Spotlight on showdown between Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball
SEATTLE (AP) Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball have faced off on the court only once in a game, and that was an all-star showcase that was more about making highlights than competitiveness.
That's why there is so much anticipation for their expected matchup on Saturday night when Ball and Fultz meet for the first time in college with No. 11 UCLA taking on Washington. They are two of the best freshmen in the country and will be showcased as such.
It's a prime-time game on the West Coast and expected to be Washington's first sellout in nearly five seasons with more than 20 NBA scouts in attendance.
''I worry more about the team and I think if I do that it takes care of itself,'' Fultz said of the anticipated individual matchup. ''That's mostly what I do with everything that goes on. I don't ever worry about myself. I more worry about the team and doing what I can do for the team to win and usually if I do that it makes (me) look even better.''
Not that those scouts haven't already seen plenty of both. Fultz is the top scoring freshman in the country at more than 23 points per game, while Ball is averaging nearly 15 points, six rebounds and eight assists per game. It's that opportunity to see them both together - even with UCLA at 7-3 and Washington at 2-8 in Pac-12 Conference play - that is drawing so much interest.
''He's a great player. It will be a good challenge,'' Ball said after UCLA's win over Washington State on Wednesday. ''He's a scorer, and I try to get my teammates involved.''
For all the ways Fultz and Ball are lumped together - their age, their conference, their positions - they are very different players. Fultz is primarily a scorer who is asked to play point guard because he is better with the ball in his hands. Ball is the engine that makes the No. 2 scoring offense in the country run. He's less of a scorer, but more of the traditional point guard that makes the Bruins run.
They are two examples of how the same position can be played at the highest level. And it's why most NBA draft analysts are pegging the pair to be among the top five picks in June's draft assuming both leave after one season as expected.
''They both do a lot to help their teams,'' Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said. ''Not just scoring, not just passing. They both rebound, they are both really active getting their hands on balls, getting steals, that type of thing.''
Ball's arrival turned UCLA back into a national title contender. Along with fellow freshman T.J. Leaf, Ball completely changed how UCLA functions offensively, turning the Bruins into an up-tempo, high scoring show. The Bruins have scored at least 80 points in eight of 10 conference games and their lowest point output of the season was 74 points in a win over Texas A&M.
''The last time I saw something like this was Magic Johnson with the Lakers,'' Romar said of Ball's arrival. ''They had players. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was on the team. They had some other players. They get Magic Johnson and within a year, it's `Showtime.' And guys are passing the ball and chest-bumping, and that's what Lonzo Ball has brought to that team, to me. In one year, it's just changed.''
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