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March 2, 2008
Even though the regular season is winding down, UCLA still thinks it has a chance to improve.
The fourth-ranked Bruins will look to extend an impressive four-game winning streak on Sunday when they visit Arizona.
UCLA (25-3, 13-2 Pac-10) has not lost since a 71-61 defeat at Washington on Feb. 10, outscoring its opponents by an average of 19.0 points since then. They completed a season sweep of Arizona State on Thursday, routing the Sun Devils 70-49.
"I don't know if we're peaking right now," said freshman phenom Kevin Love, who had game highs of 18 points and 12 rebounds for his 17th double-double. "We want to peak come tournament time. We just want to step up our level of basketball as much as we can."
Love leads the Bruins with 17.0 points and 11.0 rebounds per game.
Darren Collison and Josh Shipp each added 17 points for UCLA, which struggled early against the Sun Devils' zone defense before finding its range from the 3-point line. The Bruins made 10 of 20 shots from beyond the arc and reached 70 points for the 19th time this season.
"That was one of the ugliest first halves we've played all season," Love said. "We just kept grinding it out and finally hit some 3-point shots."
The Bruins beat Arizona State and Arizona (17-11, 7-8) by an average of 27.5 points when the teams visited Los Angeles on Jan. 31 and Feb. 2, including an 82-60 victory against the Wildcats. They're hoping to pull off a similar sweep in Arizona - the site of this year's NCAA tournament West Regional.
"We want to be back here come tournament time," Love said. "We want that No. 1 seed and we want to be playing close to home."
UCLA has won six straight against Arizona since an 83-73 home loss on Feb. 12, 2005 that capped a four-game losing streak in the series.
Arizona is trying to keep alive its streak of 23 straight NCAA tournament appearances, the longest active streak in major college basketball and second-longest ever behind North Carolina's 27. However, the Wildcats have dropped five of seven, including Thursday's 70-58 loss to USC.
Rookie Jerryd Bayless, who leads the team with an average of 20.6 points, matched his season low of eight and committed six turnovers. The Trojans also shut down second-leading scorer Chase Budinger, holding him to 10 points - seven below his season average.
Interim coach Kevin O'Neill is well aware that opposing teams will focus on shutting down his two stars.
"I do have a concern but I don't know what I can do about it," O'Neill said. "When people play us to just shut those two guys down no matter what, then we're limited in what we can do, very limited."
Bayless had 13 points in the first meeting with UCLA, and Budinger managed only nine. Guard Nic Wise had 12 points in that game, but is currently out following knee surgery.
O'Neill said Thursday that his team clearly missed Wise, whom he hopes to have back in time for the Pac-10 tournament.
The loss was the fifth at home for Arizona, which is playing its final game this season on its own court.