The finale to the Pac-12 regular season is closing hard and—with the standings jammed up at the top between Oregon, Arizona and UCLA—these final five games are critically important for the Bruins if they are going to win or share the league title.
After being upset at home by USC on Jan. 30, UCLA bounced back well, won three of their next four and managed a split last weekend against the Bay Area schools.
The Trojans have been playing good basketball since firing head coach Kevin O'Neill. The team won four in a row after beating UCLA and were up 15 points at Cal—the hottest team in the league—before Mike Montgomery shoved his best player in the chest and sparked a furious Bears' rally to beat SC, 76-68 in Berkeley.
The last time these teams played, Shabazz Muhammad was recovering from the flu and took IV fluids before the game. Travis Wear was returning from a concussion suffered in Tucson and practiced sparingly and without contact in the week preceding the game.
Muhammad has pink eye heading into this game said coach Ben Howland at the Tuesday press conference. But Howland does not expect that to bother the conference's second leading scorer at 18 points per game, against USC.
"It's depressing, I remember watching it the last time," said Coach Howland of the USC game tape. "We watched it as a team, and God, they were very good, we were very poor."
"We'll watch edits of that game, not the whole game again," said the coach. "The team will watch some edits of that game before practice on Thursday, which I think will remind them of our play in that game—it wasn't pretty.
"Give them credit, I thought they had a great game plan I thought they did a great job, but we can definitely play better than we did last time."
This is how and where—at least partially—UCLA can play better in order beat USC on Sunday, avoiding an upset and keeping them neck-and-neck in the race for the conference championship.