Bruins Waste Wildcats

UCLA put a run on the Wildcats and went up by 22 points in the second half and then cruised to the win in the semi-final of the Pac-10 Tournament Friday. It was, again, keyed by defense and UCLA's much-welcomed new reputation as a physical team...

The 12th-ranked UCLA Bruins improved their record to 26-6 as they convincingly defeated the Arizona Wildcats (19-12) 71-59 Friday night at The Staples Center in the semifinals of the Pac-10 Tournament. The final score is not indicative of the tenor of the game, as the Bruins thoroughly pasted the Wildcats in this contest.

Arizona started off hot, hitting 4 of its first 5 shots to break out to a 9-5 lead. Then UCLA's defense, combined with Arizona's tendency to make unforced turnovers and UCLA's offensive firepower to move the Bruins on their way to a 21-5 run over a span of 9 minutes, which put UCLA up 26-14. The Wildcats are often their own worst enemy, mixing poor shot selection with turnovers on the offensive end, and poor man-to-man defense. All of this factored into UCLA's run, as did the superb play of freshman Darren Collison, who saw major duty early on after Jordan Farmar was called for 2 offensive fouls in the first 5 minutes of the game (both calls were justified). With UCLA spacing the floor brilliantly, Collison and his teammates sliced up the Arizona defense in the half court, with Arron Afflalo, Cedric Bozeman, Luc Richard Mbah A Moute and Alfred Aboya all contributing to the scoring. Arizona is particularly bad in getting back on defense after a missed shot, and the Bruins, who essentially have no transition game, got some transition buckets anyway with Collison pushing the pace.

Down by 10 at the 8:35 mark, Arizona finally did the sensible thing and went into a 1-3-1 zone that frequently devolved into a 2-3 zone after UCLA began swinging the ball around the court in response. The Bruin plan to attack the zone was apparently to space the floor out, swing the ball around and chuck up the first open 3. The strategy didn't work, as the Bruins proceeded to miss all 8 of their 3-point attempts over that last 8:35 of the half, during which the Bruins managed to score only 7 points. Arizona, led by the one-on-one play of Marcus Williams and Ivan Radenovic, staged a mini comeback, outscoring the Bruins 10-7 over that stretch to finish the half down just by 7, 33-26. The obvious questions for the second half would be whether the Bruins could more successfully attack the Arizona zone, and whether they would regain the defensive presence which had enabled them to shut Arizona down for that middle period of the first half.

The answer to both questions was an emphatic "Yes." The Bruins came out in the second half and turned in what was perhaps their most brilliant defensive effort of the season. Arizona simply could not get an open look or a high-percentage shot for over 12 minutes. During that span, the normally high-powered Wildcats (admittedly playing without star Hassan Adams) managed to score a paltry 12 points. During that same span, the Bruins continued to score in transition, but more importantly they solved the Wildcats' zone. Coach Ben Howland had his Bruins really space the floor, forcing the Arizona zone to stretch so much it effectively became a man-to-man defense. And the Wildcats can't defend very well man-to-man. Collison, Farmar, Afflalo and Bozeman repeatedly split the Arizona defense off the dribble, either scoring off the drive or dishing to the wide open man created by the defensive rotation for the score. Mbah A Moute, Hollins and Aboya all got layups off the penetration by their teammates. This UCLA team is perhaps the most unselfish team in the country, as well as one of the most patient teams, on the offensive side of the floor. They eat up the clock and snare high-percentage shots by always making the extra pass.

Once the Bruins take a lead, they rarely give it up, so gifted are they in chewing clock, especially since they can often put three point guards, Farmar, Collison and Bozeman, on the floor at the same time. The Bruins were relentless in building up their lead, taking a 40-28 margin into the 17-minute mark, a 48-30 lead at the 14-minute mark, a 52-32 lead at the 11:50 TV timeout and their biggest lead of the game, 60-38, at the 7:42 TV timeout. Their scoring included a spectacular lob pass to Aboya from Mbah A Moute for the slam dunk. Even when Arizona tried to apply full-court pressure defense at the 10-minute mark of the second half, the Bruins generally managed to maintain control of the ball, take time off the clock and get the high-percentage look. Between the 7:47 and 2:37 marks, the Bruins used their three point guards to take the air out of the ball. They only scored 3 points in that span, but Arizona could only manage 10 points in the same period. With UCLA up 63-48, they came out of a Howland timeout and, highlighted by Collison's full court drive and free throw after getting fouled on the shot, immediately scored 5 points on successive possessions sandwiched between another Arizona turnover. UCLA was up 68-48 and the game was essentially over. Howland pulled his starters and Williams got a lot of baskets down the stretch, resulting in the final score.

Luc Richard Mbah a Moute gets physical.
The only negative factor of the entire game was Jordan Farmar's 7 turnovers. The Bruins can obviously handle an Adams-less Arizona squad with Jordan coughing up the ball so much, but they will not advance far in the NCAA Tournament unless Farmar is more careful with the ball. Perhaps another reason for concern: UCLA was just 5-18 from 3-point range against Arizona's zone. No doubt most teams will zone UCLA throughout the remainder of the season hoping for similar results.

Collison led the Bruins in scoring with 15 points as he turned in the best performance of his young career (that's becoming a weekly statement). He was simply unstoppable and totally in control throughout this game. Afflalo and Mbah A Moute added 12 points each, with Mbah A Moute being particularly effective in scoring inside against the virtually non-existent Arizona interior defense while grabbing 7 rebounds. Ced Bozeman scored 9 points and was much more aggressive in attacking the basket on offense than usual. Ryan Hollins had another solid performance with 7 points, 7 rebounds and 3 blocks. Alfred Aboya also scored 7 points and had 3 rebounds. Farmar had 5 points and 6 assists. Mike Roll was cold from behind the arc, but contributed one 3 and Lorenzo Mata again saw action when Howland cleared the bench and made a foul shot.

For Arizona, Williams led the way with 25 points and 7 rebounds. Ivan Radenovic had a very solid game on offense with 17 points and 10 boards. Mustafa Shakur (5 points) and Chris Rodgers (4 points) were a combined 4-16 from the field as they were harassed by Afflalo and Collison for most of the game. Kirk Walters contributed 4 points and some truly bad defense to the Arizona cause.

One final note: At halftime, Lute Olson made a very interesting comment when he was interviewed by Fox Sports. He acknowledged that the officials were allowing all of the teams in the Pac-10 to play a more physical game and that UCLA was taking full advantage of this sea change. But in effect he stated that he wasn't going along with the trend. Assuming this reflects his state of mind, it is easy to see why his team has struggled this season and it will be interesting to see where the Arizona program is heading in the future. There is no doubt that Ben Howland has revolutionized west coast basketball, and the rest of the Pac-10 is going to have to follow suit or fall to the sidelines.


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