UCLA has beaten Arizona three of the last five times, and they were underdogs in all but one game.
Not this time. The Bruins will not be the only team to beat Arizona in McKale this season. If it were in Pauley, I'd take a stab at the roadmap to an unlikely win given that even first place Arizona has lost on the road to Oregon State and Arizona State, but it's too far-fetched an idea this season on the road. The motivational and emotional issues aren't decisive either: UCLA wants to get into the NCAA tournament; Arizona is in a tie for first in the PAC-12 with Utah, and their second matchup is looming and Arizona has a shot at a one seed.
Before Wednesday night's game, this was a throwaway to me, a "good loss" that would have no impact on the standings or the March bid effort when all was said and done -- the Bruins just needed to avoid embarrassing themselves. Instead, they didn't show up Wednesday. What are they going to do against Stanley Johnson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Brandon Ashley, T.J. McConnell and Kaleb Tarczewski if three players above average in athleticism plus two potted plants can totally take them out of their game plan?
Tony Parker had 2 points and 1 rebound against a center that fouled out against Oregon, Kevon Looney simply could not cover Savon Goodman, 7'0" Thomas Welsh had a shot blocked, and the three guards were faked out of their shorts like high school freshman. Obviously, they were out-schemed by Herb Sendek. The Bruins strengths, rebounding and going to the line more than their opponents, were neutralized. And so much dribbling. I don't have a problem with the shots (except that they aren't hitting enough), but there appears to be a big strain in execution: can't pass inside enough, looking for Bryce off screens too much and not clearing out for Norman.
Still, since the Sun Devils missed four open layups, the Bruins could have won. The stupidity bothers me more than anything else. Two uncontested layups on under-the-basket inbound plays? Kevon fouling out by the sideline 40 feet from the basket (it was intentional but his fifth foul on a play where ASU got a long rebound and everyone was out of place)? Not getting a shot off in time on the final play of the game (for once, I'm asking why Bryce wasn't dribbling or option two on the shot)? Don't they have any real end-of-game-one-possession plays?
The Bruins didn't play enough zone. I was happy they went into a 2-3 late in the second half, except that's a horrible zone for them mainly due to the guards not knowing where to be. Why no 3-2? If it's because ASU can't shoot from the perimeter, I would counter that with the observation that the Bruins are more prepared to play that zone, and they've been successful at it. Looney was covering everybody in the last two minutes anyway.
Back to Arizona -- the Bruins can't play with an athletic team.
The Wildcats are first in FG% -- 49.2%, first in eFG% -- 59.2%, third in FT% -- 73.4%, eight in 3FG% -- 33.3% (from statsheet.com).
They're fourth in rebounds per game -- 35.4 compared to UCLA's 37.2, third in offensive rebounds -- 10.8 vs. 12.8 for UCLA, fourth in fouls per game -- 18.0 vs 17.0 , ninth in fouls received - 19.8 vs. 16.5, and fifth in turnovers per game -- 10.9 vs 10.2.
The Bruins statistical advantage in the usual categories is still there, but in the FLR%, which you know I've been looking at lately, Arizona is ahead, 57.4% to 54.6%. Further, this is one where you need to ask how the Bruins are going to cover the Wildcats?
First off, no one can cover Stanley Johnson. He's 6'6 and 225 lbs. He's Arizona's leading scorer and rebounder at 16.7 and 6.7. You can make the case that you can lay off Hollis-Jefferson and McConnell (he's burned teams that have done this lately), they are not good beyond the arc, and perhaps Tony comes back and holds Tarc in check, but after Wednesday night, I don't think the Bruins can sufficiently keep Arizona off the offensive glass.
On offense, Hollis-Jefferson is capable of shutting Norman Powell down, and Arizona's pack-line defense allows the perimeter pass but closes out on the shooter. The Bruins will have a tough time scoring inside, outside or on penetration.
I will be curious to see what wrinkle the staff has to overcome these disadvantages or if they can pull-off a mind-clearing trip to the Grand Canyon. I'm not optimistic for this game.