No. 3 Arizona and No. 7 UCLA will meet Tuesday night in the biggest game of the Pac-12 season so far, just in time for fans to return to Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles.
The showdown was originally scheduled for Dec. 30 but was postponed due to UCLA's COVID-19 issues. The teams had scheduling windows to meet earlier, but the Pac-12's decision to wait and place the game on this Tuesday paid off, giving the Bruins time to lift their COVID attendance restrictions.
The Bruins (13-2, 5-1 Pac-12) haven't played in front of fans (other than family) at home since a Dec. 1 game against Colorado, so there will be an energy befitting the game's status.
"It's really not the same without fans there," UCLA's Jaime Jaquez Jr. said. "It was disheartening just knowing there's been fans at Lakers games, there's been fans all over California -- you go up to Cal and there's fans. To not have that was unfortunate, but we're super happy and super ready for the fans to be there Tuesday."
Arizona (16-1, 6-0) roars into this marquee matchup having won five consecutive games, including a sweep of the Bay Area schools, capped with a 96-71 win over California on Sunday.
Starting power forward Azuolas Tubelis, the team's second-leading scorer, missed the game after suffering a sprained left ankle Thursday night at Stanford. Tubelis (15.1 points per game) is considered day to-day.
Without him on Sunday, Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd sometimes used 7-footers Christian Koloko and Oumar Ballo in the same lineup. He also has played five perimeter players together.
"Trying to be creative and have options with the lineup," Lloyd said. "An injury happens and you have to adjust."
The Bruins have won five consecutive matchups in the best college basketball rivalry in the West, but this is the first Arizona-UCLA game for Lloyd, in his first year with the Wildcats after a two-decade run as a Gonzaga assistant coach.
Lloyd has remade the Wildcats into the image of recent Gonzaga teams -- unselfish, fast-paced, high-scoring.
Bennedict Mathurin (17.5 points per game) leads the way for a team that averages 88.7 points, shoots 50.1 percent and averages a national-best 21.3 assists per game. Arizona has won its six conference games by an average of 22.2 points, but Tuesday's game will be its first meeting against another team in the top tier of the conference (UCLA, USC, Oregon).
The Bruins are coming off a never-easy road sweep of Utah and Colorado and seem to be finding their rhythm after a COVID-disrupted December. Johnny Juzang scored 23 in a 71-65 win over the Buffaloes on Saturday to improve his team-best average to 18.3 points. Three others are averaging double-figure scoring, including Jules Bernard (13.0).
UCLA averages just fewer than 10 turnovers a game, potentially a key factor against Arizona's man-to-man pressure defense, which often leads to easy transition baskets. The Wildcats' pace has sometimes led to too many turnovers for Lloyd's satisfaction, but he liked that his team committed only eight vs. Cal.
"This team has a charisma about it and a real spirit and energy," he said. "The highlights are going to happen. We're finding a balance of paying an exciting brand of basketball with just a hint of conservatism."
--Field Level Media