Shabazz Muhammad was the top recruit in the country this season—and for good reason.
At 6'6" 225, Muhammad's size allows him to finish around the basket among bigger players, as well as shoot from the outside. Averaging 17.9 points per game as a true freshman, Muhammad will be key for UCLA if they have any hopes of beating the No. 6-ranked Arizona Wildcats on Thursday.
Arizona (16-1, 4-1) and UCLA (15-4, 5-1) trail Oregon atop the Pac-12.
The Wildcats are powered by a balanced scoring attack, complete with reliable post players and capable perimeter guys. Senior guard Mark Lyons leads Arizona in scoring, averaging 15.2 points per game.
Lyons should have no problem getting his game going offensively, but at just 6'1" 200, the Xavier transfer will provide no help to the Wildcats in defending Muhammad. Senior forward Solomon Hill will likely see a lot of time defending Muhammad on Thursday night.
Hill is second on the team in scoring average, but his defensive presence is what makes him such a key part of this Wildcats team.
After arriving on campus at 245 pounds, Hill is down to 220 pounds and is a more athletic player because of it. The Wildcats' best chance at containing Muhammad comes in the form of Hill, their senior forward and team leader.
Who wins Thursday night's game?
But even Arizona's most versatile defender will struggle to contain Muhammad. He's a special player.
Muhammad is a big and physical guard, and yet he shoots a team-high 45.8 percent from three-point range. Even if the Wildcats try several different bodies on him, Muhammad is long enough to get shots off from long-range.
And if Muhammad's shots are falling, so could No. 6 Arizona.
UCLA's super freshman brings more to the team than a versatile offensive skill set. He's a hard-worker and a willing rebounder. Muhammad had 10 rebounds in two of the Bruins' 16 games this season. He ranks third on the team with 5.1 rebounds per game.
With Arizona being the stronger team top-to-bottom, UCLA will likely need to win the rebounding battle in order to win Thursday's game. Offensive rebounds lead to critical second-chance points, and defensive rebounds end possessions for Arizona.
Being active on the glass will be paramount for the Bruins, and Muhammad always gives a consistent effort in that department.
Muhammad has undoubtedly been sensational as a freshman but lately he's been struggling. In three of the Bruins' past four games, Muhammad has fallen short of his season scoring average. He scored just six against Utah, 14 against Colorado and 10 in the team's most recent game against No. 21 Oregon.
Whether or not Muhammad plays up to his superstar potential will be a huge factor in determining who wins on Thursday night. If he brings his A-game, it could be bad news for Arizona.