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Arizona (17-6; 10-3) at UCLA (16-7; 8-4)
Thursday at 8:30 MST in Pauley Pavillion, Westwood, CA.
Last time out: Arizona-Defeated Washington State, 85-68, in McKale Center behind Luke Walton's 26-point, 10-rebound gem. UCLA-Lost at Villanova, 58-57, in what might have been college basketball's ugliest game of the year until Monday night when Villanova lost to Connecticut 46-40.
The Defense Never Rests…Although It Has Improved
Going into the first Arizona-UCLA meeting a month ago, the Wildcats were a team with serious defensive shortcomings. Oregon had twice lit the Cats up with a constant barrage of three-pointers and dribble drives into the lane for easy baskets, averaging 97.5 points per game while doing so. Kansas ran and ran and ran against the soft Wildcat defense and wound up scoring 105 points in McKale Center.
Then came the Bruins. In the first half against Arizona, the Bruin sharpshooters looked like they would all have career-days at the same time and hand the Wildcats their worst loss ever at McKale Center under Lute Olson. The defense was that bad.
However, from halftime of that game on, Arizona has improved its team defense tremendously. Olson said Monday at his press conference that the past two games against Washington and Washington State were the best defensive efforts of the year from his team.
"It's very encouraging to see that we're getting better defensively," he said. "The big change is the activeness of Channing Frye. He's been reacting more quickly and has been attacking the driver immediately. He has played very, very well defensively."
Arizona's efforts to become a better defensive team were bolstered further by the insertion of walk-on Mike Schwertly into the eight-man rotation. Schwertly, with his 6-6 size and outstanding athleticism, will do nothing if not add depth and energy for the personnel-challenged Wildcats.
"With Mike you know for sure that he can defend and get to the boards very quickly, especially the offensive boards," Olson said. "He provides us with some energy because he's such a good athlete. He can guard either a guard or a small forward and he has the quickness to match-up with anyone."
Add Schwertly to the mix along with the vastly improved Frye, the ultra tenacious Salim Stoudamire and the highly intelligent Luke Walton and one sees the pieces of what could be a very good defense.
Arizona faces perhaps its toughest challenge of the season on Thursday night when it goes into Pauley Pavillion to face the conference's most athletic and talented team: UCLA. Factor in that the Bruins have revenge on their mind stemming from blowing a 20-point second half lead in Tucson, and all of the sudden playing solid defense becomes a necessity for Arizona just to keep the game close.
"I'm sure they are excited about us coming in," Olson said. "No question in their mind that they let this one here slip away. We've had a number of excellent games against them and this has been a great rivalry for years now. They are very good when they want to be good. I'm sure they're frustrated with losing to Villanova (too)."
Familiarity breeds contempt
What makes this rivalry so intense is that a lot of the players on both rosters grew up playing with each other in Southern California and make these games more personal than others. Arizona's Rick Anderson, for example, played on the same summer teams with UCLA's Jason Kapono and Stanford's Casey Jacobsen while growing up.
Earlier in the year, on a radio interview, Kapono was asked about his relationship with Anderson and Walton and if he had any funny stories about them growing up. At that time, all Kapono said was, "I'm sure that I have some dirt on Ricky and he has some on me but let's just say that I won't say anything if he won't say anything."
Uh, Jason, think again, bro. Ricky has no trouble talking.
Anderson took the time to recount an incident with Kapono during a road trip in the eighth grade.
"I remember one time we were all in a hotel room," Anderson said. "It was me, Jason, Jason Thomas (quarterback at UNLV) and Willie Hurst (running back at Washington)," In a very animated way, Anderson continues and begins laughing and punching his fist into his hand. "(Kapono) and I got into a fight and were rolling around on the ground and I started pounding him on the head, ‘Bam! Bam! Bam!', and his dad, Joe, had to come in and break it up. That was in eighth grade."
Well, at least now we know why Kapono wears that headband.
Chan the Man vs. Dan the Man (Frye vs. Gadzuric)
In Arizona's 96-86 win over UCLA last month, freshman center Channing Frye got the better of UCLA senior Dan Gadzuric by scoring 19 points and grabbing 10 rebounds while "Gadz" was in foul trouble much of the game. Not only were Frye's points and rebounds impressive, but consider the fact that he was 6-6 from the field and 7-7 at the line. That's about as close to basketball's version of a perfect game as you can get.
"Really?" Frye asked, when told about his numbers against the Bruin big man. "I didn't even know that until right now. Gadzuric is long and really strong. He gets up and down the court real well and he's aggressive towards the ball. He's a great athlete and it's a big challenge for me. I know that Gadzuric's going to get some blocked shots, rebounds and points, but I don't want to make it a Channing vs. Gadzuric thing.
"I just need to relax and try to play my game. I rushed my shots last game and whatever coach Olson said about me is right. He knows my game better than I do."
Olson said that Frye came out, "looking to score" against Washington State in a game that saw Channing shoot 3-12 from the field after starting conference play shooting at a 70% clip.
When the match-up of Frye and Gadzuric was brought up to Olson, he was quick to point out how good Gadzuric can be, especially at home.
"We've got our hands full if he's not in foul trouble," Olson said. "He had the game of his life last year when we played over there, but Channing has been playing very, very well defensively."
Pressing the Bruins?
A lot has been made of possible defensive options now that Schwertly has shown he can be a good defender, including maybe throwing out the occasional full-court press against UCLA because it lacks a true ballhandler. Olson, however, doesn't see that happening.
"I think pressing UCLA at UCLA is suicidal," he said. "A lot of it depends on who you're playing but they have unlimited three-point shooting range with three guys in Matt Barnes, Billy Knight and Kapono. They really spread you out.
"What we need to get better at defensively is stopping the fast break. Our guards have not done a very good job of giving us good defensive balance."
That is one thing that must be improved against the Bruins at Pauley. Gardner, Stoudamire and Bynum have to be able to stop UCLA's athletes from getting out on the fast break and scoring in transition. UCLA is not a good half court team on either offense or defense, so eliminating primary and secondary breaks in transition is a must for Arizona.
PG-Jason Gardner (5-10, 185 Jr.) vs. Cedric Bozeman (6-6, 190 Fr.)
-EDGE: Gardner (Arizona) Due to break out of shooting slump. What better time than now? What better place than there?
SG-Salim Stoudamire (6-1, 180 Fr.) vs. Billy Knight (6-5, 185 Sr.)
-EDGE: Knight (UCLA) Knight shoots lights-out at home but Salim will provide tough defense.
SF-Luke Walton (6-8, 235 Jr.) vs. Jason Kapono (6-7, 220 Jr.)
-EDGE: Push. Two excellent players with Walton more well-rounded while Kapono is the scorer/shooter.
PF-Rick Anderson (6-9, 220 Jr.) vs. Matt Barnes (6-7, 230 Sr.)
-EDGE: Barnes (UCLA) Too athletic for Anderson and has the perimeter game to match.
C-Channing Frye (6-10, 225 Fr.) vs. Dan Gadzuric (6-11, 250 Sr.)
-EDGE: Gadzuric (UCLA) He's at home and should avoid foul trouble this time.
Bench EDGE: UCLA. Especially at home with guys like Dijon Thompson and T.J. Cummings.
UCLA 87, Arizona 80.
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