Bruin Hoops Preview: Arizona and Arizona State

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As 2012 and the Pac-12 Conference basketball season unfolds in earnest, I’m sure that Ben Howland is dearly counting on the new year being kinder to his UCLA team then the old one was.

Being 7-7 on the year with an 0-2 start in the conference, getting back on track won’t be an easy task, at least this Thursday night.

Here’s a preview of the Bruins’ two weekend foes:

ARIZONA WILDCATS, Honda Center, Thursday, January 5, 8:00 p.m.

Record: 10-4, 1-0 in the Pac-12

Nice job by the schedule makers to have these Wildcats from Tuscon, a perrennial conference power, play the Bruins this early in the campaign – and in the annual John R. Wooden Classic, no less.

This team, coached by Sean Miller, has four players averaging in double figures, led by 6′ 6″ forward Solomon Hill’s 12.1 points and 7.9 rebounds a game.

Hill is joined on the front court by 6’7″ senior Jesse Perry, who’s second on the Wildcats with 11.8 points and 7.6 boards a contest, which considering the uneven play by Bruin center Josh Smith and his ongoing conditioning issues,  not to mention the inconsistencies of the Wear twins, David and Travis, spells a deep concern for Howland.

Senior guard Kyle Fogg is Arizona’s apparent leader, averaging 11.6 points per game and leading U of A with 15 steals, and freshman Nick Johnson is fast becoming a good back court partner with his 10.4 points an outing .

It will be a challenge for Lazeric Jones, Tyler Lamb and Jerime Anderson to slow the Wildcats’ guards down; they will all have to have good days in order for the Bruins to have a chance, as does Smith and the Wears down below.

Add to that the fact that these Wildcats blew out UCLA’s other weekend opponent this past week…

ARIZONA STATE SUN DEVILS,  Honda Center, Saturday, January 7, 7:30 p.m.

Record: 4-9, 0-1 in the Pac-12

After looking at won-loss record of these Sun Devils from the Phoenix suburb of Tempe and who they have played, it’s clear that this is an If-UCLA-Loses-They Are-In-Really-Deep-Trouble affair.

ASU has a young team with no seniors on the roster, plus they lost nearly half of their scoring from last year, which has likely been the main factors in their below-par start.

However, they do have a trio of guards who are doing well, led by sophomore point guard Keala King.

King has 43 assists and leads coach Herb Sendek’s team with 19 steals and 13.7 points a game. Juniors Trent Lockett and Carrick Felix are also averaging in double figures, Lockett with 13.4 and Felix with 10.5 ponits respectively.

If Jones, Lamb and Anderson can contain this Sun Devil threesome, UCLA shouldn’t have too much of a problem.

PREDICTIONS:  The Bruins will split these two games against the Arizona schools, not being able to outlast the U of A Wildcats because of their front court but bouncing back to beat ASU.

They will end this weekend at 8-8 overall, with their 1-3 record in the conference a real cause for concern.