UCLA point guard Lazeric Jones sets up a play against Kyle Fogg and Arizona… (Stephen Dunn / Getty Images )
UCLA guard Lazeric Jones said he likes the environment at the McKale Center in Tucson. The environment just doesn't seem to care for him.
"They don't like me there for some reason," Jones said, laughing. "I don't know why, but they have a problem with me. Their crowd is like that. It starts pregame, and it can be a little harsh. I just laugh at stuff like that."
Forward David Wear has never played in a college game in Tucson. But, he said, "I know it's a hostile place. I'm looking forward to it."
The Bruins wander into McKale Center on Saturday to revisit the site of some tough losses and memorable victories.
It's a key game, as is usually the case in this series.
UCLA, 16-12 overall and 9-6 in Pac-12 Conference play, is in sixth place. Arizona (20-9, 11-5) is in third. The Bruins have downsized their to-do list from winning the conference title to being among the conference's top four teams.
The top four teams get a bye in the conference tournament's first round and need to win three games instead of four to get to the NCAA tournament.
"You look at the stats from other tournaments in the past, and the likelihood that someone can win four games in four days is very, very difficult," UCLA Coach Ben Howland said.
Arizona is rising fast, having won six of its last seven games. That included beating first-place California on the road.
The Wildcats are one of three teams UCLA has a shot at catching. The Bruins, who have three games left, are a game behind Oregon and Colorado in the conference standings.
"We can't do anything about the conference title, but we can still reach the NCAA tournament," Jones said.
A victory against Arizona would help, though that is never easy. UCLA has lost on its last three visits to Tucson.
A year ago, the Bruins lost, 85-74, and finished second in the conference, one game behind the Wildcats. Jones missed seven shots and was scoreless in that game and was the target of Arizona fans. Howland has seen that before.
"It's packed, and they do a great job of supporting their team," Howland said. "It's a college town. It's the only show in town, and they all show up."
Howland said that winning at Arizona became difficult when Lute Olson arrived in Tucson in 1983.
"It's what he built over time with years of consistent winning," Howland said.
UCLA has a 9-20 record in the McKale Center since 1983.
On top of all that, Howland said, Saturday "is their Senior Day."
UCLA center Joshua Smith "tweaked his back" in practice Friday.
"We're not sure how bad it is, whether it was muscle spasms," Howland said. "We'll have more information [Saturday] when he wakes up."
Smith missed the first game against Arizona, a 65-58 UCLA victory, because of a concussion.
Howland said guard Tyler Lamb will start Saturday. Lamb was held out of the starting lineup against Arizona State on Thursday for missing an academic appointment earlier in the week.