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No. 23 UCLA the best team in the Pac-12 because of their … defense?

Feb 20, 2014, 1:55 AM EDT

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Don’t look now, but the best team in the Pac-12 no longer resides in the state of Arizona.

Yeah, I said it.

No. 23 UCLA is the best team in the conference as of this moment, and their 86-66 win at Cal on Wednesday night only reinforced that notion. That could change, mind you, especially if No. 4 Arizona can ever figure out their issues on the offensive end of the floor. The only constant in the Pac-12 this season is that no one has been consistent, where success hasn’t lasted much longer than your standard, run-of-the-mill Sunday hangover..

But gun-to-head, if you’re asking me who I think would win the Pac-12 tournament if it were held this weekend, my money would be riding with Steve Alford and the Bruins.

It starts with their offense, because everyone knows that UCLA can put up points with the best of them. UCLA gets up and down the floor, capitalizing on the ability of the ever-underrated Kyle Anderson. He once again came close to posting a triple-double on Wednesday, finishing with 11 points, nine boards and seven assists. Jordan Adams was even better, finishing with 28 points, six boards, five assists and five steals in the win.

With the different looks up front that the trio of David Wear, Travis Wear and Tony Parker allow and the scoring pop provided by Zach LaVine and Bryce Alford off the bench, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Bruins are putting up points.

But that’s not why they’re winning games in Pac-12 play.

What’s changed with this team is that they are actually defending now.

According to KenPom, after giving up just 66 points in 65 possessions to Cal, UCLA is ranked 24th nationally in defensive efficiency. Would you have guessed that? With all the criticism that the Bruins got throughout the early part of the season for their struggles on that end of the floor, this team is now more efficient defensively that Villanova, Texas, UConn, Iowa and Kansas.

Because of a quirk in the Pac-12 schedules, UCLA won’t get another crack at Arizona this season unless they square off in the Pac-12 tournament.

Which is a shame, because that might have been their only chance to prove how good they actually are.

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