With Oregon setting a frenetic pace in Pac-12 play, Arizona and UCLA will collide tonight in a crucial conference showdown. The Wildcats and Bruins, with one league loss apiece, don’t want to fall two games behind the Ducks.
As of early this morning, most betting shops had Arizona (16-1 straight up, 8-7 against the spread) installed as an 8 ½-point favorite with a total of 147. Gamblers can expect to see the money-line price for Ben Howland’s squad to be in the plus-350 range.
Sean Miller’s squad is No. 2 in the RPI Rankings thanks to five wins over RPI Top 50 schools and eight victories over those in the Top 100. Arizona has quality wins over the likes of Miami, Florida, Colorado, San Diego St. and So. Miss.
Since suffering a 70-66 loss at Oregon following a 14-0 start, the Wildcats have won back-to-back games at Oregon St. and Arizona St. Mark Lyons dropped a game-high 24 points on the Sun Devils in a 71-54 victory to hook up ‘Zona backers as a 6 ½-point ‘chalk.’
Lyons, the transfer from Xavier, is averaging a team-high 15.4 points per game. Solomon Hill is scoring at a 13.6 PPG clip while shooting 43.5 percent from 3-point land. Nick Johnson also averages double figures, scoring 12.7 PPG.
UCLA (15-4 SU, 7-11 ATS) saw its 10-game winning streak halted in Saturday’s 76-67 loss to Oregon as a five-point home favorite. The 143 combined points stayed ‘under’ the 146 ½-point total.
The Ducks broke open a close game with a 14-6 run to finish the game. They outscored the Bruins 38-24 in the lane and won the battle of the boards by a 37-28 margin.
UCLA freshman sensation Shabazz Muhammad used poor shot selection and finished with 10 points, eight below his average. Muhammad was benched and missed the first five minutes as punished for being late to Friday’s practice.
Travis Wear scored 17 points in the losing effort. Kyle Anderson produced 11 points, 10 rebounds and six assists, while Norman Powell was also in double figures with 11 points.
Muhammad is averaging 17.9 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. The freshman from Las Vegas is stroking treys at a 45.8 percent clip, but he has an abysmal 13/30 assists-to-turnovers ratio.
The Bruins rely heavily on freshmen. In addition to Muhammad, Jordan Adams and Anderson are key ingredients. Adams is the team’s second-leading scorer with a 15.2 PPG average, while Anderson averages 9.9 points and 9.1 rebounds per contest.
UCLA has only been an underdog once this year, winning a 78-75 decision at Colorado as a 2 ½-point ‘dog on Jan. 12. The Bruins
The ‘under’ is 9-2-1 overall for Arizona, 3-1 in its home games with a total. The ‘under’ is 7-5 overall for UCLA, 5-1 in its last six games. The ‘under’ has cashed in four straight head-to-head meetings between these Pac-12 rivals.
Arizona won two of three games against UCLA last season, including a 66-58 win as a three-point underdog at the Pac-12 Tournament.
Tip-off is scheduled for 9:00 p.m. Eastern on ESPN2.
**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**
--Gonzaga will take on BYU tonight as a nine-point home favorite in a key WCC showdown. ESPN2 will provide television coverage at 11:00 p.m. Eastern.
--Miami made a huge statement with Wednesday’s never-a-doubt 90-63 win over top-ranked Duke as a 2 ½-point underdog in front of a raucous crowd in Coral Gables. The loss was the third-worst defeat by a No. 1 team in NCAA history. The Blue Devils hadn’t lost by this many points in the regular season since 1984. This was a beatdown for Duke like none seen since UNLV was destroying it in the finals of the 1990 NCAA Tournament in Denver. The Hurricanes improved to 14-3 thanks to a 25-point effort from senior guard Durand Scott. Kenny Kadji added 22 points on 9-of-11 shooting from the field.
--Miami got a big pre-game boost when senior center Reggie Johnson returned early from a broken thumb suffered on Dec. 18. Johnson, who was expected to miss at least another week or two, had two points and five rebounds in 16 minutes off the bench.
--Oregon leads the Pac-12 and is 6-0 in league play for the first time in 39 years. The Ducks improved to 17-2 overall with last night’s 68-61 win over Washington St. The Cougars took the money as 10 ½-point road underdogs.
--Florida never led in the first half and trailed 27-24 at halftime in Athens last night. But the Gators poured it on Georgia in the second half en route to a 64-47 win as 15 ½-point favorites at Stegeman Coliseum. They hooked up their backers for second-half wagers as 10-point favorites. Scottie Wilbekin matched his career-high with a team-high 17 points, while Kenny Boynton and Erik Murphy chipped in with 14 and 13 points, respectively.
--UC-Santa Barbara will be without its best player indefinitely. Sophomore center Alan Williams, who averages 17.4 points, 9.9 boards and 2.4 blocked shots per game, is out with a knee injury.
--Butler tasted defeat last night for the first time since losing 78-61 to Illinois in the Maui Classic finals on Nov. 21. The Bulldogs had their 13-game winning streak snapped in a 54-53 loss at LaSalle. However, they still covered the number for a fifth straight time as 2 ½-point underdogs. Brad Stevens’s team now owns a 7-1 spread record in eight underdog situations.
--Miami had seen all 10 of its totals stay ‘under’ before last night’s 153 combined points hurdled ‘over’ the 132-point total.
--Even though it couldn’t throw it in the ocean from the charity stripe, Northwestern picked up a huge win for Bill Carmody by knocking off Minnesota 55-48 last night. The Wildcats won outright as eight-point home ‘dogs, hooking up money-line supporters with a plus-320 payout. Jared Swopshire was the catalyst with 16 points and eight rebounds.