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January 9, 2014

Top-ranked Arizona set for 'most difficult challenge' at UCLA



LOS ANGELES -- Among the keys to top-ranked Arizona's unblemished start is the simple, if not boring, game-by-game approach.

"You really don't want to overlook anybody," forward Brandon Ashley said.

The sophomore's response was to a question about whether the Wildcats have had much of a chance throughout the season to watch Thursday night's opponent. But the only reminder Arizona (15-0, 2-0 Pac-12 Conference) needs about UCLA (12-2, 1-0 Pac-12) lies in last season's head-to-head record, including the controversial conference tournament semifinal contest the last time the teams met.

The Bruins were 3-0 against the Wildcats in 2012-13.

Tipoff at Pauley Pavilion is scheduled for 6 p.m. and it will be the lone regular-season meeting between the programs.

"I'd definitely like to say there is a little bit of pressure that comes along with playing with them," UA center Kaleb Tarczewski said.

Unless the teams meet again in March, this will be the Wildcats' only chance to avenge the wild, 66-64 loss to the Bruins that produced UA head coach Sean Miller's "he touched the ball" rant. The aftermath, and events surrounding the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas, led to the resignation of former league coordinator of officials Ed Rush and an overhaul to the officiating program.

UCLA sophomore Tony Parker said the Wildcats will likely come into Pauley Pavilion with a "bigger chip on their shoulder" than any team the Bruins will face all season.

"They really have something to prove, that they can beat UCLA," Parker said.

But, 10 months later, things are much different for both programs. Steve Alford is now in Westwood, Ben Howland and Shabazz Muhammad are not. Arizona is on top of the college basketball world for a fifth consecutive week.

The Wildcats, who own the nation's third-stingiest defense at 54.9 points per game allowed, have shown very little vulnerability in Alford's eyes.

"They haven't shown much because nobody's beaten them yet," Alford said. "There might have been spurts where they've been behind in games but nobody's proven they can beat them yet."

The contest will be a something's-gotta-give battle of strength versus strength. To counter UA's defense, UCLA will bring in the nation's fifth-best scoring team at 87.1 points per game.

Miller said the key to combating the Bruins' firepower will start on the glass, where Arizona's 40.1 rebounds and plus-12.1 margin average have dictated tempo.

The Wildcats have yet to lose the rebounding battle in a game this season and that will be tested against a UCLA frontline that features fifth-year senior twins David and Travis Wear, who stand 6-10, and 6-9 Parker.

"I think it will be potentially our most difficult challenge of the season when it comes to trying to stop the other team from scoring," Miller said.

"One of the things that seems to separate UCLA from every other team is how many baskets they can score in transition and how they can break the game open. So rebounding is a key that we have to make sure that we do well."

Tracy McDannaldTracy McDannald
GOAZCATS.com Senior Editor

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