Ben Howland, Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
After taking care of crosstown rival USC in a grudge match at the Galen Center, UCLA (20-7, 10-4 Pac-12) enters a critical home stand versus the Arizona schools this week. The Bruins’ performance against these two top-tier conference foes will ultimately decide their fate in the Pac-12 title race.
And to raise the bar even higher, Ben Howland only has two full days to prepare his team for the next game, as opposed to the usual four days. The Wednesday night rematch with Arizona State (20-8, 9-6 Pac-12) comes on the heels of the Sunday showdown with ‘SC, so the Bruins have to flip the switch early and use every minute of practice to its fullest.
Surprisingly, the ASU game could be even bigger than Saturday’s matchup with No. 11 Arizona, which is being broadcast nationally by ESPN College GameDay. Unlike the Wildcats, the Sun Devils held serve at home when UCLA came to town. In fact, Herb Sendek’s squad completely stomped on the Bruins in Tempe, winning by a final score of 78-60 behind an explosive outing from 7’2″ center Jordan Bachynski.
In that meeting, Arizona State used a distinct physical advantage inside to out-rebound the Bruins by a ridiculous margin of 49-29. Bachynski shot an insanely efficient 10-of-12 from the floor for 22 points, while also pulling down 15 rebounds and registering six blocks. Suffice it to say, unless UCLA can prevent Bachynski and the Devils from penetrating the paint, it could be another frustrating day for the Bruin faithful.
Another loss to Arizona State would essentially eradicate UCLA’s championship hopes, and could even jeopardize the Bruins’ top-four seeding for the conference tournament. If the Sun Devils hand the Bruins their fifth conference loss, UCLA would have to win out in order to avoid a tiebreaker situation with ASU. Granted, the Devils would also have to run the table in that scenario, but anything is possible.
On the bright side, the Bruins will have an extra day of practice before facing the Arizona Wildcats in the home finale at Pauley Pavilion. Something tells me UCLA will be pumped for that game regardless, but another revenge win on Wednesday could work wonders for the Bruins’ confidence come Saturday.
But with Travis Wear still listed as doubtful for the duel with the Devils, the Bruins could be doomed for deja vu. T. Wear sat in the last meeting due to a concussion, and UCLA faltered mightily. Just like the rematch with the Trojans, the Bruins will need their bigs to show up, primarily Travis’ twin brother David Wear and freshman Tony Parker. Otherwise, this could be the latest in a litany of deflating losses for UCLA this year.