Reeling after Sunday night's home loss against Cal Poly, the now-unranked UCLA Bruins will desperately look to get back in the win column against the Cal State Northridge Matadors on Thursday.
The Bruins now have a 4-2 record, including 1-2 since Shabazz Muhammad was reinstated by the NCAA. Ben Howland's squad came into the 2012-13 campaign with a ton of hype and talent and will need a victory to calm down the Bruins faithful.
Hoping to keep UCLA's losing ways going is a Northridge squad that is coming off a defeat by BYU. Regardless, the Matadors are heavy underdogs and should not have any pressure while on the road.
With that in mind, here's a look at everything you need to know about matchup.
Where: Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles
When: Thursday, Nov. 29 at 12 a.m. ET (Wednesday, Nov. 28 at 9 p.m. PT)
Watch: Pac-12 Network
Live Stream: Pac-12 Network Live Stream (Comcast Only)
Cal State Northridge Injury Report (via USA Today):
No injuries to report.
UCLA Injury Report (via USA Today):
G Nick Kazemi, Knee, Out
What's at Stake?
Much like another Los Angeles team we won't name in this space, the 2012-13 season has had a dreadful start for the Bruins. Expected to be among the nation's best young squads, UCLA is already out of the Top 25 after losses to Georgetown and Cal Poly.
Another home loss would do little but push outside clamoring to an all-time high. Howland already isn't a favorite among boosters and losing to two lower-tier California schools wouldn't exactly ingratiate him with the Bruins faithful.
Northridge, meanwhile, has nothing to lose. No one expects the Matadors to win even though they are 6-1, so even a relatively close loss could be chalked up as a moral victory.
Cal State Northridge Player to Watch: G-F Stephan Hicks
The Matadors' leading scorer last season, it seems like Hicks has taken a leap this season. He's shooting fewer three-pointers, instead focusing on racking up his points inside and it's shown in his shooting efficiency.
After shooting 44 percent from the field last season, Hicks has soared up to a 55.3 percent rate this season and has scored 18.4 points per game thus far. Couple that with his innate rebounding ability (Hicks is averaging 8.4 boards per contest) and the 6'6" guard-forward has seemingly found his niche.
Nevertheless, this small Northridge lineup will force Hicks into untenable positions at times on the defensive end. How he handles himself against the Bruins, especially if he has to guard Travis or David Wear, will likely help dictate the outcome.
The Matadors can score with just about any team in the country. However, their inability to get stops could come back to haunt them against a team with as much talent as UCLA.
UCLA Player to Watch: G Shabazz Muhammad
Since regaining his eligibility, Muhammad hasn't exactly been on the path to world destruction that many Bruins faithful had hoped.
Though the scintillating freshman has scored 17 points per game thus far, he has shot just 42.9 percent from the field, including a 4-of-13 effort against Cal Poly.
What's more, Muhammad hasn't filled the remainder of the stat sheet in any notable way, either. He's averaging just five rebounds and one assist per game and hasn't been much of a defensive presence against opposing guards.
To put it another way, Muhammad's game feels relatively hollow at this point—almost in a DeMar DeRozan way.
Granted, Muhammad may not have to be at an optimum performance level for UCLA to win against Northridge. But for UCLA to right the season's ship, Muhammad needs to find the game that made him one of the two best recruits in the nation along with Kentucky's Nerlens Noel.
Key Matchup: Northridge Defense vs. Wear Twins
As previously mentioned, size is a massive deficiency on the Matadors' roster. Just one player, Tre Hale-Edmerson, in Northridge's current rotation is above 6'7", giving the Bruins a massive advantage in the interior.
UCLA doesn't have the biggest roster in the world either, but Travis and David Wear have given the Bruins much-needed offensive presence on the inside. The Wears are both averaging over 10 points and six rebounds per night and are working at being better defenders as well.
Depending on how UCLA uses its rotation, both players could be on the floor at the same time and force Northridge to adjust or simply play undersized.
It may not be the most intriguing matchup in terms of big names or high-flying hysterics, but points in the paint will loom large on Thursday.
If UCLA dominates on the interior, there's no way that Northridge can keep up.
The Bruins haven't shown much of a propensity for blowouts, so look for this game to be relatively close.
Nevertheless, talent on UCLA's side will be just too much for Northridge.
Score Prediction: UCLA 78, Cal State Northridge 68
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