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Last scheduled Arizona/UCLA game at McKale Center puts spotlight on rivalries ruined by realignment

arizona-wildcats-mens-basketball-ucla-bruins-pac12-realignment-mckale-center-2024-tommy-lloyd-cronin Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The first year that Arizona was in the Pac-10 Conference, its home schedule featured just one ranked opponent: UCLA. The Wildcats would win 70-69 over the third-ranked Bruins, only the fourth time in school history they’d knocked off a top-5 team.

That was the first of 46 wins the UA would get over UCLA in conference play, including in the last two Pac-12 Tournament championship games. Arizona is 25-18 all-time at McKale against the Bruins, who on Saturday afternoon make their final scheduled trip to Tucson.

Next year UCLA is headed to the Big Ten Conference, while Arizona will be in the Big 12, meaning the only way the longtime rivals will face would be in the NCAA Tournament, as part of an early-season multi-team event or, least likely, through a home-and-home series negotiated by both schools.

“It’s not going to be the last time Arizona and UCLA play,” UA coach Tommy Lloyd said after the 15-point win over USC, the last time the Trojans are scheduled to come to McKale. “I mean, it might be as members of the Pac-12, but it won’t be the last time. I don’t know exactly when or where the next time is going to be, but there will be more games between Arizona and UCLA.”

Arizona has won 17 regular-season conference titles in its 44 years in the Pac-10/12, with UCLA getting the second-most at 12. Of the 25 conference tourneys, UCLA has claimed four while Arizona has nine including five since the Bruins’ last crown in 2014.

The 99th Arizona/UCLA game as conference rivals will be the first since 2021 in which both teams aren’t ranked. UCLA (8-10, 3-4 Pac-12) has been going through plenty of growing pains with one of the least-experienced rosters in the country, losing eight of nine games at one point, but it has won its last two including a comeback win Wednesday at ASU in which it rallied from down 15.

“It’s gonna be a battle,” said Lloyd, who is 4-2 against UCLA with the Wildcats. “That’s a program that has a ton of pride. They have a coach (Mick Cronin) who knows how to get his team to play hard, they’re going to be prepared. We’re going to have to come in and it’s going to be a knockdown drag out battle. I imagine it’s going to be a hardfought, traditional Arizona/UCLA game just like 95 percent of them are.”

The last five meetings have all been decided by single digits, including a 2-point Arizona win last March to claim another Pac-12 tourney title.

Pelle Larsson had 11 points in that victory, and in six Arizona/UCLA games is averaging 9.8 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.2 assists 50 percent shooting.

“We’ve always had great games against them and they’re a great program,” Larsson said. “They’ve had a lot of good players come through there and we’ve always had really good games and the crowd probably enjoys that. Hopefully we’ll have one more.”

Mathurin entering Ring of Honor

Arizona’s Ring of Honor is getting three new members this season, the first of which is joining on Saturday.

Wing Bennedict Mathurin will be enshrined at halftime thanks to him winning Pac-12 Player of the Year for the 2021-22 season when he averaged 17.7 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game as a sophomore. Mathurin is in his second season with the Indiana Pacers, who drafted him sixth overall in 2022, and he’s averaging 14.8 points in 41 games (14 starts).

Mathurin and the Pacers play Friday in Portland and Sunday in Phoenix, providing an opportunity for he—and maybe TJ McConnell?—to come down to McKale.

Later this season Arizona will put Christian Koloko (Feb. 17) and Kenny Lofton (March 2) into the Ring of Honor.