The showdown between No. 4 UCLA and No. 8 Arizona won’t impact the regular-season standings, but stakes remain high when the teams meet Saturday night in Los Angeles.
The Bruins (26-4, 17-2 Pac-12) clinched the regular-season title last weekend and hold a three-game lead over the Wildcats (25-5, 14-5), who secured the No. 2 seed for next week’s Pac-12 tournament by beating Southern California 87-81 on Thursday.
What is still up in the air?
For starters, plenty of bragging rights in one of the precious few meetings left in what has been the best basketball rivalry in the West for more than three decades. The programs have nothing on the books together after the Bruins bolt for the Big Ten after next season.
And while the Bruins hold the edge right now in terms of staying in the West region for the NCAA Tournament as a No. 1 or No. 2 seed, Arizona can make its claim if it finishes the season sweep of UCLA on Saturday night.
“I’m not getting into it,” Bruins coach Mick Cronin said after his team beat Arizona State on Thursday night, answering a question about whether UCLA deserved a No. 1 seed. “I’d like to be in the West, and I’d like for my team to be treated the way they deserve to be treated. That’s all I’ll say on that.”
There is also the matter of the Pac-12 Player of the Year award.
UCLA’s Jaime Jacquez Jr. will win the “best player on the best team” argument. The do-it-all wing scores from everywhere, averaging 17.3 points, 7.9 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.5 steals per game while being a key component of a UCLA defense that allows just 59.7 points per game. He will be playing his final home game Saturday at Pauley Pavilion, where UCLA is 16-0 this season.
“We’re just going to try to have as much fun as we can,” he said. “I feel like every time I’m on the floor I just keep smiling and am just so happy to be playing with these guys. We’ve built something so special here.”
Meanwhile, Arizona’s Azuolas Tubelis is trying to become the seventh player in conference history to lead the league in scoring and rebounding. He snapped out of a four-game funk with 25 points and 10 rebounds against USC.
“I thought Zu was back to how he was playing earlier in the year,” said Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd. “I knew he would. He’s such a high-character good guy.”
Tubelis, playing in a faster-paced offense than Jacquez, is averaging 19.7 points and 9.1 rebounds. The last player to lead the conference in both major categories was Cal’s Leon Powe in the 2005-06 season, when Washington’s Brandon Roy won Player of the Year honors.
Both players are also on the late-season watch list of 15 for the Oscar Robertson Award given to the national player of the year.
Tubelis had 14 points and 10 boards when Arizona slugged its way to a 58-52 home victory over UCLA on Jan. 21. Jacquez had 12 and 11 as the Bruins shot only 31.3 percent.
“We’re playing a great UCLA team on the road on Senior Night,” Lloyd said. “They are deserving of all the accolades going their way, and we’re going to go and give it our best shot.”
–Field Level Media