the Arizona head coach. 



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