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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Wildcats enter showdown at UCLA with nothing to lose

    UA guard Jerryd Bayless challenges USC forward Davon Jefferson during the Wildcats 80-69 win Thursday at USC. Arizona faces another big challenge Saturday at No. 5 UCLA, but the Wildcats enter the contest confident having won 11 of 12 with Bayless in the lineup
    UA guard Jerryd Bayless challenges USC forward Davon Jefferson during the Wildcats’ 80-69 win Thursday at USC. Arizona faces another big challenge Saturday at No. 5 UCLA, but the Wildcats enter the contest confident having won 11 of 12 with Bayless in the lineup

    Arizona at No. 5 UCLA

    LOS ANGELES – Before the Wildcats left for LA, UA interim head coach Kevin O’Neill said he didn’t see Arizona sweeping this brutal weekend trip.

    That didn’t mean the team wouldn’t do everything possible to make it so, but even the most optimistic Arizona fan would be hard-pressed to make a sweep prediction against schools that have beaten the Wildcats their last seven times.

    Having won four in a row after Thursday’s win at USC entering Saturday’s 7 p.m. showdown at No. 5 UCLA (19-2, 7-1 Pacific 10 Conference), a squad that’s beaten Arizona five straight times, conventional thinking says the Wildcats (15-6, 5-3) will be playing with house money entering the Bruins den.

    They’ve gotten at least their split, making the UCLA game just a huge bonus.

    But don’t tell that to UA guard Jawann McClellan.

    “”We didn’t come here to split, we came here to get two wins,”” McClellan said in the visitors locker room in the Galen Center. “”We’re not satisfied with the win (Thursday).””

    The Wildcats have every reason to feel confident leading up to Saturday’s ESPN national game of the week to be hyped up by ESPN’s GameDay crew, with Jay Bilas, Rece Davis and Andy Katz sure to be high on Arizona after attending Thursday’s game against the Trojans.

    Besides discussing how the Bruins field one of the best squads in the nation, they could talk about how the Wildcats have won 11 of 12 with guard Jerryd Bayless in the lineup, with the one loss being the “”Shoegate”” Stanford game in which Bayless was not right.

    “”We had a stretch of games where we didn’t play well because Jerryd didn’t play,”” O’Neill said of his team’s 1-3 stretch with the freshman sidelined by a sprained knee. “”What we’re seeing is a group of younger guys starting to mature.

    “”I think we’re back to where we were when we were 9-2. We were very confident then. We’re starting to get a feel for each other.””

    Last year the Wildcats entered Westwood having lost three of four games and feeling down, leading to an overall streak of six losses in eight contests. This year in contrast UA forward Chase Budinger said his team goes into the matchup “”very confident”” because of its four-game winning streak.

    “”We’re coming off a couple big wins, we’re playing real well right now, everybody’s stepping up big for our team right now,”” Budinger said. “”UCLA’s a tough team, though, so it’s hard to win on the road, but hopefully we can just keep our confidence going and get another road win.””

    Although the GameDay crew would likely find reason enough to hype up the game just because Arizona and UCLA have traditionally been the dominant teams in the Pac-10, it would be accurate for ESPN to note the Wildcats could assert themselves as one of the elite teams in the conference with a victory.

    A win could move Arizona as high as a tie for second pending the outcome of the showdown between No. 9 Washington State and No. 14 Stanford, while putting the Wildcats in contention for the league championship just a game behind the Bruins, unthinkable before this winning streak started at California when a loss could have dropped them to ninth.

    Besides the game setting up as one of those vintage Arizona-UCLA games with both teams at the top of the conference, UCLA head coach Ben Howland sees the Wildcats looking similar to the UA teams that have dominated the league in years past under head coach Lute Olson.

    “”They’re running a lot of the same sets and same stuff and keep very good spacing on offense,”” Howland said. “”They’re doing a great job that way. I think especially in this last four-game run here it very much reminds me of how they played in years past. They look really good because they’re playing good defense, playing smart offensively, they’re sharing the ball, and they’re doing a good job of rebounding.””

    A few weeks ago, talk around the UA program centered around how the Wildcats had slipped and did not resemble teams of the program’s past, having started 1-3 in the conference for the first time since Olson’s first year in Tucson, the last time Arizona missed the NCAA Tournament.

    Four wins later and Howland is taking about how it’s good for the conference that both Arizona and UCLA are strong and that the Wildcats’ top lineup of Budinger, Bayless, McClellan, forward Jordan Hill and guard Nic Wise are “”very, very impressive.””

    “”It’s all coming together,”” Howland said of the Wildcats. “”For a lot if reasons they should be a really good team: (they’re) well-coached, (have) great personnel and played a very ambitious schedule. We know it’s going to be a very difficult challenge.””

    Having played No. 1 Memphis and No. 2 Kansas on the road – coming a jumper away from beating the Jayhawks and a Bayless injury away from at least putting a serious scare into the undefeated Tigers – and after beating a pair of then-top-10 teams at home, the Wildcats likely won’t be surprised by anything they see Saturday in Pauley Pavilion.

    “”We’ve not been afraid to play anybody, anywhere, anytime as long as we’re healthy,”” O’Neill said. “”Hopefully we’ll be healthy for Saturday, nobody will get hurt in practice, and we’ll go in there and play a very, very good UCLA team that’s the favorite to win this league.””

    If the Wildcats continue their torrid streak at UCLA, the Bruins will have some more company on the short list of contenders to win the Pac-10.

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