UCLA plays Arizona tomorrow at 6 pm on ESPN 2. While I try not to predict things in these previews, I believe UCLA has a legitimate shot to win this game. The first factor is UCLA is playing at home. As discussed here, the bench plays better at home. I also hope this will help get Tony Parker out of his recent funk.
The second factor is Arizona. Arizona is a defense first team but not a team that forces a lot of turnovers. (They actually have more turnovers than their opponents this season.) Coach Sean Miller's offense has never been a transition offense nor are they particular adept at making threes, UCLA's biggest defensive weaknesses. Like Kentucky and Gonzaga, if UCLA plays hard, its "pack it in defense" may work.
Also, keep in mind this is not the "loaded" Arizona team of past years. It's star is Ryan Anderson:
Former Long Beach Poly star Ryan Anderson, whose basketball journey has made a fortuitous stop in Tucson, visits Southern California this weekend perhaps bigger and better than many remember him. Five years ago, he was the first Jackrabbits player to be named Mr. California Basketball, as well as accepting the Gatorade State Player of the Year, after averaging 16.5 points, 9.7 rebounds and 2.2 assists while shooting 55 percent from the floor. With that, he moved onto Boston College, where he put up 11.2, 14.9 and 14.3 points and 7.4, 8.0 and 7.3 rebounds a game in three seasons against ACC competition. But the team's struggles cost Steve Donahue his coaching job. Anderson decided to transfer, to Arizona, and sit the 2014-15 season, but he had to rehab a shoulder injury anyway. From there, the 6-foot-9 forward went from being listed at 216 pounds to where he's at 235 today - and he impressed Wildcats coach Sean Miller by once bench-pressing 185 pounds 21 times, "the most in our program's history," Miller noted. Said Anderson: "I think my high school coach (Sharrief Metoyer) put it best. He said ‘You had nothing else to do last year except lift' so I don't put too much into (the record), but at least I know my name will be up there for a while."
For the record, Anderson leads the No. 8 Wildcats (13-1, 1-0) in double-digit scoring and rebounding this season, including a Pac-12 opening win over Arizona State. The team taking on UCLA (10-5, 1-1) and USC (12-3, 1-1) this weekend doesn't look much like the one from a year ago that went to the NCAA West Regional finals. Three starters filtered to the NBA, another graduated, and the fifth, 7-footer Kaleb Tarczewski, has been slowly coming back from an injury suffered in November. Freshman Allonzo Trier and senior guard Gabe York (Orange Lutheran High) have been teaming up with Anderson to generate the Wildcats so far.
Anderson doesn't shoot threes and Arizona's point guards Kadeem Allen and Parker Jackson Cartwright are shooting 27 and 23 percent from three. Obviously their bigs of Kaleb Tarczewski and Dusan Ristic don't shoot threes either. This means it comes down to two players.
Senior starting guard Gabe York is phenomenal three shooter and has long been Arizona's designated long range specialist. This year he has stepped up that role and is third in the conference in makes and sixth in the conference in percentage shooting threes. However, both Kentucky with Jamal Murray (who went 5-11 from three, rest of the team 3-14) and Gonzaga (Kyle Wiltjer 4-9, rest of the team 2-17) had one guy who torched us from three while the rest of the players stunk.
So the key player in the Arizona game maybe 6'6" Freshman Allonzo Trier. Trier is shooting 34% from three. Can the freshman make UCLA pay for its packed in defense. Will Pauley be loud and crazy making it tougher on the freshman on the road?
Of course, this strategy may backfire on defense even though it has sort of worked in the past.
This year, Arizona is shooting 48.5 percent from the field and enters Thursday's matchup coming off one of its best offensive performances of the season, a 12-point win at Arizona State in which the Wildcats shot 56 percent from the field and 59 percent on threes.
Of course, the other issue is can UCLA score on Arizona's defense. For last year UCLA at Arizona held Arizona to 57 points and 34% shooting overall and 23% from three in their regular season loss to Arizona but UCLA was only able to muster 47 points.
A few reason for optimism here. UCLA's Parker, Looney and Welsh all fouled out of that game. At home, the SPTR will probably be a little more generous to UCLA. IF UCLA can stay out of foul trouble, that could make a big difference.
Second, when this team is playing well on offense, all five starters can score. Last year the team was not nearly as balanced.
Of course just as with Arizona possibly shooting better this season, there is another issue here. While all five starters can score, Tony Parker and Bryce Alford have been slumping. Bryce went 7-31 on the Washington road trip. However, that may be a product of being on the road. Bryce has been bad in road or neutral court games (27-87 or 31%) vs. home games(48-108 or 44%).
Tony Parker is more complicated. With the exception of the UNLV game where he only played 11 minutes, Tony's three worst shooting games have been his last three. McNeese State was not a tough game and it was at home. UCLA needs to Tony to step it up to win tomorrow night.
So yep, I would not be shocked if a pumped up UCLA beats the Wildcats tomorrow night. Yes, a number of things have to go right (especially Tony Parker) but it would not exactly be a huge upset.