After a couple of subpar performances dropped it out first place in the Pac-10, UCLA appeared to regain its swagger this week.
Back atop the conference, the 17th-ranked Bruins hope for another easy victory following a shaky stretch of games when they host Stanford on Saturday in their first meeting since last season’s Pac-10 title game.
UCLA (16-4, 6-2), winner of three straight league titles, climbed back into a first-place tie atop the Pac-10 with Thursday’s 81-66 win over California.
The Bruins had fallen out of the top spot with last Saturday’s 86-75 loss to Washington, but the Huskies lost 106-97 at Arizona on Thursday to drop into a tie with UCLA.
On Thursday, the Bruins had 16 steals - their most in a Pac-10 game this season - and got their offense back on track. UCLA shot 54.9 percent from the field against the Golden Bears after averaging 64.7 points on 45.1 percent shooting in their previous three games.
The Bruins had lost two of their previous three games with the only win in that span coming by two points at sixth-place Washington State.
“We got a lot easier baskets than we had in the last two games,” senior point guard Darren Collison said after Thursday’s win. “We did a good job of moving. We’re right there. We just got to do some other things well.”
Collison broke out of his slump with 18 points on 8-of-13 shooting. He averaged 11.3 points on 33.3 percent shooting, including 0-for-10 from 3-point range, in his previous three games.
“Darren Collison had one of his best performances this season,” Bruins coach Ben Howland said. “He did an outstanding job stopping the ball in transition. He attacked the basket and we all did a good job in transition off of their turnovers. Our offense really started with a good defense.”
Collison was instrumental in UCLA’s success against Stanford (13-5, 3-5) in 2007-08.
The Bruins won both regular-season meetings before beating the Cardinal 67-64 in the Pac-10 title game. Collison had 28 points in the championship, and averaged 20.3 points on 51.1 percent shooting in the three games.
Stanford was led by Brook and Robin Lopez as it finished in second place in the Pac-10 last season, but now the 7-foot twins are both in the NBA.
The Cardinal, tied for seventh place in the league, are coming off Thursday’s disappointing 70-69 loss at Southern California, its fourth defeat in six games.
Stanford had a chance to beat the Trojans on the game’s final possession, but Lawrence Hill’s baseline jumper went in-and-out as time expired.
It was the third straight road loss by one point for Cardinal, who fell at Washington 84-83 on Jan. 8 and 55-54 to Washington State two days later.
“Coach (Johnny Dawkins) has said we can compete against any team we play against and we keep doing that,” said Hill, who had a team-high 19 points Thursday. “But a stop here or there, or a couple turnovers in a row, those are what hurt us. It’s not even one guy. It’s everyone.”
Stanford, which also lost its first three conference road games in 2005-06, has not dropped its first four league road games since going 0-9 in Pac-10 play away from Maples Pavilion in 1992-93.
The Bruins, who are 10-1 at home this season, have won three straight over the Cardinal at Pauley Pavilion after losing the previous eight meetings there.
Overall, UCLA has won four straight and six of seven over Stanford.