The Arizona Wildcats moved up one spot to No. 4 in the AP poll, while the UCLA Bruins climbed to No. 5 … which means this matchup has an added twist.
In addition to Arizona trying to maintain its one-game Pac-12 lead over Oregon in the final two weeks … in addition to high NCAA seeding being on the line for both teams … in addition to ESPN’s College GameDay being in Tucson for the third time ever …
The Arizona-UCLA game marks the first Pac-10/12 game in more than nine years to feature a top 5 matchup.
The last time it happened was when No. 5 UCLA beat No. 4 Washington State 81-74 on Jan. 12, 2008. Those Cougars, coached by Tony Bennett, entered the game leading the nation in total defense.
Saturday’s game at McKale — tipoff at 6:15 p.m. — will mark the first top 5 matchup for Arizona in conference play since Jan. 10, 2004, when No. 4 Stanford beat the third-ranked Wildcats 82-72 in Tucson. At the time, the 10-point margin was tied for the second-worst home loss in the Lute Olson era.
Before that, the only other top 5 matchup of Pac-12 teams this century came on Jan. 8, 2000, when No. 5 Arizona toppled No. 1 Stanford 68-65 in Maples Pavilion. Jason Gardner had 22 points in that game, while Loren Woods had 16 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks.
Going even deeper into the record books …
You have to go back almost another 20 years to find the previous top 5 matchup. It was a doozy. No. 5 Arizona State upset No. 1 and undefeated Oregon State on March 7, 1981, on the last day of the conference season. The Sun Devils prevented the Beavers from what would still be the only 18-0 conference record in league history.
There are only two other top 5 matchups in conference history, both coming in 1971.
No. 3 UCLA won at No. 2 USC 64-60 on Feb. 6, handing the Trojans — led by guards Paul Westphal, Mo Layton and forward Ron Riley — their first loss after a 16-0 start. When the teams met in Pauley Pavilion on March 13, the top-ranked Bruins won again, defeating the No. 3 Trojans 73-62. UCLA, with a frontcourt of Sidney Wicks and Curtis Rowe, along with guard Henry Bibby, went on to win its fifth national championship.
So, that’s it.
In the history of the Pac-8/10/12, there have been only six matchups of top 5 teams. Saturday will be the seventh.