UCLA tries to keep rolling, visits Arizona

NCAA Basketball

UCLA has won two games without injured Chris Smith and will go for three in a row as arguably the best college basketball rivalry in the West resumes Saturday when the Bruins play the Arizona Wildcats in Tucson, Ariz.

Smith, who averaged 12.6 points and 6.4 rebounds in eight games, is out for the season with a knee injury. Without him, the Bruins have eked out victories over Colorado (65-62) and Arizona State (81-75 in overtime).

Other players stepped up as UCLA (8-2, 4-0 Pac-12) beat the Sun Devils in Tempe, Ariz., on Thursday night. Cody Riley scored a career-high 22 points and David Singleton, who had averaged just 4.3 points through the first nine games, drained two 3-pointers in overtime and finished with 14 points.

“He’s our best shooter right now; the numbers bear it out,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said of Singleton, who has made 15 of 31 from beyond the arc. “Didn’t surprise me. Dave is an experienced guy. I’m really happy for him; great kid, and he’ll run through a wall for you. Hopefully, he can keep it up.”

UCLA is 4-0 in Pac-12 play for the first time since 2012-13, when the Bruins opened conference action with a 5-0 mark.

Arizona (9-2, 3-2) had won four in a row before suffering an 87-73 home loss to Southern California on Thursday night.

The good news was freshman big man Azuolas Tubelis made shots from every level and finished with 31 points — 18 above his previous career high. Bad news: Starting guards James Akinjo and Jemarl Baker Jr. — the team’s top two scorers — made 1 of 16 from the field and finished with a total of three points.

They were bothered by USC’s overall length and ability to chase them off the 3-point line, but UCLA doesn’t have the same kind of long defenders.

“Jemarl and James have been very good for our team,” said Arizona coach Sean Miller. “Not every game is going to go a player’s way. But in the Pac-12, it’s going to be hard for us to overcome (that shooting) from our starting backcourt. … Obviously, it wasn’t just Jemarl or James; I’m not here playing the blame game.”

Akinjo (12.9 points per game) and Baker (12.7) still lead a balanced Arizona offense that has five players scoring in double figures. UCLA also has five in double figures — in addition to Smith — led by Jaime Jaquez Jr. at 12.8.

UCLA won both meetings against Arizona in 2019-20 in Cronin’s first season with the Bruins.

–Field Level Media

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