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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Wildcats’ last home game a big challenge vs. Pac-10-leading Bruins

    If there ever was a right time for the Arizona men’s basketball team to play UCLA, it would be now.

    The No. 5 Bruins (22-3, 11-2 Pacific 10 Conference) head to McKale Center for tomorrow’s 11 a.m. showdown against No. 19 Arizona (17-8, 8-6) banged-up and struggling a bit, at least by their standards.

    But they face an Arizona team hoping to bounce back from its fourth home loss in just over a month, an occurrence that rarely happens over an entire year in the Lute Olson era.

    “”It’s very important (to win) after losing (against USC) in a game that we should have won,”” said UA guard Mustafa Shakur.

    Having been swept by USC and with a 73-69 loss at UCLA Jan. 20, the Wildcats are now in danger of being swept by both Los Angeles schools for the first time since 1982-83, when Arizona went 4-24 and the 24-year UA head coach Olson was coaching Iowa.

    By themselves the Bruins have beaten Arizona four times in a row the over the past two seasons, the longest UCLA winning streak against the Wildcats since a UA win in 1985 broke an 11-game losing streak to the Bruins.

    UCLA also limps into McKale Center having lost at West Virginia last weekend, a game point guard Darren Collison missed and center Lorenzo Mata played sparingly due to injuries, before barely getting by ASU last night, 67-61, a game they trailed by 10 with just over 10 minutes left.

    Regardless of both teams’ recent struggles, it’s usually an important game when these two rivals get together.

    “”It gets your blood flowing a little bit, but for me UCLA’s UCLA, I don’t really think of it as it’s a big game,”” said UA forward Marcus Williams. “”Obviously you want to step up. Good players step up, and there’s going to be a gym full of them, so I’m looking forward to it.””

    The key to the Bruins’ attack is Collison, who played last night against ASU with a shoulder injury suffered getting fouled hard by USC forward Taj Gibson in the Bruins’ win over the Trojans Feb. 7. He missed the West Virginia game, which UCLA lost 70-65.

    UCLA head coach Ben Howland said the main reason UCLA lost had nothing to do with making a cross-country road trip days after a rivalry game.

    “”Our toughest thing was we didn’t have Darren Collison,”” he said. “”You chop the head off there with our starting point guard and second-leading scorer, that made things difficult … we did not play well, but I don’t think it had anything to do with our mindset.””

    Collison, who averages 13.0 points and 5.7 assists per game, second in the conference behind Shakur, scored 18 points in 37 minutes against the Sun Devils. Mata also bounced back against ASU with 10 points.

    Possibly being modest, Collison declined to attribute his absence for the Bruins’ loss, just their third of the season, on an afternoon where the Bruins passed for barely twice as many assists in the entire game (12) that Collison averages, but Olson thinks otherwise.

    “”Collison makes them run,”” he said. “”You have (guards Arron) Afflalo and (Josh) Shipp can shoot it, but you don’t get to be where they are without great balance. Collison is the motor who runs the team.””

    UCLA forward Luc Richard Mbah-Moute missed the first game against Arizona with a knee sprain, but the Bruins’ leading rebounder averaging 8.1 per game will be there this time on a front line that includes Mata and forward Alfred Aboya, who grabbed a season-high 11 rebounds in his absence in LA.

    “”He’s a good offensive rebounder, a hard worker, a blue-collar player and one of their best defenders,”” Williams said.

    With all the banged-up Bruins back, even if not 100 percent healthy, a win over UCLA would help the Wildcats put their recent home-court struggles behind them.

    “”We have to get a win on our home court,”” guard Jawann McClellan said.

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