The UCLA Men’s basketball team will play their final away game this season in the desert against the University of Arizona (14-1) on Saturday at 5:15 pm/PT. Going into this week, we all knew this game was the one to watch. Not that Thursday’s game didn’t matter, but there is always something more to a basketball game against Arizona. As Alford said this week, there has been separation in the top of the conference with Oregon, Arizona, and UCLA, and we want to continue to show that the Bruins deserve the top spot and an equally deserving seeding in the tournament.
On paper, these two teams are very similar, with UCLA holding a slight edge in field goal percentage and three-point percentage. T.J. Leaf, Thomas Welsh, and Ike Anigbogu stand out statistically, averaging over one block per game. The Wildcats do not have a player averaging more than .6, and while this statistic may seem inconsequential, I truly believe defense is going to win this game. Both teams are extremely talented and can shoot, no doubt. But the team that can rebound, steal, block, and transition effectively will walk away with the win.
Let’s look at another statistic. Lauri Markkanen averages 7.5 rebounds per game, and the only other teammate that comes close is Dusan Ristic with 5.9. T.J. Leaf and Thomas Welsh are both averaging 8.7, and Lonzo Ball isn’t too far behind with 6.1. Second chance points are going to make a huge difference in this game—if the team plays like a team, and works together on defense and rebounding like they do on offense, then this game is ours.
Arizona played Southern Cal last night and beat them handedly, 90-77. Allonzo Trier put up a monster 25 points (which I don’t expect to see tomorrow), so he will definitely need to be covered to minimize his damage to the scoreboard. Markkanen once again brought home the rebounds with seven, so it will also be key to make sure the Wildcats don’t get the opportunity for second chance points. They were shooting 52.9% overall, but only 33.3% beyond the arc, which is something the Bruins also struggled with on Thursday. I’d expect tomorrow’s match up between LA and the desert to be much more exciting than it was yesterday.
As I said earlier this week, I really believe this team is on an upswing. There’s something different about the groove they’re in right now, and I think they have an extremely high basketball I.Q. that serves them well in games like these. Tomorrow is not going to be easy, and it’s probably going to be a nail biter at times. But the recent improvements on defense have made a huge difference and I see UCLA the victors on Saturday night.
Because I’m a bit of a sports softie and I can’t get enough of stuff like this, here’s a bit of nostalgia from 2012 Arizona vs. UCLA at Old Pauley, courtesy of drschlinger (the big moment is at about the 1:30 mark):