Arizona Makes It Clear

You wouldn't believe that UCLA played pretty well and put out a good effort in losing to Arizona, 107-83, Saturday in Tucson. With both teams playing exactly to character, it made it clear just where both programs are right now...

This was a game where the two teams performed exactly to character. If you had to objectively predict how UCLA and Arizona would play against each other in Tucson this would have been it. There truly were very few surprises in UCLA losing to the #15 Wildcats, 107-83.

Arizona played exactly as you could have anticipated: they scored in runs, played lousy half-court defense, caused turnovers in their full-court pressure of the Bruins, and were too talented for UCLA to ultimately keep pace with.

For the Bruins: they played hard for the majority of the game, their steady half-court defense keeping them close for a while, and they took advantage of Arizona's sloppiness, but ultimately their inability to counteract the talent onslaught of Arizona broke them down and they lost their intensity while an Arizona player had a career night shooting (Salim Stoudamire scored 34 points on 7-of-9 from three).

The game did clearly expose the limits of this UCLA team. When they play hard for a majority of the game, shoot 66% from the field and score 83 points, they still will lose against a more talented team by 24. The glaring statistic from the game: a whopping 28 turnovers. UCLA, in trying to beat the full-court pressure applied by Arizona's quicker athletes, coughed up the ball repeatedly. It was a complete team effort in turnovers, with the entire squad suffering from a lack of ball-handling ability and good basketball instincts in committing those turnovers.

The game showed the limits – and the development level – of many of UCLA's players. Trevor Ariza's stat line is impressive – 14 points, 10 rebounds and 8 assists. Just two assists away from a triple double. But Ariza's stat line also had six turnovers, which is considerably less than the number he seemingly had. Ariza, no doubt, is very talented, but he showed in this game just how far away he is from not only going to the NBA, but being a consistently good college player. His ball-handling, decision-making (particulary evident in a strange, scoop pass from the top of the key that ricocheted off the backboard), defense and ability to sustain effort are all still very raw and need some considerable refinement.

The game showed exactly what you have in players like Dijon Thompson and Cedric Bozeman. When Thompson, a very good catch-and-shoot guy, gets hot, as he did in the first half, he can shoot you into any game. He had 16 points in the first 20 minutes. But then, in the second half, he showed how limited his game can be. Being mostly a spot-up shooter, if the shot goes cold or defenders start getting out on him better, relying on his shooting can hurt you. He scored just four points in the second half as his shot wasn't going down. With Bozeman, the limits of his ball-handling ability were clearly on display, as Arizona's tough on-ball defenders harrassed him, particularly the stellar Chris Rodgers (who, by the way, is developing into one of Arizona's best players). It also showed the limits of his offensive ability; With UCLA's perimeter players juxtaposed against Arizona's, it's clear how few shooters UCLA has.

The game exposed the difference in the overall talent level that each team must put on the floor. The level of talent and development of UCLA's post players was glaringly clear compared to Arizona's NBA post player, Channing Frye. It showed, while having some talent, just how far away Brian Morrison is from being a consistently effective player on this level, with Morrison showing his wildness again in careless fouls and decisions. It showed how T.J. Cummings, who scored 17 points and played about as hard as he can, can be out-quicked by a clearly superior player in Andre Iguodala. And even though the effort and progress of UCLA's back-up point guard Ryan Walcott in the last couple of months should be commended, there was a sequence in the second half that really magnified exactly where UCLA's program is compared to one like Arizona. UCLA trailed Arizona by 9 points in the middle of the second half. They were chipping away – again – at Arizona's lead, mostly with good defense and a disciplined offense. UCLA executed its half-court offense on one possession very well, providing Walcott a wide-open attempt at a three. It was sound basketball, instituted by good coaching. If he makes it, it cuts Arizona's lead to six. Walcott missed it, Arizona got the long rebound, found Hassan Adams open in transition and he knocked down a three. It was six-point turnaround, the difference between a six-point lead and a 12-point lead. Arizona then went on a run for the remainder of the game. It was the microcosm of the glaring difference between these two programs right now.

The difference, though, thankfully, will be narrowing soon. Again, not to take anything away from Walcott, but when UCLA will have Jordan Farmar open for that three-point shot attempt, it's far more likely that that shot would go down, and the margin would be six instead of 12. And the margin of difference between UCLA and Arizona will have equally narrowed.

Envisioning Jordan Farmar taking that shot made it also clear how UCLA is so much closer to turning this around than they ever have been. While the game made it clear where UCLA is, it also, in that one moment, made it clear how UCLA is so much closer now to getting this turned around. While, of course, it will take a few years for Howland to get the kind of talent into the program he needs to compete with Arizona consistently, knowing that UCLA has Farmar, Arron Afflalo, Lorenzo Mata, Josh Shipp and potentially Malik Hairston coming into the program next year makes us also see clearly that the new era isn't as far off as you might think. We'll look back on the transitional time – when UCLA went from its Lavin-fallout period to when Howland has enough horses to compete -- and not remember how long and torturous it felt at the time.

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