Pac-12 report: UCLA, Arizona prepare for power showdown
A look at things to watch this week in the Pac-12 Conference:
GAME OF THE WEEK: No. 14 Arizona at No. 3 UCLA, Saturday. Two of the conference's most talented teams meet at one of college basketball's best venues in the Pac-12's best match-up between ranked teams since 2008. The Bruins (18-1, 5-1 Pac-12) opened the Pac-12 season with a close loss to No. 11 Oregon, but have reeled off five consecutive wins. UCLA is one of the nation's most unselfish teams and has two of the best freshmen anywhere in point guard Lonzo Ball and forward TJ Leaf. Ball leads the conference in assists (8.0) per game; Leaf leads in field-goal percentage (64.1) and 3-point percentage (51.3).
The Wildcats (16-2, 5-0) are one of two Pac-12 teams yet to lose in conference -- with Oregon -- and have won 10 in a row headed into Thursday's game against Southern California. Arizona has some talented freshmen of its own, led by Finnish 7-footer Lauri Markkanen. This could be one of the best games all season, anywhere.
No Pac-12 regular-season game has featured two teams with rankings so high since No. 3 UCLA beat No. 7 Stanford on March 6, 2008, by a 77-67 score in overtime.
LOOKING AHEAD: California has an opportunity for an NCAA Tournament resume-building win when it plays at No. 10 Oregon on Thursday. The Bears (13-5, 4-2) have played a tough schedule that included games against four ranked teams in a five-game span: Virginia, Arizona, UCLA and USC. Cal won just one of those, against USC, and could use another marquee win to boost its NCAA chances. Beating the Ducks in Eugene, where they've won 36 in a row, would certainly do that. The Bears also play at Oregon State on Saturday.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS: The Pac-12 had six players on the Wooden Award midseason top 25, matching the ACC for most in the country and the conference's most since 2008-09. They are: Markkanen, Ball, Ivan Rabb of Cal, Washington's Markelle Fultz and Oregon's Dillon Brooks and Chris Boucher. ... Fultz leads the Pac-12 in scoring at 22.2 points per game, putting him on pace to become the first freshman to lead the league in scoring since Cal's Shareef Abdur-Rahim in 1995-96 at 21.1 points per game.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Bryce Alford, UCLA. Alford has made a smooth transition from point guard to shooting guard to make room for Ball. The senior had a career-high 37 points and made 9 of 14 from 3-point range against Colorado last week to tie the school record. He was named the Pac-12 player of the week after averaging 26.0 points on 17 of 30, including 12 of 21 from 3-point range. He has 278 career 3-pointers, third most among active college players.
ON THE WOMEN'S SIDE: The Pac-12 has five teams ranked in the AP Top 25: No. 8 Washington, No. 10 Stanford, No. 11 Oregon State, No. 13 UCLA and No. 18 Arizona State. The only game between ranked opponents this week comes on Sunday, when Stanford hosts Arizona State.