Pac-12 Showdown: UCLA at Arizona

UCLA takes a 14-game winning streak into Arizona on a Saturday afternoon for a 2:00 p.m. Eastern tip.

Arizona Wildcats vs. UCLA Bruins

Line: UCLA – 1

Total: 150.5

Where: McKale Memorial Center, Tuscon, Arizona

When: Saturday, 1/21 at 2:00 p.m. ET

TV: ABC

UCLA plummeted to No. 19 in the AP poll following back-to-back loses against Illinois and Baylor in the Continental Tire Main Event in Las Vegas in November.

The No. 5 Bruins have responded by rattling off a 14-game winning streak since then, using a 16-2 game-ending run to get past Arizona State on Thursday. They will be facing their toughest challenge since November when they travel to No. 11 Arizona for a Pac-12 showdown on Saturday afternoon between the two teams with the best odds to win the conference’s regular-season title.

DraftKings has UCLA priced as a heavy -550 favorite to win the Pac-12, while Arizona (+600) is the only other team inside of 20-1. The Bruins have the fourth-best national title odds (12-1) and are +300 to make the Final Four.

Offshore sportsbook BetOnline opened UCLA as a 1-point favorite for Saturday’s showdown on Friday evening. The total opened at 151.5, which is nearly 10 points higher than the total (143) when Arizona beat UCLA in an 84-76 final to win the Pac-12 tournament title game last March. That number was reduced to 150.5 later Friday night.

The Wildcats also won the regular-season championship last year, but they essentially need to win Saturday’s game to stay alive in their quest for back-to-back titles. They have lost two of their last four games, falling to Washington State and Oregon in a pair of double-digit setbacks. Arizona was a 12-point favorite in its 74-61 loss to the Cougars, and it was a 4-point favorite in its 87-68 loss at Oregon.

It was able to bounce back with an 81-66 win against USC on Thursday, covering the 8-point spread in the process. The Wildcats had gone four straight games without cashing a ticket for their backers prior to that win. They have been tough to beat at home in recent years, with the loss to Washington State being their lone home loss in their last 20 tries.

Head coach Tommy Lloyd made a change to his lineup on Thursday, replacing reigning Pac-12 Sixth Man of the Year Pelle Larsson with Cedric Henderson Jr. Larsson, who had started the previous 18 games, scored 15 points against the Trojans, while Henderson had his first double-digit scoring game in a month with 11 points and seven rebounds.

“Pelle Larsson gets a ton of credit,” Lloyd said. “I mean, this wasn’t a reprimand or demotion. I just felt out bench needed something a little more consistent coming off of it, and he gives us some versatility playing at the 3 or the 4…and then the flip side of it, get Cedric going.”

The Wildcats have relied on their offense to win games this season, as they rank ninth in KenPom’s effective field goal percentage (56.0) ratings. They are shooting a blistering 57.5% from 2-point range and have used the 15th-tallest roster in the country to have success on the offensive glass.

This will be a tough matchup for them, as UCLA ranks fifth in defensive efficiency. The Bruins have the eight-best defensive turnover rate, and they are looking to snap a two-game losing streak to Arizona.

They picked up a pair of wins over then-ranked Maryland and Kentucky in December, while the other 12 wins during their winning streak have come against unranked opponents. UCLA wrapped up a three-game homestand last week with wins over USC, Utah and Colorado before using a late run to beat Arizona State by 12 points on Thursday.

“If you’re going to win conferences, you’ve got to win tough games against good teams,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said. “It’s been fun flying under the radar the last couple of months. Because of what happened in Vegas, I think people gave up on us.”

The Bruins are KenPom’s No. 12 offensive team, which has been boosted by the ninth-lowest turnover rate in the country. They cannot afford to lose the turnover battle on Saturday, especially since they will be at a disadvantage on the boards, at least on paper. UCLA is led by veteran Jaime Jaquez Jr., who is averaging 16.3 points per game.

Arizona has only covered the spread once in its last nine home games against UCLA. The Bruins have gone ‘under’ in seven of their last eight games, while Arizona has gone ‘under’ in seven of its last 10 games. These teams have cashed the ‘under’ in five of their last seven head-to-head meetings.

The pick: Arizona +1

It was a tale of two games when these teams met during the regular season last year, as both teams notched comfortable wins on their home floor. I am not a huge believer in Arizona on the road right now due to its turnover issues and offensive-minded gameplan, but I am fine with backing the Wildcats at home in this spot. They have been one of the hottest shooting teams in the country this season, particularly from inside the arc. UCLA is going to have trouble matching Arizona’s length in the paint, as the Bruins are a somewhat undersized team. They have the experienced guard play needed to win road games, but I think Arizona’s length across the board will determine the outcome of Saturday’s matchup.

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