Bilas previews Arizona-UCLA

ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas took some time Friday to break down Saturday's game between Arizona and UCLA. Read on for his thoughts on the key matchups and more.

ESPN’s Jay Bilas met with the media on Friday in anticipation of Saturday’s matchup between Arizona and UCLA.

As far as the Wildcats go, Bilas sees a team that continues to improve.

“I think Arizona is really good and they’re getting better and that’s what the best teams do, they get better as they head towards March,” Bilas said.

“Arizona’s offense, I think they are becoming a better defensive team, and as that happens and some of their players get better in the system, their offense gets better as a result of their defense.

“Sean Miller took basically his five best players and started them, and now he’s bringing shooting off the bench. That something’s being injected into that unit. It’s not bringing the same thing. I think it’s been really effective.”

Although Arizona is heavily favored, Bilas believes that UCLA has enough pieces to pull off the upset.

“UCLA is better than their record,” he said. “I think at one point I had seen them in the Bahamas and I thought they had a lot of ability and a lot of nice pieces and I think they got off to like an 8-8 start and they have been much better over the last ten games or so.”

If the Bruins are going to win, Tony Parker is going to have to be one of the players to step up.

“They’re capable,” Bilas said. “They’re not all that deep and they’re dependent on a couple of guys that are barometers for them, like Tony Parker is one, that if he plays well they’re good.

“If he doesn’t, they’re not as good. That’s a lot of responsibilities on his shoulders. He’s gotta play well, but they’re capable.

“This will just be the hardest place they’ve played all year. I don’t know how many of their players have actually played here, it’s not very many. I know Steve hasn’t coached here.”

When looking at Arizona, the Wildcats have been successful largely because of T.J. McConnell.

“The guy that stands out the most is T.J. McConnell because of all the things that he brings that you might not see in a box score,” Bilas said. “He’s becoming a better offensive player and a guy that you now have to guard.

“What’s interesting about this team is when five guys are on the floor that have to be guarded, then everybody’s better. You’re not playing four on five and the floor is more spread.

“Even though T.J. is not going to make every shot, he’s shooting really well, but the threat of him making a shot is a big deal.”

It obviously does not end with McConnell, however.

“Their wings are phenomenal,” Bilas said. “I mean, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Stanley Johnson, you don’t get wings like that very often. Stanley Johnson is built like a truck and his hands are huge. I can’t believe he’s a teenager.

“Hollis-Jefferson is the same way. Both those guys can run and when they run the wings, that can be a powerful break. That’s going to be hard. I don’t know how many guys would have the courage to stand in front of them on the break and take a charge. I don’t.”

Arizona is not the only team with talented players, as Kevon Looney is going to pose a major threat.

“I think the hardest guy to deal with is going to be Kevon Looney,” Bilas said. “He is long, versatile. UCLA doesn’t really have to run a play for him and they don’t. In fact, you can argue he is better when they don’t run anything for him and he can play instinctive, grab offensive rebounds, make a perimeter shot.

“He’s a good player. They don’t really have a perfect matchup for him. UCLA’s problem is going to be can they guard Arizona? It is going to be hard for 40 minutes to deal with what Arizona can bring, how physical they are, how well they defend.

“This is going to be a mental toughness game for UCLA more than anything. Can they operate in this environment for 40 minutes? It’s a hard task for any team, let alone a young team.”

No matter what the result is on Saturday, Bilas has been impressed with what Sean Miller has accomplished at Arizona.

“I think he is a great basketball coach,” Bilas said. “He is a great guy and I think that comes through, but he is an unbelievable competitor. People use the term player’s coach and I see him as being that, but not in a way that he caters to players.

“I heard Tony Dungy say this and it captures what I think a coach should be. Demanding without being demeaning. Sean is an empowering coach. He has high standards and you are certainly going to do it his way, but he is very respectful of your game and how your game fits into our game.

“I think he does an amazing job. I have been a fan of his since he was a player at Pittsburgh. I got to know him more when he was an assistant coach to Herb Sendek and then watching him at Xavier and now Arizona, he is on the top tier of college basketball coaches in my judgment.”

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