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March 6, 2014

UCLA looking to sweep key games in Washington

With a mixed track record on the road throughout conference play, UCLA heads out on the road in hope of claiming its final two games of the regular season.

The Bruins have managed to etch an 11-5 record in Pac-12 play, which is currently enough to slot them second in the conference, but three of their losses have fallen on the second game of a road trip.

That disheartening trend has rendered the team eager to compile its first road sweep in its final regular-season stretch this week.

"It's been tough. This whole year, we haven't got a [road] sweep," sophomore guard Jordan Adams said. "This is our last chance at it, and hopefully we can get it."

UCLA heads up north to take on the Washington schools for its final pair of regular-season Pac-12 matchups.

Both teams are in the lower tier of the conference, but the Bruins are nonetheless determined to maintain focus and perspective heading into the trip.

"We got one more opportunity to play well and get some wins here at the end of the regular season before we get into postseason play," head coach Steve Alford said.

It is, after all, the month of March, which beckons the Bruins to get their act together before playing in the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas and then the almighty NCAA Tournament shortly thereafter.

While UCLA was able to put together a comeback home victory against Oregon State, it has lost two of its last three games, including a double-overtime thriller in Pauley Pavilion against Oregon.

The Bruins have already secured at least a No. 4 seed in the forthcoming conference tournament, but their sights are set on a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.

To achieve that goal, they know they'll have to play consistent basketball night in, night out - all away from the comfort of Pauley Pavilion.

"We want to work on getting better at being able to play one game on a Thursday night and then two days later coming back with the same energy," point guard Kyle Anderson said. "We want to get both of these games here on the road."

On the front end of their final road trip, UCLA will face Washington, an 8-8 team that has been inconsistent but nonetheless a dangerous team in stretches.

The Huskies, whom the Bruins have yet to face this season, have won their last two games, thanks to a combination of strong guard and post play.

With a trio of productive guards - senior C.J. Wilcox (18.2 ppg), sophomore Andrew Andrews (12.2 ppg) and freshman Nigel Williams-Goss (13.4 ppg) - and senior forward Perris Blackwell (10.5 ppg), Washington has a diverse array of offensive weapons that can potentially overwhelm UCLA when the two teams meet up in Seattle on Thursday.

"Those two guards, complimenting Wilcox - who's as good as it gets - are a big concern," Alford said. "And then, Blackwell is somebody inside that demands a lot of attention just because of what he does in the low post."

Nevertheless, UCLA has its own assortment of offensive weapons, including Zach LaVine, who has been heating up lately after an extended cold spell.

The freshman guard, who averages 10.7 points per game on the season, has been averaging 13 points in his last three games after averaging five points in his prior seven games for the Bruins.

LaVine will have a surplus of motivation to be a spark coming off the bench for UCLA on Thursday.

It will be the first time the Seattle native plays in his hometown in a UCLA uniform, and while he'll have family and friends in attendance cheering him on, he's expecting a chorus of boos in Alaska Airlines Arena, as he was also recruited by Washington.

"I'm gonna get a lot of boos," said LaVine, who attended Bothell High School in the Seattle metropolitan area. "Hopefully, I get some applause from my family and friends there. It's always fun to go home and play. You always want to have a good showing out there."

LaVine and the Bruins need a good showing on Thursday not only to secure a top seed in the conference tournament but to also polish their résumé for a decent seed in the NCAA Tournament.

"We know how focused we got to be and we gotta make the most of it," Anderson said.


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