Just getting into the NCAA's is not enough. The Cats need to add a few more wins to the resume in an effort to leap over the 5, 7, 8 and 9 seeds. Over the years, those are the seeds that have been most prone to an early round upset, which is something that Cats, and their faithful, want to avoid.
It starts this week while hosting Southern Cal and UCLA. It's been almost be a month since the Cats went on the "LA Swing" and played some of their worst basketball of the season. They chalked up two losses, which looked very big at that time. Now, the Cats are a half game behind the Trojans in the Pac-10 standings, and are only two-and-a-half games behind UCLA.
Let's take a look at these two upcoming games:
USC (18-7, 8-4): This perhaps, is the biggest game of the home stand. If the Cats can get the victory, that would vault them ahead of the Trojans in the Pac-10 standings, and put them as a potential #3 seed in the Pac-10 tournament. We all know how Lute feels about conference tournaments, and sealing a first day bye would be huge for the Cats, especially with a few guys still lingering with injuries and fatigue. Even better, if they can rise up and grab a top-two seed they would face a team that has already played a game in the event.
The Trojans are 7-3 over their last 10 with key wins over Oregon twice and Arizona. For the Cats to win, they'll need to shoot much better than they did at USC. The Cats shot 38% against the Trojans while allowing them to shoot an astounding 53%; but of course that was the "Zone" version of the Cats. There will need to be a swap of some sorts for the Cats to be successful, they need to become the tough defensive team and make USC take bad shots. Being at home and in the confines of McKale should help that to some degree. USC hasn't won at the McKale Center since 1984-85, so they'll be looking to change the theme a bit.
StatFreak101's Key to Victory: Rebounding & limiting USC's second chance opportunities.
UCLA (21-3, 10-2): What a weekend for basketball, huh? Lute Olson has been critical of the "ZonaZoo" at times over the years, but there is no excuse for the students to be lazy in regards to being ready for this week's games. While USC is more important in terms of the overall league standings, in the eyes of the fans this game is bigger than the USC game simply because it's against UCLA. Throughout the years, UCLA & Arizona has fought over who is the "standard" of the Pac-10, and this game should feel no different.
UCLA is coming off a loss in which they were simply outplayed by West Virginia. Of course, it was without their starting point guard Darren Collison, but it's still a legit loss. Collison is expected back this week, so there should be no excuses coming from Bruin land.
Like the USC game, a victory over the Bruins could help the Cats get a higher seed than many expected a few weeks ago. Beating UCLA would definitely be a great "resume" win, which should help Arizona's seed immensely. The Bruins have only three players averaging double figures in points, but their M.O. is defense. They will lock you up, hack you, breath on you, and be able to tell you what you ate last night. However, the Cats have the ability on offense to offset that. They'll just need to make their shots and contain guys like Afflalo, Shipp, Collison, and Mbah a Moute…easier said than done.
StatFreak101's Key to Victory: Offset UCLA's defense by playing sound defense of their own. Good defense will create effective and efficient offense. Also, getting to the free throw line will be a crucial thing in this game as Arizona made ten more free throws than UCLA did in their earlier meeting this year.
Now, I am sure you are looking for some sort of prediction, but I am a bit superstitious when it comes to my favorite sports teams, so I will refrain from doing so. I will let everyone make their predictions on the message board throughout the week. Bear Down Cats!
Erik Thompson is a regular contributor to the Wildcat Insider Message boards. This is his first story for Wildcat Insider.