UCLA Bruins Rapidly Improving

By Lucas M.

The 16-4 UCLA Bruins may be unranked for now, but the drought may not last. After Thursday’s 84-73 win over the No. 6-ranked Arizona Wildcats on the road the Bruins’ young squad appears to finally be gelling together into a cohesive whole. That’s news that should terrify the rest of the Pac-12.

Highly touted freshman Shabazz Muhammed scored 23 points in the Bruins huge, potentially season-defining road win. The Bruins slowed down a bit in the second half of the game, but their torrid start (they made eight of their first 12 shots) gave them a big cushion that they were able to maintain for the game’s duration. Arizona, for their part, started the game converting only one of their 13 shot attempts. That massive chasm in first half shooting accuracy was all it took to propel the Bruins to victory despite a late surge from the Wildcats.

Of course, it hasn’t all been sunshine and roses for the Bruins this season. They lost to Cal Poly, and only beat UC Irvine in OT. After sky-high expectations for their squad full of talented young players, it was a ferociously disappointing start. However, they have since rallied, winning ten games in a row before a loss to No. 16-ranked Oregon. But the Wildcats bounced back from that loss to come through with the biggest win of their season against Arizona. It showed a mental toughness and resiliency that was notably lacking from the Bruins early on in the season’s campaign.

“That just comes with effort,” Muhammad said. “Coach Howland is always pushing us and especially pushing me. I say it’s effort. We do seem to play better with our backs against the wall, but we’re getting to where we can play at this level all the time.”

While UCLA’s early slog was characterized by sloppy play and poor decision making, they have rounded into form; They seem to now know what it’s going to take to succeed in a loaded Pac-12 conference. The Bruins currently sit in second place in the conference, only a half game back from Oregon (who saw the Ducks coming, by the way?). Arizona is right behind them. UCLA’s got the eye of the tiger, though, and they might need it to hold off their conference running mates.

“Not get complacent,” freshman Jordan Adams said. “We should play every team like they are a top-ranked opponent and have a high RPI and don’t let up on anyone. It’s hard to do because you play down to the level of competition, but yeah, we want to step it up.”

The fourth place team in the Pac-12 is the Arizona State Sun Devils, and the Bruins take them on this afternoon as 2.5 point favorites. Per OddsShark, here are some of the betting trends between these two storied Pac-12 programs:

UCLA Bruins Trends:
When playing on Saturday are 7-3
Before playing USC are 6-4
After playing Arizona are 6-4
After a win are 9-1

 

Arizona State Sun Devils Trends:
When playing on Saturday are 3-7
Before playing Washington State are 3-7
After playing USC are 8-2
After a win are 8-2

 

A few Bruins at Sun Devils trends to consider:
UCLA is 4-1 SU in its last 5 games on the road
UCLA is 6-2 SU in its last 8 games when playing on the road against Arizona State
UCLA is 3-6-1 ATS in its last 10 games on the road
UCLA is 1-5-1 ATS in its last 7 games when playing on the road against Arizona State
Arizona State is 15-2 SU in its last 17 games at home
Arizona State is 5-1-1 ATS in its last 7 games when playing at home against UCLA
Arizona State is 2-3-1 ATS in its last 6 games when playing UCLA
Arizona State is 2-6 SU in its last 8 games when playing at home against UCLA

 

One thing is certain, however: this UCLA team is rounding into shape at the perfect moment in their season.

“Our young guys aren’t true freshmen anymore,” UCLA head coach Ben Howland said after his team’s victory over Arizona. “They have 20 games under their belts and are playing like veterans.”