This day after news roundup will be a little different because Arizona is always a good point to look at the UCLA basketball team. Arizona has historically been our competition in the PAC 12. So let's break this down a bit different. Let's compare the two programs a bit.
Sean Miller is a very good defensive coach and if he was not in basketball he would be a great used car salesman. For every year he somehow convinces recruits that Arizona is a fast team and that they care about offense. Arizona is an ugly ugly offensive team.
Last night we saw why Norman Powell is UCLA's best player. Why you say? He went 5-13 with a couple nice dunks but certainly not a great game. It was what he did on defense. Arizona's number one offensive option is Stanley Johnson. Norman completely shut down the likely freshman of the year and future pro with Johnson missing his first eight shots and finish 1-9 with 3 turnovers. Norman even led UCLA in rebounds last night.
Norman Powell is an all PAC 12 level player and if he was on a better team he would be a candidate for Player of the Year in the PAC 12.
Another factor people don't realize is how important Tony Parker is to the team. We lost because Parker was awful one might say. For the mere 16 minutes Parker played UCLA was +10. Parker changes the game for UCLA by just being on the floor. Arizona's former McDonald's All American Tarczweski could do nothing against Parker. Yes, Parker did have a bad game but UCLA needs him on the floor.
Arizona shot just 34% from the field. UCLA has enough individuals on the team to be decent on defense, although Arizona is a not a good offensive team.
"Our starters basically got punched in the face," Miller said.
Forward Stanley Johnson, the Wildcats' leading scorer with a 14.5 average, had seven points and 10 rebounds but made only one field goal. The Arizona starters were 9 of 36 from the field.
"Ugly," [Arizona Point guard TJ] McConnell said.
One has to wonder why Powell has not spent the whole season covering the other team's best player 1-3. One also has to wonder how we can't recruit better against Miller since very few recruits say I want to play "ugly" offense.
Last year Kyle Anderson improved exponentially shooting outside. That may in part be due to Steve Alford's coaching. This year Kevon Looney may be improving at a similar pace. Looney in the last four games has shot 8-12 from three. He also hit a long two last night with his foot on the line.
Looney is scary if he can hit threes, drive and do everything except (ironically for a 6'10" guy) post up. Of course, the bigger question is do you want Looney on the perimeter? Looney keyed our second half 17-0 run hitting some outside shots.
But the tradeoff for taking Looney away from the basket is we had one offensive rebound for the game! Again Sean Miller said.
Arizona, the leading rebounding team in the Pac-12, had a 40-23 advantage on the boards to overcome its 34.0 percent shooting from the field. Arizona leads Division I in defensive rebound percentage.
"That's one thing we did well," Miller said.
Really on offense this could have been anther Kentucky game. Removing one player UCLA was 1-13 in the first half. No one for UCLA could buy a bucket except for Bryce. If Bryce was cold UCLA would have been looking at another 7 point half (literally). But Bryce was hitting including on some questionable shots.
Maybe this is why Steve Alford was surprisingly happy throughout the game. At halftime he gave positive comments to ESPN which Bilas did not buy.
Afterward, Steve Alford was resigned but encouraged.
"I thought we did a lot of good things," he said.
Maybe Steve is just trying to stay positive or maybe he thinks his son had a good game on offense and that is enough.
But on the other hand, there was a difference between the 7-0 run in the first half and the 17-0 run to start the second. In the first half it seemed Arizona was nervous and tight. They literally gave the ball to UCLA. Or maybe UCLA's defense was the cause. In the second half, the potential of this team on offense was showing a bit.
UCLA opened both the first and second halves on scoring runs but was unable to continue its momentum through the final minutes of each half. The Bruins (16-12, 8-7 Pac-12) raced to a 7-0 lead to start the game, holding Arizona scoreless over the first 6:05.
After falling behind by a 32-18 margin at halftime, UCLA opened the second half on a 17-0 scoring run to secure a 35-32 lead with 13:26 to play.
. . .Arizona closed the first half on a 19-5 scoring run to secure a 14-point cushion at halftime. UCLA's strong second half run began with five straight points from Looney before Powell's dunk closed the gap to 32-25 at the 16:50 mark.
Alford and Looney nailed back-to-back 3-pointers before Powell's layup at the 14:29 mark gave UCLA a 33-32 cushion. The Bruins extended their advantage to 35-32 on a pair of free throw shots from Alford.
If UCLA can score on Arizona's starting defense they should be able to score on anyone.
Arizona's bench killed UCLA. Arizona's bench may be better than their starters on offense but this loss may have been determined before the season started. Tony Parker was +10 and Kevon Looney (as he has been in many of our losses) was +4; both were the best on the team, Thomas Welsh was -16 and GG was -13 for the worst on the team. I like GG but the fact remains he does not rebound for his height. In his last 44 minutes and five games he has 5 rebounds. Not an acceptable rate for a 6'10" guy.
Thomas Welsh does a decent job of using his height on defense but he is too weak and easily pushed around. Arizona's backup center had 12 points in the first half and showed what a polished player can do to the raw and weak Welsh.
As ChampionUCLA wrote:
Our first 5 beat their first 5
Which brings us to Steve Alford. Miller recruited a bench that was the difference in the game. Miller was unhappy with his team in a win while Alford seemed okay with his team in a loss. Arizona is going to have a top seed in the West for the NCAA tournament and has a great recruiting class. UCLA has no recruits as of now to replace their best players: small forward Norman Powell and starting power forward Kevon Looney.
Which brings us to the last thought from Steve Alford.
You can come into a building like this and take them out of a lot of those things, obviously, we are not into moral victories, but I really liked how our guys fought tonight. I thought that we played well and that we got better.
To put it charitably UCLA's NCAA Tournament chances are in jeopardy. All seem to agree UCLA has the second most talent in the PAC 12, but it is not going to finish second. So yes, UCLA is playing better than it was earlier in the season but is it where it should be?
Most importantly as a UCLA fan are you happy?