GAMES NOTES: The red-hot UCLA Bruins will make a trip to the Coors Events Center to tangle with the Colorado Buffaloes in a Pac-12 conference showdown on Saturday.
It certainly wasn't easy, but UCLA managed to pull out a win against Utah on Thursday in its first true road test of the season. The win was the eighth straight for the Bruins, who are looking to reclaim a spot in the national rankings after dropping out earlier in the season. UCLA is now 13-3 overall, including a perfect 3-0 mark against league foes. UCLA will be at home in its next two games beginning against Oregon State on Thursday.
After losses in their first two conference games the Buffaloes finally got in the win column against a league foe with a 66-60 victory over USC this past Thursday. Colorado is now 11-4 overall, while holding a perfect 7-0 mark on its home floor. However Colorado will be on the road in its next two matchups beginning against Washington on Wednesday.
When these teams met as conference rivals for the first time last season it was UCLA that earned the 77-60 victory. The Bruins now lead the all-time series 5-1.
After rolling to a 34-23 lead at the break against Utah the Bruins looked to be in for an easy victory on Thursday. However the Bruins cooled to 39.1 percent shooting in the second half and had their lead cut to just two points with 3:25 remaining. However, the Bruins didn't allow the Utes to connect from the floor on their final six field goal attempts to hold on for the win.
The win was a bit of a step back for freshman Shabazz Muhammad who scored just six points on 3-of-13 shooting. The Bruins' leading scorer, Muhammad (18.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg) had scored in double figures in every game of his career before Thursday's showing. The poor offensive showing for the Bruins was also out of character for the team as a whole. UCLA is the top scoring (78.5 ppg), shooting (.475 FG percentage) and distributing (17.5 apg) team in the Pac-12 this season. A talented starting five, headlined by Muhammad, has powered the Bruins to lofty heights. There is fellow scoring machine Jordan Adams (16.3 ppg), do-it-all guard Kyle Anderson (9.3 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 3.5 apg), master facilitator Larry Drew (6.3 ppg, 8.2 apg) and Travis Wear (11.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg) who anchors the team on the inside.
Colorado forced 23 turnovers which aided it in its win over USC. The Buffaloes shot 44.4 percent in the contest, but were outscored from beyond the arc (21-12) and outrebounded (39-30) in the contest. However, the turnovers and a 14-5 edge in points from the free-throw line proved to be crucial in the Colorado victory.
Although Colorado has not been as effective offensively as the Bruins, the Buffaloes should still be able to hold their own. Colorado is scoring a healthy 72.1 points per game and connecting on 46.1 percent of its shots. On the defensive end the Buffaloes are keeping teams to less than 40 percent shooting, while letting up 66.1 points per game. Colorado also relies heavily on its starting five with only one reserve scoring more than two points per game. Askia Booker (14.7 ppg) is the most productive scorer, while Spencer Dinwiddie (13.9 ppg) and Josh Scott (13.1 ppg) have also managed to fill it up well. Perhaps the most important player on the floor is Andre Roberson (11.3 ppg, 11.8 rpg), the conference's leading rebounder and one of a few players in the country that can be penciled in for a double-double every game.
Colorado nearly upset Arizona at home last week so the Buffaloes certainly have a team that can run with just about anyone. However, Muhammad should bounce back in this contest and with so much momentum on their side the Bruins should keep their win streak going.