LOS ANGELES - When the Pac-12 basketball schedule surfaced this season, March 2 was always the date that stuck out.
Arizona at UCLA. The two clear preseason favorites to win the Pac-12. Playing at the newly renovated, and likely sold-out Pauley Pavilion. With maybe the conference championship and a high seed in the NCAA tournament's West Region on the line.
It was too much to resist.
ESPN's "College GameDay" planners grabbed the date, deciding long ago to put its basketball show on at UCLA today. And, well, didn't the rest of us circle it, too?
Now it's here. It's just that the matchup is not exactly what was expected.
Oregon is in a first-place tie in the loss column with UCLA. And Arizona is tied with Cal for third, meaning that the No. 11 Wildcats can mostly hope for a share of the conference title if they can beat UCLA today and ASU in their regular-season finale on March 9.
The Bruins can't assure themselves of an outright conference title or a No. 1 Pac-12 tournament seed even if they win today and sweep in Washington next weekend. Like Arizona, they would lose a tiebreaker with Oregon because they lost to the Ducks and did not get a second chance.
But, well, whatever.
It's still Arizona against UCLA. There are still significant conference and postseason implications. Tickets are still sold out. It's still on ESPN, with "College GameDay" folks still adding pregame spice.
And emotions still figure to be plenty high.
"It's why kids come to UCLA, to have 'College GameDay' come to campus for a game against Arizona," UCLA coach Ben Howland said. "It doesn't get any better than that."
Besides, Howland said, the Bruins still control their ability to get at least a share of the conference title if they can win out. They have been projected as a No. 7 NCAA tournament seed by ESPN's Bracketology, so they have plenty of incentive to improve their postseason placement, too.
Of course, the Wildcats have incentives of their own. Arizona fell out of the virtual first-place tie on Wednesday by losing 89-78 at USC on Wednesday, when the Trojans shot 61 percent from the field.
"I know they're going to be very hyped up and motivated," Howland said. "Any time a good team is coming off a loss, that gives you an edge like, 'I don't want to feel that again.' We have to understand that and know that going into this."
Actually, UA coach Sean Miller has been feeling a bit edgy since even before the USC game, and even before the Wildcats allowed Washington State to shoot 52 percent in the second half at McKale Center last Saturday.
But after he watched UCLA beat ASU in overtime on Wednesday, there was even more cause for concern.
"Our quest is to be as ready was we can be for tomorrow's game against UCLA," Miller said Friday before the Wildcats practiced at Pauley.
"I thought they had a great performance against Arizona State, just a classic game that either team could have won," he added. "It was two teams playing really hard late in their season, and you could tell a lot was at stake. And just watching their three freshmen, Shabazz Muhammad, Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams … they're continuing to develop.
"They're a talented team, a very well-coached team, and they're an excellent team. We recognize it's a great challenge for any of our teams to win at Pauley, but I think in late February at Pauley we really have to be at our best."
It's not just the UCLA freshmen, of course. The Bruins are expected to return junior Travis Wear from a foot injury today, and he and brother David have historically played well against Arizona.
Then there's senior point guard Larry Drew II, whom Miller raved about Friday. Not only because Drew is second nationally with a 3.46-1 assist-turnover ratio but also because he had nine assists and directed an opportunistic UCLA attack in the Bruins' 84-73 win over Arizona on Jan. 24 at McKale Center.
"We have to really do a better job of defending him because he created so well for others," Miller said. "I thought the biggest stat in the game at McKale - everyone will talk about our slow start, and rightly so - but part of our story was our turnovers that led directly to points.
"The points they got off turnovers was the reason for the score, and if we can negate that and then try to rebound the ball, that's our best chance."
So it is basic things like defending, rebounding and taking care of the ball that matter to Miller.
Not the Pac-12 standings, which have four teams all within a game of each other at the top, with Colorado just a loss behind everyone else.
"That's not our focus right now," Miller said. "Our focus has to be about us and trying to play the very best we can. We did not play well against USC, and I'll take the responsibility for that.
"Any time a team shoots the percentage they shot this late in the season, it's something that is bothersome. We're addressing it, and hopefully … we will have kind of a lesson learned from this point on, that we can get our defense intact. That's something that's been good to us, and it's a shame that we would lose it now."
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• Who: No. 11 Arizona at UCLA
• When: 7 p.m.
• TV: ESPN
• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM
Contact reporter Bruce Pascoe at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4145. On Twitter @BrucePascoe