No. 6 Arizona vs. UCLA preview: Wildcats, Bruins in important Pac-12 battle

USA TODAY Sports

The loser of Thursday night's game could find itself on the outside of the Pac-12 title race.

It's a game that Pac-12 fans and NBA scouts circled on their calendar at the beginning of the season. Arizona and UCLA are the two most tradition-rich programs in the conference, and they meet on Thursday night in one of the biggest games in the history of their longstanding rivalry.

Both the Wildcats (5-1) and the Bruins (4-1) are looking up to No. 21 Oregon (6-0) in the Pac-12 standings. And since neither team plays the Ducks again this season, the loser of Thursday's game will have a tough time getting back into the race for the Pac-12 title.

UCLA had won 10 straight games before losing, 76-67, to Oregon on Saturday. After a slow start to the season, their heralded freshman class has begun to put it together in the last month. Shabazz Muhammad is averaging 18 points and five rebounds per game on 47 percent shooting, while Jordan Adams is chipping in 15 points per contest and Kyle Anderson is a nightly double-double threat, averaging 10 points and nine rebounds per game.

Arizona's only loss all season was a close, 70-66 affair in Autzen. In Sean Miller's fourth year with the Wildcats, he has returned the program to the national prominence it enjoyed under Lute Olson. They're led by Mark Lyons, a transfer from Xavier, who's averaging 15 points and three assists a game.

But while the perimeter players for both teams get most of the attention, Thursday's contest could be decided by the battle upfront. UCLA was overwhelmed by Oregon's size on Saturday and their undersized frontline will have their hands full with three Arizona freshmen -- 7'0, 255 Kaleb Tarczewski, 6'10, 235 Grant Jerrett and 6'8, 235 Brandon Ashley -- who combine to average 16 rebounds and three blocks each game.

Both teams prefer an up-and-down pace, averaging at least 75 points a game, so it should be an exciting, up-and-down contest. According to our friends at OddsShark, Arizona is favored by nine points, which isn't unexpected considering the home-court advantage they've gotten at the McKale Center this season.

Follow Bruins Nation and Arizona Desert Swarm for more.

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