UCLA, the last remaining undefeated team in Pac-12 play, will put that streak on the line when it plays host to Washington State on Thursday afternoon.
Even after losing star guard Chris Smith for the rest of the season to a torn anterior cruciate ligament on New Year’s Eve, the Bruins (9-2 overall, 5-0 Pac-12) have kept rolling.
They’re coming off of a sweep of the Arizona schools in the desert, beating Arizona State 81-75 last Thursday in overtime, and then shutting down Arizona in the second half of an 81-76 victory Saturday.
“It just shows the guys are on this team, everybody is willing to do what it takes to win and everybody really wants to win,” UCLA guard Johnny Juzang said. “We have slip-ups and mistakes, but everybody on this team really does want to win.”
Tyger Campbell scored 22 points, and Juzang added 16 for the Bruins.
UCLA is off to its best conference start since 2012-13. The Bruins are 3-0 since Smith went out against Utah.
“We’re a team that can still get better,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said.
The Cougars (9-2, 2-2) played their first nine games of the season at home before a trip to the Bay Area last week. They settled for a split, beating California 71-60 on Thursday before a 75-60 loss to Stanford on Saturday in Santa Cruz, Calif. Andrej Jakimovski had a career-high 19 points against the Cardinal, including five 3-pointers.
WSU has started three true freshmen — Efe Abogidi, Dishon Jackson and Jakimovski — along their frontcourt the past three games.
They might have to start a fourth on Thursday, as guard Noah Williams, the team’s second-leading scorer at 12.1 points per game, is questionable with a lower back injury suffered against Stanford when he was undercut on a drive to the basket.
If Williams misses his first start of the season, coach Kyle Smith said TJ Bamba would get the call alongside senior Isaac Bonton, who leads the Cougars in points per game (17.7).
“I think (Williams) is gonna be fine. I think it’s just a matter of rehabbing a little bit, it was a little bit of a stinger. He’s kind of moving around, but not where I’d say he could play if we played today. But we’ll see where he’s at,” Smith said. “We’re operating as if TJ will have to start right now.”
WSU has held opposing teams to 35.5 percent shooting from the field, the best mark among Division I teams.
–Field Level Media