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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Wildcats head to L.A. with plenty on the line

Going into the college basketball season, the primary road trips that were expected to push No. 14 Arizona to its limits were the non-conference neutral site games and the matchup in Eugene with reigning Pac-12 Conference champions, the Oregon Ducks.

Instead, with Pac-12 play just getting started and the conference shaping up to be an all-out slugfest between four teams in Arizona, No. 11 Oregon, No. 3 UCLA and USC, this weekend in Los Angeles is the most crucial for the Wildcats moving forward if they want to get leverage as top dog. 

“We have to be ready here this week,” Arizona head coach Sean Miller said. “This is a stiff road test for everybody who goes there and we want to have no regrets. We want to be ready to pay.”

Lately, a typical trip to L.A. means either a sweep or a split in favor of anyone not named Arizona. In Arizona’s previous six road trips against UCLA and USC, the ‘Cats have gone a combined 4-8. 

The city of angels always presented an issue for Arizona and that was when USC head coach Andy Enfield was trying to establish the lob city mentality he incorporated from his time at Florida Gulf Coast, and UCLA head coach Steve Alford dealt with the pressure to quickly turn around a program with high expectations

“Our guys understand that UCLA is a program that has always been there. This year they have a chance to win the national championship—they’re competing for a one seed,” Miller said. “USC is a NCAA Tournament team. Going to Los Angeles in of itself is a big moment for I think every program in the Pac-12, especially if you have some guys from L.A., which we do so that’s already in place.”

This season, the Trojans went undefeated in their non-conference including a win against a mutual UA opponent, Texas A&M and have yet to sweep a week in conference so USC is aching for a sweep. 

“They have a very talented group and Andy Enfield continues to do a great job,” Miller said. “When you get ready to play them, they have players, they have depth and right now, with one of their best players, Bennie Boatwright… But either way they’re very good.” 

The buzz surrounding the L.A. teams appears intimidating, but Arizona is coming in hot winning 10 consecutive games where defense has been a major key. Arizona ranks first in the country with opponents points per game with 63.6 and first in field goal percentage with 41 percent. To sum it up, Arizona doesn’t allow teams to score. 

“Our defense has been the cornerstone to that 10 game winning streak,” Miller said. 

Although USC is a test, the Trojans are no match compared to arguably the most offensive juggernaut team in UCLA. The Bruins are third in the country in points per game (92.9) and first in field goals made (649).

RELATED: UCLA back at the top is the best thing to happen to Arizona

“They’re the nations best offensive team, statistically,” Miller said. “You watch the Golden State Warriors play in the NBA and sometimes you marvel at just their ability to make shots and UCLA is the college version.”

Just imagine if Arizona somehow plays its best defensive performance this season. Then they could come out of L.A. with a sweep and go to 18-2 with essentially the hardest matchup not coming until their trip to Eugene? This could show not only the Pac-12, but also the rest of the nation that Arizona is a legitimate title contender, and that’s without the presence of star guard Allonzo Trier.

At this point, would they even need Trier? You’d be crazy to deny Trier’s ability to take this team to new heights, but with a depleted lineup, the Wildcats have the chance to pretty much prove the doubters who said they wouldn’t win without him.  

Follow Justin Spears on Twitter.

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