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UCLA goes into raucous McKale Center vs. No. 13 Arizona

By in Press Enterprise on February 7, 2018

By Thuc Nhi Nguyen

There were the mocking signs, Chinese flags and oversized cut outs of LaVar Ball’s head.

UCLA has already faced ridicule and jeers from opposing crowds, sometimes aided by the basketball team’s embarrassing shoplifting scandal in China, but likely nothing the Bruins have encountered will measure up to McKale Center.

Two games behind Arizona for first place in the Pac-12 and still on the edge of NCAA Tournament contention, UCLA (16-7, 7-4 Pac-12) has a vital game against the 13th-ranked Wildcats in arguably the fiercest home environment in the conference.

The Bruins have wilted in the face of much less intimidating road atmospheres this season, but hope tough lessons have strengthened them for this major NCAA Tournament-boosting opportunity.

“It’s an incredible environment there for sure, but at the end of the day, it’s all about the 10 guys there on the court and trying to work the best you can as a team,” senior center Thomas Welsh said. “There’s always going to be some sort of distraction off the court, but it’s just about focusing the guys you have out there and playing hard and playing the best you can.”

Arizona (19-5, 9-2 Pac-12) leads the conference in home attendance, averaging 14,364.

The Bruins are 1-4 in true road games, with the only victory coming against last-place Cal. They allow 86.4 points per away game compared to 72.8 in all others.

In losing to Michigan in overtime in Ann Arbor, they gave up a 12-point lead with 15 minutes to go. A 13-point lead evaporated in nine minutes against Stanford and ended in a double-overtime loss.

Those were UCLA’s first true road games this year after spending much of the nonconference season playing at home or at neutral sites.

The young Bruins struggled to combat the energy of away crowds. The fans feasted on every UCLA miscue: 20 turnovers against […]    

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