February 20, 2015

Three losses in four games have UCLA back on the NCAA Tournament bubble, though still with a chance to come off if some key wins happen.

An opportunity for one comes in Friday night's visit to Arizona, where the Bruins can greatly enhance their shaky profile with a season sweep of the 17th-ranked Wildcats.

Just as it did a year ago, UCLA (13-10, 4-6 Pac-12) would stir considerable debate among the selection committee with a solid finish to an overall inconsistent body of work. The Bruins own strong non-conference victories over Kentucky and Gonzaga along with an 87-84 win over then-No. 7 Arizona on Jan. 7, but have offset those results by losing double-digit games - six by 13 points or more - and residing in the bottom half of the competitive Pac-12.

UCLA, which did make the field as a 13-loss team last year, must improve its 1-4 record on the road in conference play to earn another at-large berth. It failed in its most recent chance for a statement win, falling behind early and never recovering in an 80-61 loss at Southern California last Thursday.

Despite eight days to recover, the task won't get any easier. After going into one of the nation's toughest venues Friday at the McKale Center, the Bruins continue a span of five road dates in seven games Sunday at Arizona State.

''This is a tough stretch and we've got to find it,'' coach Steve Alford said.

Additionally, Arizona (19-5, 7-4) appears to have recovered from its earlier struggles. After dropping to 4-4 in the conference and having its 49-game home winning streak snapped in a Jan. 28 loss to first-place Oregon, the Wildcats have held Oregon State, Washington State and Washington to a combined 39.1 percent shooting and 66.3 points per game in three consecutive victories.

Arizona is also receiving a big lift from Ryan Anderson, with the graduate transfer posting a fourth straight double-double with 22 points and 15 rebounds in Saturday's 77-72 win at Washington. He had a career-high 31 points and 12 rebounds in a 79-64 victory over Washington State three days earlier.

The Wildcats overcame 20 turnovers by outrebounding the Huskies 43-29 and holding a 21-6 advantage in second-chance points, capitalizing on a season-long strength. Arizona ranks among the Division I leaders with a plus-11.4 rebounding margin and is second overall in defensive rebounding percentage (.782).

''The last couple of weeks we've been focusing on the details with our bigs and the little things we can get better at individually have helped us be successful,'' Anderson said.

UCLA can counter with its frontcourt duo of Tony Parker and Thomas Welsh, who rank 1-2 in the Pac-12 in offensive rebounds. Parker had 12 rebounds and 14 points in last month's matchup, in which Bryce Alford capped a 25-point performance with a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 1.8 seconds left.

Alford and Isaac Hamilton, the Bruins' top two scorers, were a combined 6 of 25 as UCLA shot a season-low 34.8 percent against USC.

"We just kept missing shots," guard Aaron Holiday said. "They'd get misses, turnovers and easy buckets."

UCLA will need better proficiency to complete the sweep, as the Wildcats are averaging 86.0 points and shooting 50.8 percent from 3-point range over their last four home games. Gabe York, the Pac-12 leader in 3-pointers made, has gone 47.5 percent from 3 at the McKale Center compared to 37.8 percent in all other games.

Allonzo Trier's return from a broken hand has brought the offense a further boost. The heralded freshman had seven points in 16 minutes off the bench against Washington after missing the previous seven games.

The Bruins won at the McKale Center in 2013, joining Oregon and California as the only visitors to win there over the past four seasons.

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