Mar 15, 2014, 8:20 PM EDT
Arizona found itself in an unlikely, and unknown, scenario in the Pac-12 tournament final: its defense was completely ineffective. UCLA came out and, possibly invigorated by a combination of butterflies and the oxygen pumped into the MGM Grand, proceeded to thump the Wildcats, 75-71 and claim the title.
The first twenty minutes were among the most entertaining during this conference tournament week, and even though the Wildcats were able to keep up with UCLA’s torrid scoring, Sean Miller’s squad hadn’t faced a team yet this year that didn’t fold under Zona’s grinding pack-line defense.
When Jordan Adams hit a three-pointer off a simple flare screen with 43 seconds remaining in the game, a shot that broke a 68-all deadlock, it wasn’t luck: Arizona just couldn’t stop UCLA today. Other than Adams’ three, the final minute was anticlimatic and sloppy, the opposite of what had been 39 minutes of pure basketball.
Before delving into the game’s particulars, it’s necessary to mention how ruthless — in a good way — this rivalry between UCLA and Arizona has become. The two teams battled for every single possession, rebound, and loose ball — Travis Wear diving and nearly sliding from half court to end line should make ‘One Shining Moment’ even though the tournament hasn’t begun — and the intensity displayed by the fifteen participants was truly special. The first half offensive efficiency rating reflects the higher plane both teams operated on: 1.34 PPP (Arizona, on just 32 possessions!) and 1.25 (UCLA).
Since Brandon Ashley was waylaid with a foot injury, the play of Aaron Gordon has drastically improved, and the forward showcased the uniqueness of his game versus the Bruins. Gordon has now shifted to a true frontcourt role, operating from the interior while in the halfcourt, and his ability to be a triple threat has helped evolve his game as well as Arizona’s offense. Whether dishing to Kaleb Tarczewski for dunks, or using his height to find the other Wildcats on the perimeter, or simply operating off the bounce and getting to the bucket, Gordon has transformed into a bigger mismatch.
Yes, Gordon, and the rest of Arizona, missed a bunch of free throws — two of eight (and the team missed six of sixteen), to be precise — but Gordon has been making them in past games, and this figures to be a one-game blip rather than a significant issue that could preclude Arizona going deep into NCAA play.
With the win, UCLA pulled ahead of Arizona as the Pac-12 best team. This offense, when it is humming, is so difficult to stop: even when the Bruins came down to Earth in the second half, they were still scoring 1.12 PPP. When compared to the offensive efficiency rate of Arizona’s three Pac-12 losses — each of which were around .90 PPP — it is clearer that the consistency and efficiency of UCLA’s buckets was unparalleled.
UCLA presents difficult covers at each position. The Wear twins were heroes of the short corner against UA, hitting jumpers whenever their defender tried to help a Kyle Anderson drive, and Tony Parker, the much maligned big who has become a new player under Steve Alford, grabbed several key rebounds and is a bear in the paint.
Regardless of the seed UCLA receives on Sunday evening, the Bruins will be a problem. The speed at which they operate (the team has hovered around 69 possessions this season), the improved play of Jordan Adams and especially Norman Powell, the aforementioned mismatch capabilities of the other Bruins, and the ability of Kyle Anderson to be a match-up dilemma for any player not named Aaron Gordon means UCLA will be one of those teams a top seed wants no business facing either of first two weekends.
Apr 19, 2015, 9:30 AM EDT
DeAndre Ayton is one of the best prospects in high school basketball.
Apr 18, 2015, 10:27 PM EDT
Wood returning would ensure that this young but talented front line wouldn’t lack for experience.
Apr 18, 2015, 8:56 PM EDT
Missouri is hopeful that these two junior college products can help them rebound from a tough 2014-15.
Apr 18, 2015, 7:44 PM EDT
Josh Speidel hadn’t spoken since the crash February 1. His first word: “Mom.”
Apr 18, 2015, 6:15 PM EDT
Chris Collins and his staff have done a good job of recruiting local talent, and they reeled in another player Saturday.
Apr 18, 2015, 5:25 PM EDT
Lightfoot was on the receiving end of offers from Arizona State and Utah before committing to UNM, and the new staff at ASU has already reached out to him.
Apr 18, 2015, 4:39 PM EDT
Miller averaged 16.8 points and 8.5 rebounds per game last season, and he’s an important addition for the UConn front court.
Apr 18, 2015, 4:15 PM EDT
More arrests at Iowa State as two more members of the 2014-15 roster were charged within the last week.
Apr 18, 2015, 3:15 PM EDT
Boise State received some encouraging news this week as Anthony Drmic is returning for another season.
Apr 18, 2015, 2:36 PM EDT
Hammons’ decision to return makes the Boilermakers a Top 25 team.
Apr 18, 2015, 2:15 PM EDT
Rutgers head coach Eddie Jordan has been taking classes at the school in order to complete his degree.
Apr 18, 2015, 1:15 PM EDT
A look at the top storylines from the 14th annual Jordan Brand Classic.
Apr 18, 2015, 11:58 AM EDT
Illinois landed a huge graduate transfer on Saturday.
Apr 18, 2015, 10:45 AM EDT
Coppin State junior guard Sterling Smith is looking like a prime graduate transfer.
Apr 18, 2015, 9:35 AM EDT
Kentucky five-star big man Skal Labissiere believes that the NCAA will allow him to play this season.
Apr 17, 2015, 10:23 PM EDT
Cheick Diallo won named MVP for both the McDonald’s All-American Game and Jordan Brand Classic.
Apr 17, 2015, 9:30 PM EDT
Hoiberg just completed his fifth season at Iowa State.
Apr 17, 2015, 8:20 PM EDT
The Aztecs now have no commits for 2016.
Apr 17, 2015, 7:18 PM EDT
Domantas Sabonis previously announced he would return.
Apr 17, 2015, 6:05 PM EDT
The Jordan Brand Classic is Friday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
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