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Feb 9, 2024 5:20 pm

Improved teams clash when rivals Cal, UCLA meet

Sebastian Mack

Saturday’s Pac-12 matchup between UCLA and host Cal in Berkeley, Calif., pairs two different examples of in-season improvement.

For UCLA (12-11, 7-5 Pac-12), the strides have come midseason. The Bruins fell to 6-10 overall and 1-4 in the conference on Jan. 11 with a humiliating 90-44 loss at Utah, their fourth straight setback and the program’s most lopsided defeat since 1997.

With an 82-74 win Wednesday at Stanford, however, UCLA claimed its fourth straight victory and sixth in the last seven games. The Bruins head into Saturday’s contest just two games behind league-leading Arizona and tied for fourth in the Pac-12 with Colorado.

“I wouldn’t say we are invincible, we are humble,” UCLA big man Adem Bona said following Wednesday’s win. “We went through a tough spell at the beginning of the year, and we knew it wasn’t going to be fun if we kept going like that. We grew a lot and started playing harder.”

UCLA’s turnaround is most evident in its offensive uptick. The Bruins were averaging 64.2 points per game after the Utah loss but have averaged 71.6 over the last seven games after registering a season-high in points Wednesday.

UCLA also made a season-best 11 3-pointers on 25 attempts (44.0 percent), with Sebastian Mack’s 21 points leading five Bruins scoring in double-figures.

Cal (10-13, 6-6) has made improvements of its own under first-year coach Mark Madsen. The Golden Bears are one conference win away from matching their combined total of Pac-12 victories in the previous two seasons.

They also have eight remaining regular-season opportunities at four wins, which would give Cal its most league victories since the 2016-17 campaign.

Among the Golden Bears’ six Pac-12 wins is a 66-57 road victory over UCLA on Jan. 6. Jaylon Tyson scored 22 points on 9-of-12 shooting and played key roles in each of Cal’s last two games heading into Saturday’s contest.

Tyson scored 27 points in an 83-77 overtime victory over visiting Southern California on Wednesday. He also was one of two Golden Bears to record a double-double in a win at Arizona State last Saturday, going for 17 points and 10 rebounds.

Fardaws Aimaq had 20 points and 14 rebounds vs. the Sun Devils and is averaging a double-double for the season at 15.3 points and 11.0 rebounds per game. He had 15 points and a season-best 20 rebounds against the Trojans when Cal had a 54-27 rebounding edge.

“It’s going to be a dog fight. An absolute dog fight,” Madsen said of Saturday’s rematch with UCLA.

–Field Level Media

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