After arriving in Arizona atop the conference on the heels of four straight impressive victories, UCLA is in danger of leaving the desert third in the Pac-10.
The 11th-ranked Bruins look to bounce back from a tough loss Saturday when they play the surging Wildcats, who try to extend their season high-winning streak to seven games.
Three-time defending Pac-10 champion UCLA (19-5, 8-3) entered Thursday’s game at No. 18 Arizona State outscoring its previous four opponents by an average of 22.8 points, but never led by more than four in a 74-67 defeat to the Sun Devils.
The Bruins, who averaged 85.8 points during their winning streak, had a one-point lead with 1:36 remaining before allowing Arizona State to score the game’s final eight.
“Obviously, a very bitter, disappointing loss against a very good team,” UCLA coach Ben Howland said.
The Sun Devils pulled within a half-game of the second-place Bruins, who now trail conference-leading Washington by a one-half game. Arizona State hosts sixth-place USC on Sunday, while the Huskies host last-place Oregon on Saturday.
UCLA point guard Darren Collison had another solid outing Thursday, finishing with 15 points and three assists, but center Alfred Aboya was unable to help carry the offense.
Aboya had eight points and two rebounds against Arizona State after averaging 14.5 points and 7.8 boards during the winning streak. The 6-foot-9 senior had 12 points and 12 rebounds in the Bruins’ 83-60 win over Arizona on Jan. 15—UCLA’s most lopsided win in the series since 1983.
The Bruins have won eight straight over Arizona (17-8, 7-5) since an 83-73 loss on Feb. 12, 2005, but the Wildcats have been playing some of their best basketball of the season lately.
Behind another stellar offensive performance, Arizona defeated USC 83-76 on Thursday for its sixth straight win.
The Wildcats shot 59.1 percent from the floor and made 12-of-20 3-pointers against the Trojans and are averaging 82.3 points on 49.8 percent shooting— including 46.7 percent from 3-point range—during their winning streak. They averaged 59.6 points while shooting only 25.5 percent from beyond the arc in their first seven league games.
“I just see our team getting better every day,” Arizona interim coach Russ Pennell said. “We come out and play now, we’re playing with a lot of confidence. The guys enjoy each other.”
The Wildcats are 14-1 when scoring 67 or more points but scoring that many won’t be easy against UCLA. The Bruins have yielded at least 67 points only five times, losing three of those contests.
Nic Wise led Arizona with 27 points Thursday, while Chase Budinger added 25, and both juniors have been instrumental to Arizona’s run.
Wise is averaging 19.3 points during the winning streak after averaging 6.4 points on 28.2 percent shooting in his previous five. Budinger is averaging 22.2 points on 13-of-29 shooting from beyond the arc in his last five after averaging 15.5 points in the prior four games.
“Chemistry is the hardest thing to find in sports,” Pennell said, “but when you find it you can do great things with it. And right now our chemistry is very good.”
Neither Wise nor Budinger were much of a factor against the Bruins last month. Wise finished with five points on 1-of-8 shooting, while Budinger had 14.