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March 2, 2013
The Pac-12 Conference showdown between 11th-ranked Arizona and UCLA on Saturday was the type of matchup that many thought had regular-season title implications on the line when the schedule was released.
After the Wildcats' flat 84-73 home loss to the Bruins in late January, it was then upgraded to a chance at revenge for head coach Sean Miller's ballclub.
Instead, when the teams meet for the 6 p.m. PST contest at Pauley Pavilion, the 'Cats will be focused on more important matters - like trying to find their defense and stay in the picture for a first-round bye at the Pac-12 tournament, which is less than two weeks away.
The Wildcats (23-5, 11-5 Pac-12) allowed the Trojans to shoot a scorching 61.1 percent and put five players in double figures. It was a complete 180-degree turn from the first meeting in Tucson, where USC failed to produce a single double-digit scorer.
The 89 points also was a season-high for an Arizona opponent this season.
The loss dropped Arizona into third-place tie with California in the league standings, but the Bears own the tiebreaker. Colorado is lurking is just a game behind, and a loss to UCLA coupled with a Buffaloes victory at Cal this afternoon would drop the Wildcats to fifth place.
It was just three days ago when UA was tied with Oregon for first and had the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament in sight.
"When you did what we just did, it's not about winning (the) conference, it's about winning a game," Miller said. "We are faced with an immense challenge on Saturday, and if we don't play harder on defense I don't think we will win the game, but it will be close."
In 16 conference games, Arizona ranks eighth in the league in field goal percentage defense (43 percent) and 11th in defending the 3-point line (37.3 percent).
The Bruins (21-7, 11-4 Pac-12) enter the game as the league's top scoring and shooting team. UCLA averages 76.1 points - 2.5 better than Arizona - and shoots 46.2 percent from the field.
Coming into the season, the Bruins moved ahead of the Wildcats in the 2012 team recruiting rankings. In Wednesday's 79-74 overtime victory over Arizona State, Shabazz Muhammad, Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams each poured in more than 20 points.
Adams led the way with 22, followed by 21 apiece from Muhammad and Anderson - who also added a career-high 15 rebounds.
"The media got it right," UCLA head coach Ben Howland said. "They are the No. 1 recruiting class in the country. These three kids are not playing like freshmen in November. They're improving a lot in all different respects."
In the first meeting between the teams, Muhammad scored 23 on 8-of-16 shooting to lift the Bruins to victory.
Arizona has lost six of its past seven games at Pauley Pavilion.
According to BruinSportsReport.com, Howland said UCLA forward Travis Wear (foot sprain) is "probable" to play and expected to start after completing a walkthrough Friday. Wear is averaging 11.6 points and shooting 51.5 percent.
GOAZCATS.com staff writer Kyle Kensing and the Associated Press contributed to this report.