UCLA Bruins vs. Arizona Wildcats Pick & Prediction MARCH 7th 2024

An uncertain future looms for what has been a definitive rivalry in Western college basketball, with Thursday night’s meeting in Los Angeles between UCLA and No. 5 Arizona marking the teams’ last scheduled matchup.

Both programs will leave the Pac-12 Conference after this season, with UCLA headed to the Big Ten and Arizona bound for the Big 12. The two have been league counterparts since the 1978-79 season, combining to win at least a share of 28 regular-season championships in that time.

The Wildcats (23-6, 14-4) can make it 29 by closing their Pac-12 tenure with an 18th regular-season championship. They can accomplish this if they defeat both UCLA and Southern California (on Saturday).

Arizona, which has won nine of its past 10 games, holds a half-game lead over Washington State in the conference but is a game ahead in the loss column, with the Cougars playing just once more in a home matchup on Thursday with Washington.

In addition to a finale Pac-12 regular-season title, the Wildcats will look to build momentum toward the conference tournament in Las Vegas. Arizona has won nine times, including the last two in a row — both of which culminated with championship-game defeats of UCLA.

UCLA (14-15, 9-9) is well out of the running to repeat as the regular-season Pac-12 champion, and the Bruins are on a much different trajectory than when they visited Arizona on Jan. 20.

UCLA led Arizona by as many as 17 points in the second half before falling 77-71. It was the lone blemish for the Bruins amid a nine-game stretch that culminated with a 64-60 win over Colorado on Feb. 15.

UCLA, however, has dropped four in a row after sustaining a 77-65 setback to Washington State on Saturday.

The ups and downs for a Bruins team that is on its third four-game losing streak of the season are reflective of a young roster, which UCLA coach Mick Cronin addressed at his Tuesday media availability.

“They’ve done the best they can do,” Cronin said of his players. “It’s just reality. We got stuck in a rebuilding year.

“There’s very few freshmen who can get the grass cut. Doesn’t mean they’re not a great prospect. … It’s not an indictment on anybody.”

Seven of UCLA’s eight leading scorers are either freshmen or sophomores. The lone exception is junior Lazar Stefanovic, who is scoring 11.4 points per game. He scored 17 in the initial meeting at Arizona.

Chief among the Bruins’ kiddie corps of leading producers is freshman Sebastian Mack, who scored 21 points in the previous meeting with Arizona. Mack is averaging 12.8 points per game.

In contrast, all four of the top-scoring Wildcats — Caleb Love (19.4 points per game), Pelle Larsson (13.3), Oumar Ballo (13.1) and Keshad Johnson (11.9) – are seniors.

A key to Arizona’s late-season stretch, however, is the one underclassman among the five Wildcats averaging in double figures.

“Kylan (Boswell), the youngest on the team, but man — his ceiling is crazy high,” Johnson said of the 10.4-point per game scoring guard. Boswell is a sophomore but will not turn 19 years old until after the season.

“He’s got so much weight on his shoulders just being a young vet. I just appreciate him for making my last dance at McKale (Center) one to remember.”

–Field Level Media

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