JC transfer Paul Vassallo has surprised UA coaches and himself with how quickly he picked up the system. The junior linebacker leads the team with 54 tackles (39 solo). GREG BRYAN / ARIZONA DAILY STAR

PASADENA, Calif. - The argument usually begins on the Arizona Wildcats' team bus and carries over into their hotel rooms, meeting rooms - and, really, anywhere players talk football.

The debate is as intense as burritos versus barbecue, the Giants versus the Rangers, "dude" versus "y'all."

Which state, California or Texas, produces the best football players?

"California," freshman cornerback Shaquille Richardson, a resident of Carson, said with a smile. "I think it's something in the water."

For a day, let's assume he's right.

The 15th-ranked Arizona Wildcats will take on UCLA this afternoon boasting a dozen standout Los Angeles-area products.

Eight of them - quarterback Matt Scott, guards Jovon Hayes and Conan Amituanai, tackle Phillip Garcia, wideout David Douglas, defensive end Ricky Elmore, nose tackle Sione Tuihalamaka and safety Joseph Perkins - are expected to start. Cornerback Robert Golden is from Fresno, a day's drive away.

There's no debating the Los Angeles influence on Arizona (6-1 overall, 3-1 Pac-10), which will try to build on its best start since the 1998 season with a win today at The Rose Bowl.

Scott is coming off the best performance of his young career in last week's 44-14 win over Washington.

And although coach Mike Stoops has yet to name a starting quarterback, it's likely that the speedy junior will play at least a few series. Nick Foles, the Texan who started the Wildcats' first six games, traveled with the team to Los Angeles and will be available to play.

Stoops said he expects Foles, who suffered a dislocated right kneecap, "to be 100 percent" against the Bruins.

Foles believes he's close.

"I want to be healthy and play real soon," he said.

The Scott-Foles combination could wreak havoc on a UCLA defense that allowed 582 yards of total offense in last week's 60-12 loss to No. 1 Oregon. The Ducks averaged 6.8 yards per rush and 9. 2 yards per pass.

Defensively, the Wildcats will try to stop a UCLA pistol offense that's been both fantastic and frustrating. The Bruins ran for 264 yards in a Sept. 25 win at Texas, but managed just 131 against Oregon.

Quarterback Richard Brehaut will start for the second straight game in place of Kevin Prince, who is out for the season with a torn meniscus.

UCLA (3-4, 1-3) will also be without starting left tackle Sean Sheller and wide receiver Ricky Marvray, both of whom have been suspended for a violation of team rules.

Arizona, meanwhile, seems to have overcome its midseason malaise.

Foles appears healthy, and receivers Bug Wright (sprained shoulder) and David Douglas (thigh bruise) and cornerback Trevin Wade (thigh bruise) all appear healthy for the first time in weeks.

The Wildcats will try to take advantage of UCLA with games against Stanford, USC, Oregon and rival Arizona State looming.

Win all five games, and Arizona could find itself back in Pasadena on New Year's Day.

"All we control," Stoops said, "is the next five games and what we do."

On StarNet: Catch quarter-by-quarter UA-UCLA updates from Pasadena and read the game story after it ends at: azstarnet.com

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The following Arizona Wildcats standouts hail from the Los Angeles area:

Player Hometown (last school)

OG Conan Amituanai Long Beach (Poly HS)

C Colin Baxter Rolling Hills (Peninsula HS)

DE Ricky Elmore Simi Valley (Grace Brethren HS)

OT Phillip Garcia Montebello (Cerritos College)

RB Nicolas Grigsby Whittier (California HS)

OG Jovon Hayes Los Angeles (Dorsey)

S Joseph Perkins Gardena (El Camino College)

DB Shaquille Richardson Carson (Los Alamitos HS)

WR David Roberts Rancho Cucamonga (Rancho Cucamonga HS)

QB Matt Scott Corona (Centennial HS)

DT Sione Tuihalamaka Hawthorne (Serra HS)


• What: Arizona at UCLA

• When: 12:30 p.m.


• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM