The Pac-12 helps to conclude Saturday’s busy college basketball schedule with a showdown between the Colorado Buffaloes and the No. 9 UCLA Bruins. The Bruins took care of business with a 73-61 home win over Colorado in early December. But more than six weeks later, the Buffs will be looking for redemption and a signature win.
After last year’s surprising run to the Final Four, the Bruins are now perpetual favorites rather than overlooked underdogs. But UCLA seems to be handling that role well. Mick Cronin’s team is 12-2, losing only to Gonzaga and Oregon. Much like Colorado, the Bruins had several games postponed due to COVID earlier this season. But they are 4-1 since returning to action despite a home loss to Oregon.
Much like the team that went to the Final Four last year, the Bruins are guard-heavy and led by Johnny Juzang, who is averaging 17.9 points per game. As expected, Jules Bernard has been his primary running mate this year, scoring 13.3 points per game. Jaime Jaquez is also averaging 12.8 points per game for the Bruins, although he’s less reliant on his jump shot to score points than Juzang and Bernard, giving UCLA a different look. Of course, point guard Tyger Campbell is the straw that stirs the drink for the Bruins and perhaps the most underrated player on the roster. Campbell has improved his scoring this season, averaging 12.1 points per game. But his real value is being the floor general, averaging 4.4 assists per game, while also being a pesky on-ball defender.
However, outside of some of UCLA’s bigger guards, the Bruins don’t have a ton of size on their roster. The good news is that 6’9’’ forward Cody Riley recently returned after getting hurt early in the season. He’s not quite back up to speed just yet, but he did have five rebounds in his last game, which is something the Bruins need from him. The only other big man in the rotation is Rutgers transfer Myles Johnson, who doesn’t provide much on the offensive end but is an important rebounder and defensive presence for UCLA. But since he doesn’t play that many minutes and Riley is still working his way back, the likes of Juzang, Jaquez, and Bernard have to be regular contributors on the boards.
Until recently, the Buffaloes had been on a little bit of a role. They’ve actually won six of their last eight games despite a long COVID pause that started in late December. However, Colorado has also lost two of three, falling to both Arizona and USC. That means the 12-5 Buffaloes are now 0-4 against ranked teams this season, making this game the perfect opportunity to get a signature win.
Colorado’s biggest strength is its athleticism in the frontcourt. The Buffs are lacking a serious perimeter shooting threat but they have players who can get into the paint and finish close to the basket. Forward Jabari Walker leads the way with 13.1 points and 8.5 rebounds per game, nearly helping the Buffs upset USC earlier this week. Evan Battey is also contributing 12.2 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. Both can occasionally step outside and hit a shot but are much more effective inside. The same is true of 6’10’’ sophomore Tristan da Silva. Despite averaging just 8.8 points per game, da Silva has scored double figures in four of his last five games, creating a bigger role for himself in Colorado’s rotation.
However, the jury is still out on Colorado’s backcourt, as the Buffaloes relied heavily on McKinley Wright last season. Keeshawn Barthelemy has been fine but is still averaging just 10.9 points and 2.6 assists per game, which isn’t enough from the team’s lead guard. Freshman KJ Sampson had a big game in the loss to Arizona but still hasn’t found much consistency. The Buffaloes would also like to get more out of senior Elijah Parquet, who’s had a terrible season and missed the game earlier this week against USC due to injury, limiting Colorado’s backcourt even more.
Given UCLA’s lack of interior size, the Buffaloes might have an edge in the frontcourt that they can exploit. However, it’s also hard to envision Colorado’s guards keeping pace with the UCLA backcourt. That was the case in the first game between these teams despite Jaquez playing just seven minutes and not scoring. The Bruins even won the rebounding battle in that game. While Colorado played a close game with No. 16 USC earlier this week, their three other losses to ranked teams came by double figures, positioning the Bruins to earn a comfortable road win on Saturday night.
Get a BetQL Day Pass for just $4.99 to see all of our best bets across every sport!
Get Today's Picks for All SportsOnly $4.99Buy Now