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January 15, 2009
UCLA opened Pac-10 play with a tough road stretch and came away undefeated. Now the three-time defending league champs look to take on quite a different challenge: avoiding a letdown on their homecourt.
The ninth-ranked Bruins look to continue their dominance over conference opponents at Pauley Pavilion on Thursday when they host Arizona in their Pac-10 home opener.
Not surprisingly, UCLA (13-2, 3-0) was the preseason consensus to finish first in the league, and it got off to a fast start by opening with three straight road wins. After beating Oregon and Oregon State, the Bruins defeated crosstown rival Southern California 64-60 on Sunday at the Galen Center.
UCLA now has the luxury of playing six of its next eight games at Pauley Pavilion, where the Bruins have been tough to beat.
The Bruins have won all eight of their home games this season by an average of 25.5 points, and are 17-1 against Pac-10 opponents at Pauley Pavilion since 2006-07.
Arizona (11-5, 2-2), meanwhile, opened the conference season by getting swept at California and Stanford, and is 0-4 on the road this season. The Wildcats' last three road losses haven't even been close, as they've been outscored by at least 14 points in each game.
UCLA has won three straight home games over Arizona since an 83-73 loss on Feb. 12, 2005, and seven consecutive games over the Wildcats overall.
As in years past, the Bruins take their lead from point guard Darren Collison. The senior had 18 points and six assists while playing 39 minutes in Sunday's win over the Trojans.
"I did get tired, but that's part of the game," said Collison, who played seven minutes more than any of his teammates. "Coach yelled at me and said, 'We need you so bad.'"
Collison has stepped up his play since the Pac-10 season has started. He is averaging 18.7 points and 6.3 assists in three conference games, after averaging 14.3 points and 5.3 assists in 12 non-conference games.
Arizona was picked to finish fourth in the Pac-10, and seems to have gotten things turned around after being swept by the Bay Area schools.
After beating Oregon 67-52 last Thursday for their first conference victory, the Wildcats defeated Oregon State 64-47 on Saturday. Chase Budinger finished with 24 points against the Beavers and appears to be getting out of his shooting funk.
Budinger is averaging 22.0 points on 53.6 percent shooting in his last two games after averaging 10.5 points on 24.0 percent shooting, including 2-for-17 from 3-point range, in his previous four.
"(My shot) is coming along," Budinger said. "I'm getting a lot more confidence. My teammates are finding me. I'm able to knock them down. You just have to keep shooting, eventually it will come back."
Budinger had 24 points in last season's 68-66 loss to UCLA in Tucson, but just nine points on 4-of-12 shooting in Arizona's 82-60 loss at Pauley Pavilion.
This will be the Wildcats' second game of the season against a ranked opponent, and they hope this one is met with similar success to the first. They defeated then-No. 4 Gonzaga 69-64 on Dec. 14 in Phoenix.
"When we are playing hard and our effort is good I think we can play with anybody," Arizona interim coach Russ Pennell said. "I think we need to understand that."