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Villanova Basketball 2023-24 game preview: UCLA Bruins

It's East vs. West, as Villanova prepares to host the Bruins on Saturday night.

NCAA Basketball: UC Riverside at UCLA Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

After the ill-fated 2011-12 season, the Villanova Wildcats have only dropped four straight games once (last season).

They'll look to avoid doing that a second time and try to get back on track at the Wells Fargo Center.

The Wildcats are looking to shake off a three-game losing slump, which includes losses to Saint Joseph's, Drexel, and a recent 72-71 overtime loss against Kansas State.

UCLA was nearly caught looking ahead to Saturday's matchup and is coming off of a narrow 66-65 win against UC-Riverside. The Bruins are 5-2, with narrow losses to the likes of two top 10-ranked teams in Marquette and Gonzaga.

Saturday's Villanova-UCLA game is set to tip-off at 7 p.m. ET. For those who can't make it in-person, the game will be on FOX.

Here are a few things to watch for:

Another scrappy show on defense

Much like the Wildcats, UCLA loves to move a slower pace and work in the half court. The Bruins also place lot of emphasis on defense and rebounding.

UCLA is ranked 21st in the country for defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.

The Bruins limit the opposition to shooting just 32.0% outside the arc, but they're also defensively sound when it comes to protecting the basket, boasting one of the better blocking and rebounding rates in the country.

Just like all Mick Cronin teams, they pride themselves high-pressure defense and generating turnovers. UCLA creates turnovers on 21.1% of opponents overall possessions (50th best in Division I), but it also has the seventh-highest turnover percentage that doesn't result in a steal, which means they'll look to bring the heat and force bad decisions on inbounding plays or on the floor.

Villanova has been struggling with point guard play as of late, so this will be an area to watch. If the Wildcats' guards or de-facto playmakers can stay poised and minimize errors, it could go a long way against UCLA. The Bruins' high turnover rate is mostly off creating chaos and disorienting their opponents, and they actually have one of the lower stealing rates around.

The Bruins' balanced attack

UCLA relies on a shorter rotation and counts on mostly four players to shoulder the scoring load offensively.

Sebastian Mack (14.7 points per game), Adem Bona (13.4), Lazar Stefanovic (11.1) and Dylan Andrews (10.2) all average in double figures.

Mack is a solid two-way guard that is quick on the court. He also averages 4.7 boards, 2.1 assists and 1.9 steals per game.

Bona holds down the middle, with a team-high 6.1 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game. Stefanovic is a versatile guard-forward hybrid, and Andrews mostly handles playmaking duties.

One interesting note about UCLA is that it loves to slash, attack the basket and get to the line.

The Bruins don't have many perimeter threats, but they play to their strengths and are aggressive. They have one of the higher foul-drawing rates in the country (24th) and they shoot 75.2% as a team.

Inside the arc, they shoot 49.6%, which is pretty middle-of-the-pack, but this will be a game that tests Villanova's discipline and ability to stay in front of their man and protect the basket.

Unlike any other team Villanova has played this season, UCLA doesn't rely on the three-ball. The Bruins are 358th in the nation when it comes to three-point attempts, and looking at their point distribution, 83.6% of their scoring comes inside the arc or at the free-throw line.

Villanova operating without Justin Moore

The Wildcats will be playing without Justin Moore, who is ruled out for Saturday’s game, with a knee sprain.

The news was confirmed by VU Hoops’ Tommy Godin.

Justin Moore was available to speak on Friday afternoon and provided more insight behind the injury.

“It was early in the first half on a fast break, my knee kinda gave out when I was going to try to block a shot,” Moore said on Friday. “Initially, it felt like your knee giving out, but I tried to run and it kept buckling so I couldn’t really put pressure on it.”

Nothing was stated regarding Moore’s status beyond the UCLA game, but Villanova coach Kyle Neptune mentioned that “it’s not more major than a sprain.”

With Moore out at least for Saturday, the ‘Cats will have to get through the UCLA game without him.

Who would be your starting five for Saturday night?