The game Saturday night at 6 pm on ESPN against Arizona is a study of contrasts. Arizona is a team that is overrated, starting with their coach Sean Miller. And nowhere is that contrast stronger than in the development of freshmen. Arizona's recruiting class was ranked almost as high as UCLA's (#3) and has contributed little.
The best is arguably Brandon Ashley who is now coming off the bench and leads the freshmen as the team's fifth leading scorer with 7.7 points. Highest rated recruit Kaleb Tarczewski is the only one who starts and plays the most minutes a game at 21 but is not the dominant force who should be given his pedigree. Third best freshman Grant Jerrett is being used as a Travis Wear style backup center that takes half his shots from three and plays on the perimeter on offense, which is good since he is shooting 39% from 2 and 3. In other words the supposed superstar freshmen have been reduced to role players who are not living up to their hype.
Of course the contrast could not be stronger with UCLA. For today's freshman quote, let's turn to the Orange County Register:
Muhammad, Anderson, and Adams combined to score 64 of UCLA's 79 points, while collecting 27 of the team's 40 rebounds. It was the piece de resistance of the trio's performances this season, as the group exerted a certain kind of dominance that you don't see often out of a group with such little experience in big games.
Ironically I think the Freshman could have been even better in the ASU game as Shabazz played most of the game on one ankle and with 1 ¾ eyes.
After missing Wednesday's game because of a sprained ligament in his right foot, UCLA forward Travis Wear remains day-to-day for the Bruins' Saturday matchup with Arizona.
Howland said he was hopeful Wear would be available for the team's walkthrough on Friday, but his status remains very much in question.
Muhammad, who has battled pink eye for over a week now, tweaked his left ankle in the first half against Arizona State. After the game, he said he should still be good to go on Saturday.
Travis' fate may be decided at a walk through today. I think if Shabazz is not hurting, he will have another big game against Arizona.
While Arizona's freshmen have under-achieved and seemed to be poorly coached, their seniors have been their leaders, led by two very versatile players in the inside-outside Solomon Hill and the recently red-hot glue guy Kevin Parrom. Parrom was recently added to the starting lineup and has gone 8-12 from three his last two games to go to 40% for three from the season.
The third senior leader is Mark Lyons. Lyons leads the Wildcats in scoring and is a deadly free throw shooter, the latter being a key to Arizona's success. For those who wonder how U of A beat a very good Florida team, look no further than that stat. Arizona was franticly trying to foul and press as they overcame a deficit, yet they shot more free throws than Florida. How many more? Try 21 to 8. While everyone remembers the Colorado debacle, it is more than just that game. Arguably no team has benefited more this year from the SPTRs than Arizona.
This brings me to the last contrast. While generally speaking Howland is known for his great game plans for the first game of a pair and sometimes falling flat on the weekend, Arizona is the opposite:
Arizona is 4-0 in Pac-12 road games this season on Saturday or Sunday, averaging 74.5 ppg and posting a +8.8 scoring margin
By contrast Arizona is 1-3 in the first of a PAC 12 road pairing. This means more time to prepare does not benefit Arizona and Miller. While by contrast, his senior led team is presumably more ready with less preparation than other younger teams.
Arizona has talent. Kevin Parrom is a winner. But this game may be easy to figure out. In the PAC 12 for Arizona in wins the opponent has scored 70 points just one time in their victories (a 80-70 win over no defense Oregon State) but in their five PAC 12 losses the opponent has scored 70 or more each time (Including 84 by UCLA at Tucson).
So if UCLA can run its offense and score, this should be a relatively easy game.
After a short slump, UCLA is beginning to round back into form with three consecutive victories and five in its past six games. The three-game win streak is the first for the Bruins since their 10-game win streak ended Jan. 19, and the Bruins are averaging 80.7 points during their current three-game run.
Howland is coaching for his life and knows barring a great finish tomorrow night is his last game at Pauley. Miller is safe but someday Arizona fans and hopefully recruits are going to realize Miller is overrated living on Lute Olsen's legend.