The final stats only tell part of the tale of this match-up. As has happened so often this season, the Bruins wound up holding huge advantages in free throw margin and 3-pointer margin. The Wildcats were able to hit 58% of their shots for the game, shooting around that mark in both halves. However, in the first half Arizona committed 13 turnovers, some due to the UCLA defense and some due to simple miscues on the part of Arizona's players, especially Hassan Adams, Ivan Radenovic and Mustapha Shakur. Between Arizona's mistakes and its apparent inability to guard the Bruins man to man, UCLA was able to score 50 points in the first half en route to a 16-point lead. Ryan Hollins scored 8 points, Alfred Aboya got 6 (4 off of steals) and Ryan Wright added 4 as the Bruins repeatedly shredded the Wildcats' defense and either got the ball inside to their big men or penetrated deep into the lane for lay-ups or easy kick-outs for wide open 3-pointers.
Arizona Head Coach Lute Olson was called for a technical foul, as was one of his assistants, as the Wildcats complained long and loud to the refs that UCLA was setting illegal screens. UCLA does set illegal screens, so it's hard to fault Coach Olson for yelling at the refs. The Ts did nothing to rally the troops, however, as Arizona was able to pull off only one good surge in the first, which came between the 1:57 and :53 second marks, when Arizona cut the Bruins' lead from 47-27 to 47-34, scoring 7 straight points by capitalizing on UCLA turnovers after Arizona abandoned its man defense in favor of a zone. Although UCLA closed out the half with a 3 by Arron Afflalo to hike its lead back up to 16 at the break, those last 2 minutes were an ominous portent of what was to come in the second half.
UCLA started out the second half very strong, adding 3s by Afflalo and Jordan Farmar after Ryan Hollins hit a short turnaround J. Just 2 minutes into the half, UCLA was up 58-34, and the game looked all but over. But Coach Olson kept his team in its zone and made it bigger up top, subbing in 6-6 FR JP Prince for the 6-3 Shakur. Suddenly, Arizona was doing a good job of closing out on UCLA's jump shooters, and the Bruins looked tentative and confused against the zone. Over the course of the next 11 minutes, it was UCLA's turn to make the turnovers, and the Wildcats slowly but surely cut UCLA's lead down to just 7 points, 65-58, at the 7:57 mark.
It was now or never for UCLA: Either they had to start hitting their 3s, or Arizona was ready to climb all the way back into the game. The Bruins responded by stepping up and hitting the big shots when it really mattered. Afflalo started the run by knocking down a 3 at the 6:58 mark. Then a comic interlude ensued. Mike Roll stole an entry pass by Shakur. Roll tried to start a fast break and threw the ball to J.P. Prince. Prince tried to feed the post and tossed the ball to Luc Richard Mbah A Moute, who seemed surprised by the whole affair. At the other end of the floor, Roll missed a 3, but Mbah A Moute collected the rebound and scored the basket to boost the Bruin lead back to 12, 70-58. Arizona scored on a pretty pick-and-pop play between Shakur and Radenovic, but then it was Mbah A Moute's turn to finally make a 3 as the Bruins went up by 11. Shakur found Kirk Walters inside for another basket, but on the next possession, when Afflalo found Cedric Bozeman in the corner for an open 3 with just 2 seconds on the shot clock, Bozeman calmly knocked down the shot at the buzzer for his only field goal of the game (on only his second shot of the afternoon). The Bruins were up 76-62 with just 3:20 left to play.
At that point, the Wildcats were just out of time, but they refused to give up. They got a basket, and then UCLA turned the ball over on consecutive possessions. Arizona was able to score on each resulting play, but 2 more precious minutes had ticked off the clock. Jordan Farmar then took it on himself to dribble down the clock before penetrating into the lane for a lay-up, drawing the foul at the same time. Jordan's free throw with 58.5 seconds remaining was the first foul shot for the Bruins in the second half. The game became a foul fest thereafter, with Afflalo marching back to the free throw line over and over as the Bruins burned as much clock as possible on each possession while Arizona, which had committed only 1 foul in the first 17 minutes of the second half, had to foul again and again in the desperate hope that UCLA would miss its free throws. Nope. Afflalo made 5 of his last 6 attempts to finish the day with a career-high 27 points, including an astounding 13-16 from the FT line, an unusual stat for any guard not named Reddick. Afflalo also had 4 assists and was 4-10 from behind the arc.
Jordan Farmar added 13 points, 4 assists and 2 steals. He only made 3 turnovers for the game, not bad considering that he faced Shakur mano a mano through the first half and then had to solve the Arizona zone in the second half. Ryan Hollins finished with 12 points, but Coach Howland yanked him for the last 10 minutes of the game, choosing to go with Alfred Aboya down the stretch as Hollins was unable to keep a body on Kirk Walters, who got 14 for the game, including 9 in the second half. Luc Richard Mbah A Moute, hindered by foul trouble, finished with 11 points and led both teams with 6 rebounds. There just weren't that many rebounds in this game, with Arizona hitting 58% from the floor and UCLA hitting 49%, combined with 19 turnovers for Arizona and 17 for UCLA, and all those Bruin foul shots in the first half (22 attempts in the opening 20 minutes). Aboya got 6 points, 5 rebounds and 3 steals, and probably played his best all-around game of the season. Darren Collison added 5 points and 2 assists, Ryan Wright got 4 points and 3 rebounds in the first half but rarely saw the floor in the second half, Mike Roll hit a 3 and got 2 assists, and Cedric Bozeman finished with 3 points, 4 assists, 2 steals and 4 turnovers.
For Arizona, Hassan Adams led the way with 19 points, 12 in the second half as he repeatedly beat Afflalo one-on-one. Radenovic added 13 points to Walter's 14 as the two Arizona big men combined for 27 points, the same amount they scored the first time these two teams played. These inflated point totals illustrate how teams have learned to stretch out the UCLA defense as much as possible by spreading the floor in the half court offense, overloading the ability of the UCLA guards to rotate over effectively to help out on isolation plays in the post. This aspect of the game does not bode well for upcoming road games against Washington and Cal, both of whom can put two good post scorers on the floor at the same time along with dangerous 3-point shooters. Stanford has Matt Haryasz, the best center in the league, but UCLA will no doubt double-team him every time he touches the ball down low. But UCLA can probably already chalk up the UDub and Cal games as losses unless its post players do a much better job of defending their men straight up or Ben Howland figures out a way to give them some help. Will the Bruins finally play some zone of their own this year? Not likely. Stay tuned.
The game also demonstrated that UCLA can be hurt by a zone for at least 11 minutes at a time, but that might not be enough to beat the Bruins on any given day. The Bruins have too many shooters and Jordan Farmar and Darren Collison can penetrate a zone too readily for that kind of defense to work against the Bruins for an entire game or even an entire half. The Bruins are unlikely to face much zone for the rest of the Pac-10 season anyway, so further analysis on this subject may be moot. But Arizona certainly made the game interesting in the second half on Saturday. Ultimately, the Wildcats just didn't have the horses to compete with UCLA. Arizona lacks depth this season, it doesn't have any good jump shooters besides Marcus Williams, and its big men don't present any kind of defensive obstacle in a man defense, so Lute Olson was forced to resort to that zone. While a zone may produce steals and missed shots, it doesn't allow for many quick transitions to the other end of the floor, which are Arizona's bread and butter. So, ultimately it was a case of picking his poison for Olson in this game. UCLA is just the better team this year.
The Bruins now head up to Washington State and Washington for a tough road trip. WSU is a terrific defensive team which can play at the slower tempo favored by Howland. They do an especially good job of defending the 3, which is perhaps the key factor in UCLA's offensive scheme. Washington, on the other hand, has even more depth than UCLA, and they used it to successfully push the pace and wear out the Bruins at Pauley a month ago. Both games will be very tough.