Pac-12 Tourney: Arizona Preview

UCLA takes on higher-seeded Arizona in the Pac-12 Tournament Thursday, but UCLA is a tough match-up for the Wildcats...

"Win and advance" is the mantra in college basketball this time of year and that's about the only thing that was positive about UCLA's first round victory over USC in the Pac 12 Tournament. With the win, the Bruins advance to face the Arizona Wildcats in the quarterfinals with a 2:30 PM local tip-off time.

Many Bruin fans (especially those on BRO) are over-reacting a bit after UCLA's pretty poor performance against arguably the worst major college team in the country. Take a step back, however, and things probably are about where they should be going into the Arizona game.

Anyone who thought that UCLA wouldn't come out at least a bit flat against the Trojans is either naïve or delusional. Virtually any favored team facing the same situation (poor opponent with a tougher one immediately on deck) would have come out the same way.

But the fact that the Bruins were down by as many as nine points in the first half didn't show how disinterested the Bruins were, but rather how mediocre they are as a team. UCLA simply can't mail in any games this season and the first-half play was indicative of that. Obviously, if the Bruins come out and beat Arizona on Thursday then the performance against the Trojans will be quickly forgotten.

Perhaps it was the fact that UCLA was playing a poor team, and perhaps it was that UCLA ran into a game plan that frustrated the Bruins. Regardless, the Bruins are certainly playing a better team in the Wildcats Friday. While the Cats may be considerably better than the Trojans, they still aren't a great team, however.

The two teams split their two games during the regular season with each winning on their home floor, but anyone who saw both games had to come away knowing that UCLA was probably the better team. Much of that has to do with Arizona being a good match-up for the Bruins. Although Josh Smith has had a disappointing season, he has the ability to change a game if his intensity is high. Arizona simply has no one player (or even two) who can guard Smith if the Bruin post decides to bring his A game. It will be interesting to see how Smith plays after having missed the first half of the win over USC because of being late to the team bus to the game. On one hand you could see Smith sulking at having to have his hand slapped. On the other hand, you can see that playing just 8 minutes against USC Wednesday might have him more rested and effective against the Wildcats.

Another aspect that will certainly hurt the Wildcats is the fact that starting point guard Josiah Turner will not play. While Turner didn't have particularly good games against the Bruins either time he faced them (3 assists against 7 turnovers), he has been coming on as of late and had clearly been given the keys to Coach Sean Miller's squad. The Cats aren't a particularly deep team and Turner's absence (he didn't even accompany the team to Los Angeles) means that freshman Nick Johnson will probably have to start at the point with sophomore Jordin Mayes now becoming the only guard off the bench. Mayes should be critical as he has yet to fully recover from an injury earlier this season and may not be ready to log more than ten minutes.

The reason the Bruins struggled for much of the first half against the Trojans was because they settled for outside shots and they played at USC's pace. Chances are that Miller won't have his guards sag so far off the Bruin guards as USC did thus opening things up inside for the Bruin forwards. Further, UCLA probably won't be so lazy as to not get the ball inside on the majority of its possessions and won't allow Arizona to continually dictate the pace of the game.

UCLA will certainly have its hands full dealing with Arizona's "inside" players, Jesse Perry and Solomon Hill. Perry is very active but is more about his work ethic and effort than his talent. As Josh Gershon pointed out in a post on BRO earlier this week, Perry isn't a very effective passer and tends to be a black hole when he gets the ball. If the Bruins run a second player at him he will turn the ball over enough times to affect the outcome of the game.

Hill is a similar player to Perry in that he likes to play with his back to the basket, but he can also shoot out to the three-point line. He is, quite frankly, the most difficult player for UCLA to guard when playing the Wildcats.

The Bruins will certainly have to do as good of a job at hedging screens as they did against Washington in the second half last weekend, but it would behoove Howland to remember that Arizona is not a good outside shooting team. The one exception is senior Kyle Fogg, who almost single-handedly beat the Bruins in the second half of the game in Tucson. However, Fogg isn't nearly the player on the road this season as he has been at home and in Tyler Lamb he will be matched up against a player who can actually shut him down.

The keys will be slowing down Fogg, taking advantage of the size mismatch the Burins have in the post and being patient on offense. Certainly the game will have its ebbs and flows, but UCLA is a better team when playing at home and should be able to take advantage of Arizona's recent lack of depth. The loss of Turner may be too much for Arizona to overcome as the Bruins look to win and advance.

Arizona 63

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