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ASU Basketball: UCLA preview

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It’s been a turbulent season in Westwood.

NCAA Basketball: UCLA at Southern California Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

UCLA

Record: 10-8, (3-2)

VS ASU last year: 0-1

NET Ranking: 106

Points scored: 78.0 (74 of 353)

Points allowed: 75.1 (262 of 353)

For a conference like the Pac-12 to have a really trying season it needs a few of its more reliable programs to regress. In the case of the UCLA Bruins, regression would be the understatement of the century.

Two years after reaching the Sweet Sixteen and boasting the No. 2 overall pick in the NBA Draft, the program dismissed their head coach Steve Alford midseason and the glory days seem long lost.

Interim head coach Murray Bartow has done his best to tread water despite a difficult situation. The Bruins are above .500 in conference play, and are looking to make a statement at home against both Arizona schools in their lone matchups of the regular season.

At home, UCLA will be looking to push the pace and make it a high-scoring game. They will be hoping that their shots are falling, because their defense leaves a lot to be desired.

The Bruins were dealt a tough blow in the offseason when they lost highly touted freshman recruit Shareef O’Neal for the season. The son of former NBA star Shaquille O’Neal had heart surgery to correct an ailment, the program hopes to have him back on the floor for next season.

Leading the way for UCLA is sophomore wing Kris Wilkes, who’s fourth in the conference averaging 17.1 points per contest. Wilkes has been just about the only bright spot for the lowly Bruins as he continues to improve his professional prospects.

Sophomore point guard Jaylen Hands has also shown some more promise on offense during his second season. He leads the Pac-12 in assists per game with 6.4 as he’s done a tremendous job of getting his teammates good shots.

With the way ASU was able to score the ball against Oregon, they’re hoping the efficiency will make the trip to Los Angeles. Freshman forward Taeshon Cherry was huge during the Oregon sweep, scoring 27 points over the two games on a highly efficient 9-of-20 shooting.

“He’s making strides every day,” said head coach Bobby Hurley of Cherry. “I thought his concentration in practice and focus was his best that he’s had since he’s been at ASU. Coincidentally, he had two of his better games here. So he’s been like that again in practice, so we have to stick with that and keep making progress.”

This weekend’s series is huge for both teams. Arizona State is looking to better their NCAA Tournament odds and UCLA trying to get their season back on track and possibly earn a first round bye for the Pac-12 Tournament.

It’s the second consecutive season where these teams will meet only for one regular season games. ASU was able to sweep the series last year in Tempe, for the first conference sweep of the Bobby Hurley era.

On 4-2 in league play, the Sun Devils are entering another critical portion of the schedule with a home game against rival Arizona to end January. In order to feel better about the future, taking care of the wounded Bruins would go along way to making back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances.