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Arizona Notes: First Look

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Now that the ASU game is over and done with we can look forward to the game that has been on the back of lot of people's mind this week. Actually the Arizona game at Pauley is one of those games that gets circled in our calendar as soon as the schedule comes out.

Thanks to Coach Howland order has been restored in the Pac-10. UCLA is back as the marquee program of the conference and the entire West. We have taken that mantle away from the Cats in last two years as we have run up 5 straight wins in this series. However, that still will not make up for all the indignation our program suffered in the hand of Wildcats (and Cardinal) during those seven dark years under the previous "head coach."

WWL's Gameday crew is in town for tomorrow night's game on primetime. However, I hope our coaches have the game against Southern Cal (the last nationally televised game at Pauley) fresh in our player's mind. Because if they let any of that stuff distract them they will stumble against a surging Zona team that will be hungry for their own version of payback from suffering 5 straight losses against our Ben Ball warriors.

So these Wildcats are supposedly a little different from the Wildcats of past season. By now everyone knows Lute is taking the year off to deal with his personal issues (we will leave him alone). The interim coach Kevin O'Neil (a former Olson assistant IIRC with lots of head coaching experience at places like Marquette and Tennessee) earned his stripes as a defensive minded coach in the business. So he has these guys playing a little better defense this season compared to last.

They are no longer the second worst team in the conference in term's of scoring defense. They were giving up 72.5 points per game last season [See 2006-07 Pac-10 Stats]. They have improved their numbers a bit this year as they are giving up 66.4 pts a game which is 7th in the conference. [See 2007-08 Pac-10 stats]

And to go with their somewhat improved defense they are coming with their usual high scoring explosive offense. The Wildcats are currently fourth in the league in scoring (73.9) and second in the league in FG pct (.494).

They also lead the league in long range bombs shooting .399 from three point land.

They are led by the explosive combination of freshman sensation pg Jerryd Bayless (19.9 ppg) and sophomore SF Chase Budinger (17.7) who are in top 10 in league in scoring.

Bayless has lived up to all the hype (just like James Harden from ASU). And he has teamed up with Jawann McClellan to put together one off the more formidable backcourts in the Pac-10, which is responsible for Zona being second in league in assists (16.60 per game).

In fact it was Jawann last night who was the x-factor in their conquest of the gap-closers over at South Central last night:

The Wildcats (15-6, 5-3) moved into third place in the Pac-10 behind UCLA (19-2, 7-1) and Stanford (6-2, 17-3).

O'Neill also could have been talking about McClellan, who looked more like a leader in UA's fourth straight win. The Wildcats play Saturday at No. 5 UCLA, which mauled Arizona State 84-51 Thursday.

"I feel good, but the key to this year is that I've been taking care of my body,'' McClellan said. "I'm not doing stupid stuff outside of the court.''

Last season at this time, UA coach Lute Olson was getting on McClellan for being about 15 pounds too heavy. That's not the case this season.

Now, the 6-foot-4, 204-pound McClellan is a heavy burden on opponents. He went 7 for 12 from the floor Thursday, including three 3-pointers, and added eight rebounds, two blocks and a steal.

O'Neill called McClellan's performance "unbelievable.''

Arizona got the ball to McClellan after USC concentrated on stopping UA leading scorer Jerryd Bayless and Budinger with a triangle-and-two defense.

Bayless finished with 10 points, but that gave McClellan more shooting opportunities. He started the game hitting five of his first six shots.
Bayless, Budinger and McClellan form the nucleus of a perimeter oriented Zona attack. Here is what their rotation looks like per
Usual Starters -- F Chase Budinger, F Jordan Hill, C Kirk Walters, G Jawann McClellan, G Jerryd Bayless. Key Subs -- G Nic Wise; G Daniel Dillon.
DC, Shipp and Westbrook will have formidable challenge going up against Bayless and McLlellan. DC will probably get the defensive assignment against Bayless. It will be interested to see whether Howland starts Westbrook again over AA2. He started Westbrook last night thinking he would give him better options against a smaller ASU team that doesn't feature many bigs. I think AA2 could get the start tomorrow night. If he does Howland will probably have Shipp taking on Budinger and Moute taking on McClellan. If Westbrook starts he will take McClellan and Shipp will be taking Budinger. If you think otherwise, I'd like to hear your take on this.

More from Bilas on WWL:
Key Matchup:  Collison against Bayless. I believe Collison to be the best point guard in the country, and Bayless is one of the best combo guards in the country despite being a freshman. There are only a handful of guards who are as fast as Collison end to end, and his defense is stellar. Bayless spent Thursday night guarding USC's O.J. Mayo (who shot 9-for-23), which definitely affected his offensive game. For Arizona to win at Pauley Pavilion, the Wildcats will need big scoring games from Budinger and Bayless. And, Arizona cannot afford careless errors against UCLA, or the Bruins will cut them up.

Key Stats:  Rebounding and free throws. UCLA is the more physical team and more proficient at getting to the glass and the line. Arizona has improved on the defensive end, but the Cats are not as sound as the Bruins; Arizona has to have one of its best defensive games to win Saturday. UCLA has bigger and better athletes up front, so Hill will have to take up any slack on the glass.

Subtlety to Watch For:  Check out how Love gets position in the post and how he uses his body to pin or seal a defender. Love does his work early, and because of that, he is able to execute simple moves to finish plays. He is like the speedy center fielder who positions himself correctly so he can make the tough plays look easy. Also, watch how Love passes the ball. He can really snap off a pass, especially an outlet pass, and have it right where it is supposed to be for his teammate to make a play.

X Factors: Jawann McClellan and Westbrook. Westbrook is one of the top assist men in the Pac-10 and the country, and he makes momentum plays on the offensive and defensive ends. Westbrook is great in the open court, and he can guard multiple positions with his length and determination. McClellan has been slowed by injuries over the course of his career, but he has slimmed down this season. McClellan had 24 points and eight big rebounds against USC, and as he done all season, he made some really hard-hitting plays to come up with possession of the ball Thursday night. Budinger's 29 points were a significant reason Arizona beat USC, but McClellan's plays were just as important.
Also keep in mind Nic Wise is also a solid contributor off the bench. He scored 10 points in 30 minutes in the win over Washington State, then had six points and six assists in 34 minutes vs. Washington. He also was big last night against the TrOJies as he hit some money three pointers (three of them) and also piled up 8 assists with no turnovers in the box score. So our guards will not get to relax when he comes off the bench.

Going back to Budinger, the San Diego product is feeling very good about his team these days. He had this to say after beating Washington State:
"I think we can beat anyone in the country right now." -- Arizona sophomore Chase Budinger after the Wildcats' win over Washington State.
Last year Shipp had the defensive assignment against Chase as AA was handling McClellan. Shipp did a great job both time.

I think the key again for our defense will be our trademark on ball defense. My guess is that O'Neil will try to spread the court and try to run one on isolation plays. And it will be up to our guars to make sure they don't let anyone go around them (like the Oregon guards were doing up in Eugene).

Arizona is going throw a zone against us. And we will have to show the same patience that we showed last night against the Devils. Crisp/sharp ball movement complement with DC and Westbrook attacking the middle will be key.

Also as many mins our starters have compiled this season Zona doesn't have the same depth as us. The Wildcats have three players (McClellan, Budinger and Bayless) who are top-10 in the league in mins played per game. If you are wondering UCLA has only one player in the top-25 in the league in terms of avg mins/game. It's Westbrook who is 12th in league averaging 32/40 mins a game.

So hopefully Howland can use our bodies to wear down Zona.  Arizona is second to last in rebounding margin in the league, while UCLA is tied for first, out-rebounding its opponents by 10.2 boards a game (tied with Stanford). In other words Bruins should look to make their presence felt around the boards getting their share of offensive rebounds and also making sure there are no second chance points for the Wildcats.

I want to close out this post saying that I hope our guys come out focused and fired up but in control tomorrow. Again last time they were playing in front of a national TV audience against Southern Cal, it seemed like they were trying to hard to impress everyone.

We just need to come out and play our brand of basketball, which is grounded in that intense defense and execution on the offensive side of ball. Let's hope we are "on" tomorrow like were against WSU & ASU, and close out the first half of this conference season building on the momentum we have regained in last three games.