The battle of the UCs last took to the hardwood just 41 days ago.
Much has transpired on either side in the 10 games since that Jan. 3 matchup – a 79-65 win for UCLA – as both teams have seen their respective seasons take some interesting turns.
The Bruins came into that conference-opening game boasting a six-game win streak. It didn’t end there as they would go on to post four more consecutive victories. Things then fell apart. UCLA lost three of its next four games and fell out of the national rankings.
Cal meandered through the early part of the conference schedule, alternating wins and losses.
Recently, both teams have found more solid footing. UCLA (18-6, 8-3 Pac-12) swept the Washington schools at home while Cal (14-9, 6-5) seems to be playing its best basketball of the season, having knocked off conference front runners Oregon and Arizona in two of its last three games.
With surer identities in hand, the rivals will meet again tonight at Haas Pavilion, the Bruins looking to remain tied atop the conference standings, the Golden Bears looking to defend their home court and bust out of a four-way tie for fifth place.
UCLA expects a much different game than the one played in January.
“We know Cal has had a few big wins these last couple weeks,” said freshman guard Kyle Anderson. “They’re going to be ready to play and trying to turn their season around.”
Much to UCLA’s dismay, part of its identity of late has been an inability to grab rebounds.
UCLA coach Ben Howland continues to stress the importance of rebounding to his team, and for good reason.
UCLA was beaten in the rebounding department in nine of its first 11 conference games.
“You have to tell your mind to go to the boards every time,” said freshman guard Shabazz Muhammad. “Some people stand and watch or leak out. That’s something we have to take notice of.”
The Bruins have been able to mask their rebounding woes by keeping turnovers down and being efficient on offense, according to Howland. Case in point: the last meeting between the two teams. Cal won the battle of the boards 45-37, but UCLA turned the ball over just seven times to Cal’s 11.
Howland has been around long enough to realize that style of play isn’t sustainable.
“If we’re going to have a chance to win this conference, we’re not going to win it continuing on the path we’re on from a rebounding standpoint,” Howland said.
With contributing reports from Ryan Menezes, Bruin Sports senior staff.
Email Strong at [email protected].