It is fortunate for the UCLA men’s’ basketball program that Arron Afflalo decided to remain in school this season rather than going into the NBA.
Afflalo and backcourt partner Jordan Farmar applied for the NBA draft during the summer. Farmar went through with it and became the Lakers’ first round draft choice. Afflalo was advised by NBA scouts he’d be wise to stay in college and perfect his game. Now he’s having an outstanding junior season for the Bruins.
Afflalo was the key figure in UCLA’s 73-69 victory over Arizona Saturday, January 20, scoring 21 points and holding Marcus Williams, the Pac-10 conference’s leading scorer, to 11.
“That was the most important match-up,” said UCLA Coach Ben Howland. “Luc Richard Mbah a Moute would have been assigned to Williams, but he missed the game with a knee injury. So we handed the challenge to Arron because he’s our best on-ball defender.”
Afflalo said he enjoyed doing the job.
“I always like a challenge,” he said. “Marcus is an outstanding player but I’ve taken on the hard defensive assignments since I’ve been at UCLA.”
The outcome left UCLA tied with Oregon for the conference lead with 6-1 records. Washington State and USC are surprisingly next at 6-2. In a shocking development, Arizona is 1-4 and has lost three consecutive conference games for the first time in 22 years.
Arizona has also lost four straight games to UCLA. Beating Coach Lute Olson four consecutive times is a career highlight for Howland.
It remains to be seen if Mbah a Moute can play Thursday at California or Saturday at Stanford. An MRI on his knee revealed only a sprain, and at the start of the week he was riding a stationary bike, a sign that he’s on the way back.
In his absence, Alfred Aboya will start at forward. Aboya had a career high 11 rebounds against Arizona. His backup, freshman James Keefe, gave the Bruins nine solid minutes and made his only shot attempt, a three-pointer.
With a 17-1 record, UCLA is rated third in the nation.
Arizona will play a high profile non-conference game Saturday, January 27, against North Carolina, and Howland said he is rooting for the Wildcats because a win would be good for the conference.