Three things to watch: This weekend in SoCal college hoops

BY foxsports • February 20, 2014

With conference races tightening up, this weekend becomes a crucial one for many Southern California college basketball teams.

UCLA and USC are in the Bay Area and the Bruins already have one win under their belts, the top of the Big West will all engage in must-win contests and San Diego State is out to avenge a loss that came nearly a year ago.

Here are three things to know about this weekend's college basketball matchups in the Southland.

Bay Area swing

Despite the Utes' upset of Arizona Wednesday night, it's still highly unlikely that No. 23 UCLA will overtake the fourth-ranked Wildcats to win the Pac-12 regular season championship. But what they can do is position themselves to earn the second seed in the Pac-12 tournament. The Bruins came one step closer with a win at Cal on Wednesday night for their first victory at Haas Pavilion since 2010.

But UCLA has yet to complete a road sweep this season and it seems to be executing in all facets and picking up steam just in time to gain some much-needed momentum.

"We've been playing some good basketball as of late," said forward Travis Wear. "This is the perfect time to be doing it so we can be really dangerous heading into the late season."

The Trojans will face the Cardinal first and then Cal -- the only Pac-12 team they have defeated this season.

Crowded at the top

The Big West's top teams will try not to get tripped up against some of the bottom teams this weekend but the most intriguing match up will be the Saturday night game between first-place UC Irvine and upstart Cal State Northridge on FOX Sports Prime Ticket.

The Anteaters are currently a game ahead of UC Santa Barbara in the standings but will have to travel to Hawaii before venturing up the 405 to the Valley Saturday night. Head coach Reggie Theus has the Matadors playing tough hustle defense and crashing the glass hard, but the Anteaters are the top field-goal shooting team in the Big West at 47.7 percent (tied with Hawaii).

Long Beach State must contend with sharpshooter Corey Hawkins of UC Davis up north while the Gauchos host last-place UC Riverside and Cal State Fullerton.

Don't call it a rivalry

San Diego State came into the Mountain West Tournament as the heavy favorites last season, only to be knocked out in the semifinals by New Mexico. Two weeks prior, they lost by 10 points to the Lobos in Albuquerque.

Fast forward a year later and the No. 6 Aztecs have lost only two games the entire season and are once again favorites to win the Mountain West and possibly even the NCAA Championship.

The Lobos have a new head coach in Craig Neal but he's taken the same path as former head coach Steve Alford and has the Lobos looking just as good, if not better, than a year ago at 19-5 and 10-2 in the Mountain West.

If there is one team that pull off a Wyoming-like upset over the Aztecs, it might be New Mexico.

"Ever since we lost to them last time in Vegas, I told Coach Dutcher that I was looking forward to playing them again and the same thing is not going to happen," said sophomore forward Skylar Spencer. "It is a big game. I've got it circled on my list."

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