No. 5 UCLA and No. 11 Arizona deftly took care of challenging opponents Thursday night to further raise the stakes when the best college basketball rivalry on the West Coast resumes Saturday in Tucson, Ariz.
The Bruins (17-2, 8-0 Pac-12) won their 14th consecutive game by battling past Arizona State in Tempe with a game-ending 16-2 run for a 74-62 victory.
Tyger Campbell scored 22 points and David Singleton hit four 3-pointers en route to 21 points to help offset an off-scoring night for Jaime Jaquez Jr. (nine points).
Five of Jaquez’s points, though, came in the final 2:31 as UCLA shut the door on the Sun Devils, who were trying to tie the Bruins for the conference lead.
“If you’re going to win conferences, you’ve got to win tough games against good teams,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said. “It’s been fun flying under the radar the last couple of months. Because of what happened in Vegas, I think people gave up on us.”
UCLA hasn’t lost since suffering back-to-back defeats against Illinois and Baylor in the Continental Tire Main Event in Las Vegas in November.
The victory over Arizona State gave the Bruins a two-game lead in the Pac-12, with Arizona (16-3, 5-3) three games back, making the teams’ first meeting of the season a must-win for the Wildcats if they are to retain much hope of repeating as regular-season league champs.
Arizona’s outlook appears brighter after a lineup change on Thursday night sparked an 81-66 triumph over Southern California. Wildcats coach Tommy Lloyd inserted Cedric Henderson Jr. into the lineup on the perimeter in favor of Pelle Larsson, who had started the previous 18 games this season.
The move allowed Lloyd to shore up his bench scoring — Larsson was the Pac-12’s Sixth Man of the Year last season — while letting the coach sub in Larsson at the post position instead of starting on the wing.
Lloyd said he will play with more of a small lineup, acknowledging that two freshman 7-footers need “a little bit more time” to develop behind the star duo of Azuolas Tubelis (20.2 points, 9.4 rebounds per game) and Oumar Ballo (16.1, 9.0).
Larsson scored 15 points against the Trojans, and Henderson posted 11 points and seven rebounds, his first double-digit scoring game in a month.
“Pelle Larsson gets a ton of credit. I mean, this wasn’t a reprimand or demotion,” Lloyd said. “I just felt our bench needed something a little more consistent coming off of it, and he gives us some versatility playing at the 3 or the 4. … And then the flip side of it, get Cedric (Henderson) going. Cedric’s been great; he hasn’t complained one time.
“If this can help out both those guys and ultimately helps out the team, I felt like it was the right decision.”
UCLA brings experience and elite defense — ranked No. 5 in adjusted defensive efficiency by KenPom.com — while trying to end a two-game losing streak to Arizona. That strength will be matched against the Wildcats’ forte — transition offense, which has been slowed in recent losses to Washington State and Oregon.
Jaquez leads four UCLA double-digit scorers with a 16.3-point average.
With UCLA moving to the Big Ten in 2024, the remaining matchups between the Pac-12’s flagship programs are increasingly precious.
“We’re playing a great team that has all the right pieces and is well-coached,” Lloyd said. “We need to come out play our (butts) off. It doesn’t get any more complicated than that.”
–Field Level Media