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February 2, 2008

Bruins, Wildcats have momentum

MORE: Head-to-Head Breakdown

Warning: The contents of Pauley Pavilion on Saturday night will be highly combustible. Do not attempt to watch without protective goggles and oven mitts.

If the hottest player in college basketball at the moment isn't UCLA's Kevin Love or Darren Collison then it's Arizona's Chase Budinger. The Wildcats are riding a four-game winning streak, including takedowns of Washington State and USC, largely on the play of their 6-foot-7 sophomore forward. Budinger has topped the 20-point mark in each of the four games, including 29 Thursday night in an 80-69 triumph over the Trojans.

Budinger is shooting 52.5 percent (32 of 61) during the stretch, including 48.5 percent (16 of 33) from 3-point range, and averaging 24.3 points. More importantly, he and freshman sensation Jerryd Bayless are developing together.

"We're starting to find each other's hot spots and where we like the ball," Budinger told Rivals.com. "Each game we're getting better together."

So are Collison and Love. The junior point guard and the freshman center have been nearly unstoppable the past three games. Collison is averaging 23 points and six assists and shooting 67.7 percent (21 of 31) during the stretch. Love is averaging 20.7 points and 16.3 rebounds in the three games and is shooting 69.7 percent (23 of 33).

The game is on national TV (9 p.m., EST). It should be sizzling. Here's a closer look at the Wildcats-Bruins matchup:

Arizona (15-6, 5-3) at No. 5 UCLA (19-2, 7-1)
Jerryd Bayless vs. Darren Collison
EDGE: Arizona Bayless, a 6-3 freshman, has lived up to every bit of his billing as a Rivals.com five-star prospect. He's the Wildcats' leading scorer (19.3 ppg) and passer (4.5 apg), and Arizona is 9-1 when he scores at least 20 points. Collison, a 6-foot junior, missed the Bruins' first six games because of a sprained left knee. However, he's back in form. He's averaging 14.5 points and 4.2 assists per game, and he takes great care of the ball.
Jawann McClellan vs. Russell Westbrook
EDGE: UCLA McClellan, a 6-4 senior, brings toughness and leadership to the Wildcats. He's a capable scorer (he dropped 23 on USC Thursday) and he makes good decisions with the ball. Westbrook, a 6-3 sophomore, has been a revelation for the Bruins. Given a chance to play while Collison was out at the start of the season, he has blossomed into a solid scoring threat (11.6 ppg) and a great distributor (team-leading 5.1 apg).
Jordan Hill vs. Kevin Love
EDGE: UCLA Hill, a 6-9 sophomore, has made huge strides from his freshman season to become a legitimate post threat. He's averaging 13.1 points and 8.2 rebounds and has posted six double-doubles. Love, a 6-10 freshman, is another five-star prospect who is as good as advertised. He's riding a streak of five consecutive double-doubles and is averaging 17.4 points and 11.2 rebounds per game for the season.
Chase Budinger vs. Josh Shipp
EDGE: Arizona Budinger, a 6-7 sophomore, has come zooming back from a mild shooting slump. He's a threat from anywhere on the court (18.2 ppg), be it behind the arc or slashing to the basket. Shipp, a 6-5 junior, is a natural scorer who has improved his range. He's averaging 14.5 ppg and shooting nearly 40 percent from 3.
Jamelle Horne vs. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute
EDGE: UCLA Arizona's fifth starter has been a revolving door. Horne, a 6-6 freshman and former five-star prospect, has made four starts but is averaging only 13.3 minutes and 3.4 points. Mbah a Moute, a 6-8 junior, recently missed two games because of a concussion. He's a long-armed defensive whiz whose 9.3 ppg and 5.2 rpg are a good complement to Love.
BENCH
EDGE: UCLA The main man off the Wildcats bench is guard Nic Wise, a 5-9 sophomore. He helps push the pace and is a solid ball-handler and passer (4.1 apg). The Bruins' depth is in the front line, where 6-9 senior Lorenzo Mata-Real (3.7 ppg, 4.8 rpg) and 6-8 junior Alfred Aboya (3.6 ppg, 2.6 rpg) both will see significant minutes.
COACHING
EDGE: UCLA Kevin O'Neill has done a nice job in a difficult situation, taking over for Lute Olson shortly before the season began. He is a big departure for the players from the gentler Olson, but he was brought in to instill defense and toughness and he has done that. Ben Howland is an excellent coach who is doing another fine job. No one expected the season-long contribution that has come from Westbrook, and Howland has had to work around several key injuries.
BOTTOM LINE
Budinger and Bayless are as explosive a combination as you can find. They are a difficult matchup for anyone, and they're going to score - even against a team that plays as well defensively as UCLA. The Wildcats will keep it close, and Hill's improvement is another reason they have a chance to play deep into March. But this game will be won up front by the Bruins. Love will be the difference.
PREDICTION
UCLA 77, Arizona 72
SEASON RECORD
8-2

Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at bmcclellan@rivals.com.



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