With both taking care of business as necessary Thursday, Arizona and UCLA now can get on to the business of getting ready to add another great chapter to one of the top series in modern college basketball.
The Wildcats pulled away to defeat USC 90-77 on Thursday, as Allonzo Trier scored 25 points and Arizona made 11 of the 20 three-pointers it tried on the way to its 21st straight win at home. Meanwhile, the Bruins eased past Arizona State 87-75, with T.J. Leaf scoring 25 points to lead UCLA dominance in the paint that included a 49-30 rebounding advantage and a 31-7 bulge in second-chance points.
The Arizona schools hosting the Los Angeles travel partners will trade opponents, with the Bruins playing in Tucson on Saturday in what will be one of the more highly anticipated games of the year. Two top-five squads, two teams who seem to have been trading Pac-12 supremacy for 30 years, two loaded (if young) rosters on teams that are very capable of making the Final Four. It just feels right.
For UCLA, this is also essentially a last stand if it is going to grab a share of the Pac-12 regular season title yet. The Bruins trail Arizona by 2 1/2 games (two in the loss column), with Oregon between the two. While tying either of the top two in the final standings is unlikely, a win at the Wildcats to avenge Zona’s earlier win in L.A. could well be a difference in seed line in the NCAAs for UCLA.
If Arizona is the slightly less glitzy team coming in, though, it’s also the slightly hotter one, in addition to being the frontrunner. The Wildcats have won five straight since their one conference loss (a blowout at Oregon) and in all 20 of their last 21. Though not quite as famed for a flamethrowing offense, Arizona does just about everything well. Low-scoring games? Yes. High-scoring games? The Wildcats can win those, too. And chances are they’ll need to again against UCLA’s firepower on Saturday.
- Gonzaga is still undefeated after pounding San Diego 96-38. Goodness. And this wasn’t beating up on an overmatched team at home; this was ON THE ROAD, in front of a hostile crowd at USD’s Jenny Craig Pavilion, a.k.a. the Slim Gym.
- Cincinnati won again, defeating rival Memphis 87-74. A balanced offense was led by Jacob Evans with 15 points, and the number of players who can score is something the Bearcats in the past haven’t been known for, but could well make them dangerous in March.
- Ohio State handled Wisconsin 83-73, a welcome bright spot in Big Ten play for the Buckeyes. Meanwhile, the Badgers continue to struggle, with this game making that second half against Maryland on Sunday looking like an aberration for now. Once a superb rebounding team this year, UW was pounded on the glass 38-25.
- The Big South regular season’s final day on Saturday will be a gem. That’s because Liberty, UNC Asheville and Winthrop are all tied for the top spot after Gardner-Webb stopped UNCA 81-76, while the Flames and Eagles both won their games convincingly.
- UNC Wilmington overcame a halftime deficit to top Towson 83-78, wrapping up the CAA regular season title. C.J. Bryce was excellent with 28 points. The Seahawks have had a terrific season, and it would be a shame if they miss the NCAA Tournament. (Note to committee: you probably should give UNCW more credit for its 4-2 record vs. teams 51-100 than you will.)
- New Orleans delivered a statement in the Southland, leading by as many as 32 in an eventual 82-65 blowout of Stephen F. Austin. UNO is the frontrunner to clinch the SLC regular season title, and it’s been a special season for this once-proud program now on the upswing again.
- Once it seemed the WAC belonged to New Mexico State this year, but now Cal State Bakersfield has clinched at least a tie for the title and can wrap up the outright regular season championship with one more win. That follows a 71-67 win over Missouri-Kansas City on Thursday. Meanwhile, Utah Valley went on a stunning 22-3 run in the second half and went on to surprise NMSU 85-72 on the road, the Aggies’ third loss in four games.
- The Atlantic Sun Tournament bracket is all set, and Florida Gulf Coast will be the No. 1 seed after an 80-70 win over Stetson. The Eagles and Hatters will meet again in the quarterfinals on Monday. Yes, conference tournaments start on Monday. Wow.
- The best game of the night in the Metro Atlantic is Siena at Monmouth (7 p.m. Eastern, ESPN2). As interesting as this one is, another matchup in just over a week would be even much more so; Siena hosts the MAAC tourney. Later, Manhattan goes to Iona to renew their rivalry (9 p.m., ESPNU).
- There are several important games as the final weekend of Horizon League play starts tonight. Oakland is at Wisconsin-Green Bay (7 p.m., ESPNU), with the Golden Grizzlies in hot pursuit of Valparaiso, which is at Wright State. UWGB is also chasing Oakland, though, just one game behind the Grizzlies with two to play.
- It could be a preview of the Ivy League tourney semifinals when Princeton goes to Columbia and Yale travels to Harvard. The race for fourth is a hot one, though, as Pennsylvania has tied Columbia and now goes to Cornell tonight.
- Two-time defending MAC tourney winner Buffalo is heating up, having won six straight before falling to Kent State this week, and now the Bulls host an Akron team that has been showing cracks.
- Dayton looks to stay with VCU atop the Atlantic 10 when it faces Davidson (9 p.m., ESPN2).
- California doesn’t get much time to dwell on its near miss against Oregon on Wednesday, and maybe that’s a good thing. An even better thing to remedy their pain is the Golden Bears get to host Oregon State (10 p.m., FS1).
Enjoy your Friday.