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Arizona and UCLA head into matchup with short benches and uncertainty

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 26 Women’s - California at Arizona Photo by Christopher Hook/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The story of Arizona’s short bench has been told and retold in Tucson. There was still a question of exactly how short it would be as the team prepared to go to Los Angeles to face UCLA. For the first time, the Wildcats will be facing another team with similar questions hanging over it.

Like Arizona, the injuries started early for UCLA. Senior forward Emily Bessoir played just 23 minutes in the Bruins’ game against Purdue on Nov. 6. Three days later, she reinjured her ACL while trying to help Germany qualify for FIBA Women’s EuroBasket 2025. Her season was over.

Lauren Betts transferred to UCLA from Stanford after a freshman season during which she and her family were upset over her lack of playing time. She was having a lights-out season for the Bruins but has not played the last four games for undisclosed medical reasons.

The Bruins have gone 2-2 in the four games without Betts, including losing to her old team. They have dropped back to a tie for fifth in the conference at 6-4. That’s two games better than Arizona, which is tied with Washington State for seventh at 4-6.

In her Zoom press conference this week, UCLA head coach Cori Close said she wasn’t just holding information back to keep the opposition from knowing about Betts’ status. She simply didn’t know when Betts would return.

“It is day-to-day,” Close said. “I really don’t know the answer to that in terms of a timetable, but she is day-to-day.”

ESPN reported that Betts has returned to team activities, but whether she will play against the Wildcats is up in the air.

The issue with Betts may be unclear, but another Bruin’s journey on the basketball court has come to an end. Australian Izzy Anstey announced her retirement from the sport this week.

“Izzy has persevered through so much…not being allowed to come into the country during the pandemic, three surgeries, and so much more,” Close was quoted in the program’s press release. “Through it all, she has always found ways to encourage and add to our team...Basketball has not been what she or we hoped—and of no fault of her own—but she has optimized being more than a basketball player and being an elite teammate at the same time.”

That’s not where the losses end for the Bruins, though. They will have two more players away with their national teams this week. Forwards Angela Dugalic and Lisa Sontag will be trying to help their countries qualify for the Olympics. Dugalic plays for Serbia and Sontag for Germany.

When all is said and done, the Bruins are set to enter the game with seven players if Betts does not play. They will have eight if she appears. Regardless, they will be more guard-oriented. Almost all of their personnel losses come from the interior.

While UCLA has very good guards in Charisma Osborne, Kiki Rice, and Londynn Jones, it would still be to Arizona’s benefit to face a smaller opponent. The Wildcats have just three healthy post players. Helena Pueyo sometimes plays the four, but it is not her natural position by any stretch of the imagination.

UA also has some uncertainty around its numbers. The Wildcats have played with seven players for the past two weeks, going 2-1 in games against Stanford, California, and Arizona State without guard Kailyn Gilbert.

Last week, Barnes mentioned that Gilbert would have to clear “protocol” before returning to the court. This week, she made it clear that Gilbert was not injured. However, all players who leave basketball activities for a certain period have to be ramped back up to playing condition before they can play. There is a specific protocol for that.

Barnes said that if Gilbert did not take part in sufficient practices before the trip, she would not go. Gilbert appeared in social media pictures of the team traveling to Los Angeles on Thursday.

The Wildcats were set to hold tryouts for walk-ons last Tuesday. Additions have not been announced, but those players would not be available for this game, anyway. Barnes said it would take some time to get them in condition to take part in meaningful ways. Even when they can take part in practice, it doesn’t necessarily mean they will play in games.

Arizona Wildcats (12-10, 4-6 Pac-12) @ No. 9 UCLA Bruins (17-4, 6-4 Pac-12)

When: Friday, Feb. 9 at 9 p.m. MST

Where: Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles, Calif.

TV: Pac-12 Network and Pac-12 Arizona

Streaming: Pac-12 Now app and

Radio: Varsity Network

Stats: UCLA Live Stats

Probabilities: Her Hoop Stats gives UCLA an 87.8 percent win probability in Pauley Pavilion. It favors the Bruins by 14.8 points. Massey gives the Bruins a 73 percent win probability with the most likely score 73-65.

Barnes says: “I think on the road, also with seven, there’s also a mentality that you don’t have anything to lose. You’re not expected to go out and upset—no one expects Arizona to go right now to UCLA and USC and go get a sweep. So, there’s no pressure. I think it’s a lot different when there’s pressure, like you have to win this game. I think there was a little bit more pressure, even the ASU game because we really, really needed that win and that was the game we should and that’s the game that’s important for our standings and our situation. I think this weekend’s like you go there, you’re not expected to win, so you go play your best. You have seven, and you just do your thing. I think that’s a lot easier to play in those situations versus you’re supposed to win the conference and need to win. I think that’s a lot harder.”

How to follow along

Follow us on X (Twitter) @AZDesertSwarm for all things Arizona Wildcats. For live posts of women’s basketball games and news throughout the week, follow our deputy editor @KimDoss71.