The UCLA men’s basketball team will look to begin December with a signature win in a nationally televised game when it plays at Villanova on Saturday. The Bruins are 2-3 all-time against the Wildcats, both wins coming at Pauley Pavilion in 2001 and 2021.
Here’s what you need to know about the nonconference matchup:
UCLA AT VILLANOVA
When: 4 p.m. PST Saturday
Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia
TV/Radio: FOX/AM 570
Records: UCLA 5-2; Villanova 6-4
UCLA’s latest result: The Bruins are coming off a thrilling 66-65 win against UC Riverside on Nov. 30. Sophomore point guard Dylan Andrews hit the game-winning shot with less than four seconds to go. Andrews finished with 17 points and five assists.
“It’s a war out there for sure and defense wins games,” Andrews said. “This is the place to be for that and (Coach Mick) Cronin stresses defense 24/7 and also he trusts me and with that, I have to be a coach of the floor. When we’re on the opposite end and we’re playing in a big environment, where we can’t hear Coach on the other side, so I have to be that voice on the court.”
Sophomore guard Will McClendon added a career-high 11 points, which included going 3 for 4 from beyond the arc.
The 6-foot-3 guard is shooting a team-high 42.1% from 3-point range in his first seven games.
“Every time you see the ball go through the hoop, confidence builds so my confidence is really high and that’s good as we take this road trip to Villanova for sure,” McClendon said.
Sophomore forward Adem Bona had only four points and four rebounds and fouled out in 14 minutes. Meanwhile, UCLA coach Mick Cronin, who missed last week’s game and practices with COVID as he recovered at home, has since recovered and will be back on the sidelines Saturday.
“The formula for winning on the road is real simple. You better pack your toughness and don’t expect to win with jump shots,” Cronin said. “You better take care of the ball and pack your lunch and be ready for a fight, to think you’re going to go on the road and score 80, you’re delusional.”
Villanova’s latest result: Villanova, from the Big East Conference, is coming off a 72-71 overtime loss at Kansas State on Tuesday. Junior guard Jordan Longino had a team-high 16 points off the bench and could play an even more pivotal role after senior starting guard Justin Moore left the game in the first half with sprained right knee and did not return. Moore is the team’s second-leading scorer at 13.3 points per game.
Matchup to watch: Bona, who is 6-foot-10 and 245 pounds, versus Villanova senior forward Eric Dixon, who is 6-foot-8 and 255 pounds. Dixon, the team’s leading scorer, is averaging 14.4 points and 6.7 rebounds. Bona is averaging 13.4 points and 6.1 rebounds. Cronin said he wants to see Bona stay out of foul trouble and be a constant impact player for the Bruins, especially with freshman forward Berke Buyuktuncel out with an ankle injury.
“On the list of importance is keeping Adem on the floor,” Cronin added. “That’s like paramount. You want to start talking about success, he can’t self-eliminate.”
Said Bona: “I just have to stay disciplined. I can’t pick up the cheap fouls. Those are fouls I could easily avoid.”
UCLA trends to watch: UCLA has never beaten Villanova outside of Los Angeles and they do not have a win against a non-mid-major opponent this season. The Bruins will follow Saturday’s game with another nationally televised game (on CBS) against future Big Ten conference foe Ohio State on Dec. 16 in Atlanta.
“You don’t just win because of your jersey or they say you’re supposed to win. You have to perform,” Cronin said.
UCLA has four nonconference games remaining before Pac-12 play begins Dec. 28 at Oregon State.