A Player's Program: UCLA Preview - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

A Player's Program: UCLA Preview

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Much has been made of top-ranked Arizona's stingy defense.

UCLA is thriving thanks to one of the nation's top offenses.

In a matchup that pits strength against strength, the Wildcats look to equal the best start in school history when they visit the Bruins on Thursday night in their only scheduled meeting of the season.

Arizona (15-0, 2-0 Pac-12) made a statement in its conference opener last Thursday by holding Washington State to 25 points, and followed that with Saturday's 71-62 win over Washington. The Wildcats, off to their best start since the 1931-32 team opened 16-0, trailed by two at halftime before limiting the Huskies to 27 points on 10-of-33 shooting in the final 20 minutes.

"That's what good teams do, nettle through adversity," said leading scorer Nick Johnson, who had a season-high 24 points.

Arizona is holding opponents to averages of 54.9 points and 36.6 percent from the field to rank among Division I's top 10 in both.

"They're long, they're athletic, they got a good physical presence to them," UCLA coach Steve Alford said. "Because of their athleticism and length, it makes it hard to get into the things you want to run, so we've got to do a good job of executing our offense."

The Bruins (12-2, 1-0) have had little trouble running their offense, ranking among the nation's leaders with 87.1 points per game and 52.7 percent shooting while hitting 40.7 percent of 3-pointers.

"They have firepower behind the arc, they have the firepower with team speed and they're doing a really good job pushing it." Arizona coach Sean Miller said. "I think it will be potentially our most difficult challenge of the season, when it comes to trying to stop the other team from scoring. They're very efficient right now."

UCLA's offense was certainly clicking in Sunday's 107-73 win over Southern California. The Bruins shot 57.7 percent and made 11 of 23 3-pointers in their highest-scoring regular-season conference game since a 116-110 double-overtime loss at Stanford in 1987.

"It's always good to beat your rival but the way that we played is a big thing," said freshman guard Bryce Alford, the coach's son. "The fact that we've got Arizona next makes this a very big win for us."

Alford had a career-high 20 points while leading scorer Jordan Adams had 21 and made 5 of 8 3-pointers. Kyle Anderson had another dominating performance, finishing with 23 points on 10-of-14 shooting to go with 12 rebounds for his seventh double-double and third in four games.

The 6-foot-9 sophomore averages 15.1 points, 8.9 rebounds and 6.6 assists. He has made 12 of 24 3-point attempts and routinely creates matchup problems.

"The way he impacts the game is so unique," Miller said. "He does play point guard for some of the game and when he's in with another point guard it's like they have two on the court. He's a very difficult matchup."

Arizona freshman Aaron Gordon, who will likely get some opportunities to defend Anderson, is also tough on opponents. The 6-foot-9 forward had 18 points on 8-of-11 shooting and 11 rebounds against Washington for his fifth double-double.

"They're athletic, they can score off the bounce, they can score on the post, they shoot the ball pretty well," Alford said, "but they hang their hat at the defensive end. They make things very difficult."

The Bruins won all three meetings last season, including a 66-64 victory in the Pac-12 tournament semifinals. Arizona last beat UCLA in the quarterfinals of the 2012 conference tournament, and has dropped three in a row on the road in this series since 2010.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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