UCLA heads into its Pac-10 game Thursday against Arizona on a four-game win streak and having won 10 of its last 12 games.
A big part of the recent success for the Bruins (13-6, 5-2) has been developing team chemistry.
UCLA has no seniors, starts a freshman at center, two sophomores at forward and a junior college transfer at point guard. Because they haven’t had much time together as a unit, it’s taken some time to gel, but that seems to have been taking place in recent weeks.
“We still have a lot of things to improve on, but our chemistry is really clicking,” said sophomore forward Tyler Honeycutt. “We’re having fun on the court and off the court and it’s showing.”
In its last four games, UCLA came back from big deficits in victories over Oregon and Stanford and fended off late-game rallies in victories over Oregon State and California. Those are the types of games UCLA was losing at the beginning of the season and an advancing rapport between the players has played a significant role.
“Our team camaraderie is getting stronger every single day,” freshman center Anthony Stover said. “We’re all good friends on the team. Everyone on our team genuinely likes one another and that’s helping us on the court. As you can see, we’re playing better together, we’re feeding off of each other.”
The big picture
UCLA players and coaches will downplay the significance of Thursday’s game at Arizona, but there is no mistaking that it’s one of the most important games remaining on UCLA’s schedule.
Not only would a victory get UCLA sole possession of second place in the Pac-10, it’s also one of the few games the Bruins have remaining against teams ranked higher than they are in the all-important Rating Percentage Index (RPI).
The Wildcats (16-4, 5-2) have an RPI of 23 and UCLA (13-6, 5-2) is at No. 48. A victory over Arizona would go a long way toward getting UCLA back into the NCAA tournament after missing it last year.
“I know that if we do win it, it’s a great win,” UCLA coach Ben Howland said. “This is a huge game. We’re playing a very good team. A team who’s RPI is I think in the top 20. It’s a very good game and a good opportunity for us to go in there and fight for a potential victory against a very good team.”
The Bruins, widely considered a bubble team at this point, have four games remaining against teams currently ranked ahead of them in the RPI: Thursday at Arizona, Feb. 5 against St. John’s, Feb. 26 against Arizona and March 3 at Washington.
“I think they are one of the top ones we’ve played so to be where we want to be we have to beat good teams and it starts on Thursday,” Honeycutt said. “We put extra emphasis on every game, but it’s going to be a more meaningful game coming out with a victory.”
Seems like old times
The game against Arizona will be a reunion of sorts for UCLA point guard Lazeric Jones.
Jones, who transferred from John A. Logan College in Chicago, will be facing former teammate Jesse Perry, who starts at forward for the Wildcats.
“It’s going to be like we’re back in junior college,” Jones said. “We’d go against each other every day in practice. They’d put us on separate teams and we’d just go at it.”
Perry is averaging six points and 4.1 rebounds for Arizona, but Jones said he won’t be fooled by those stats.
“He has a lot more to his game than they’ve shown,” Jones said. “He has to be a role player right now, but once they give him the chance, he’ll show a lot. He’s a really versatile player.”
Jones said the two had talked about playing together at the Division I level, but said it’s almost as much fun to play against him.
“It’ll be good to get that win so I can text him later about it,” Jones said.