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UCLA vs. Arizona: Who to watch and what to watch for

The Wildcats get the chance to exact revenge against the Bruins in Tucson.

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The last time the Arizona Wildcats played the UCLA Bruins, the Wildcats lost on a very difficult game-winning shot by Bryce Alford in Los Angeles. On Friday, the Wildcats will have the chance to even the score at home against the Bruins. Let's take a look at what UCLA players to watch out for and how the game might go.

Who to watch for

Any conversation about UCLA has to start with Bryce Alford. He's the one who hit the game winning shot against the Wildcats last time, he's the coach's son, and a lot of people have a lot of opinions about his play. Personally, I've thought (in the past) that Alford shot the ball way too much, didn't distribute well enough to his more talented teammates, and generally made UCLA a worse basketball team. But then he hit that game winning shot against Arizona and was named Pac-12 player of the week. A certain former Arizona coach even said that Bryce Alford should be Pac-12 Player of the Year:

Since then, what happened? Bryce Alford turned back into a pumpkin. Alford is still essentially the same player he was last year: he takes basically the same percentage of UCLA's shots when he's on the floor (22.8% last year, 22.7% this year), he racks up assists on basically the same percentage of UCLA possessions (26.4% last year, 25.2% this year), and he shoots the ball just as inefficiently (shooting 39.6% from the field last year, 39.1% this year). That's not to say he hasn't improved in some minor ways - he's turning the ball over a little less and drawing more contact - but he isn't one of the premier players in the conference by any stretch.

In contrast, Isaac Hamilton has gotten a lot better this season. Hamilton showed flashes late last season - he dropped 36 points against USC in the Pac-12 Tournament in Vegas - but didn't have the sort of consistency he has shown so far this year. His scoring average jumped from 10.6 to 16.3 points per game, and, just as impressively, his field goal percentage jumped from 40.9% to 48.3%. As an Arizona fan, the guy I'm worried about lighting up the Wildcats on Friday night is Hamilton, not Alford.

What to watch for

So after the Wildcats played the Bruins in Los Angeles, everyone thought UCLA was pretty good. Since then, the Bruins are 3-4, with home losses to USC (fine) and Washington (ouch). They've played two tough road games - one against the Oregon Ducks and one against the USC Trojans - and lost both by double digits. And given how important home court advantage is, the fact that they barely beat Arizona at home probably spells trouble now that they have to go to Tucson. Vegas knows this, so the Wildcats are favored by 11.5.

It's surprisingly difficult to map out a strategy UCLA can use to win this game. They aren't as efficient as the Wildcats on offense or defense, they play at a relatively quick pace (which isn't a good strategy when playing a more talented team), and they don't shoot three pointers particularly well (which is one way to pull off an upset).

That said, UCLA is a great offensive rebounding team, great at protecting the rim, and is one of the few teams in all of Division I that is taller than Arizona. That size and interior play is probably UCLA's best bet to pull off the upset - if Parker and Thomas Welsh are able to beat Kaleb Tarczewski, Dusan Ristic, and Ryan Anderson down low, they'll have a great shot to win. That might not be likely, but it's possible.

Game time and Bill Walton Watch

The Wildcats tip off against the Bruins on Friday at 7:00 p.m. MST on ESPN. Bill Walton is currently playing a strange instrument on the Cal/Oregon broadcast, but he'll apparently be in Tucson tomorrow to call the Arizona/UCLA game, too.