Marching to Vegas: UCLA Outwills Arizona In TucsonPosted by AMurawa on January 25th, 2013
From the moment it was first rumored, the relocation of the conference tournament to Las Vegas has created quite a buzz among Pac-12 basketball fans. Adam Butler (@pachoopsAB) of PacHoops will be here every week as he offers his unique perspective along our March to Vegas.
When a bell is rung, the door is to be answered. Whatever that means, UCLA responded to every single effort Arizona had in response to the Bruins’ shellacking. From the opening tip, Ben Howland’s team played as if they knew they were there to win. And then they did. Because sometimes winning is about as simple as knowing you will. Leading into such a bout, certainly from an Arizona fan’s perspective, the buzz wasn’t quite there. UCLA appeared to be a middling program with little to look forward to on the heels of a home loss. That is not how they presented themselves in Tucson.
While Arizona’s season will not be defined by this game, it may serve as the contrarian point to any forthcoming ego inflation allotted by a winning streak. The Wildcats, despite Thursday’s effort, are still a good team. They have room for improvement and will, if they want to fulfill the hype, do such. But to dwell on Arizona and its effort or lack thereof, would be a disservice to UCLA, Howland, and the work they collectively did. Shabazz Muhammad, earlier this week, said he would take it upon himself to win this game. You know what he subsequently did? He won that game with 23 points on 50% shooting. That’s what one does when they take victory upon themselves. When winning is not self-mandated? Your effort looks something in the realm of 6-of-17, zero assists, and five turnovers. That was Mark Lyons’ night, which was his worst as a Wildcat. Bigger picture, 10 assists in comparison to 14 turnovers as a team is not indicative of a group looking to collectively beat an opponent.
No, one team understood the magnitude of Thursday’s game while the other did not. Because the Bruins won that game despite their best player (over the last handful of games at least) contributing a minuscule 11 minutes due to concussion-like symptoms (Travis Wear). Fortunately – and this is indicative of a team on a mission – another player who looked a whole helluva lot like the injured one, David Wear, contributed 15 points and eight rebounds off the bench. Prior to tonight he had scored 21 points over the last five games. And such an effort, along with the 15/5 also on a Shabazz-like 50% shooting from Jordan Adams, generally garners a commentary surrounding some combination of preposterousness and heroism.
Thursday night that was not the case. In the school’s best win in more than four years, Ben Howland played the role of better coach. Ignore whether or not he’s on the hot seat or dead man walking – the level of preparedness, focus and execution favored one team, and they wore blue shirts. Because if you look at the blueprint the Bruins have used en route to a 16-4 record – or more importantly their 11-1 mark of late – it’s been to take care of the basketball and effectively shoot it. Thursday, not much changed from that recipe. This may not resemble a traditional Howland squad, but it’s time to recognize their new identity. This is a quicker paced, high-scoring crew that has abandoned the traditional blueprint of their grinding guru and redefined themselves. For such, Howland deserves credit. As does his team for not getting wrapped up in the emotions surrounding their vaunted program. UCLA won. Arizona lost. And I’m not going to become consumed in the too-big-of-a-picture conversation. Because as of today, the UCLA Bruins are a 16-4 (6-1) and playing like the team we expected them to be.
So was it a learning curve? Was it the freshman jitters they needed to overcome? Did UCLA need to get beyond the eyes of the NCAA – the approval of Muhammad – to become the team we expected them to be? I don’t know. What I do know is that UCLA was the team we did not anticipate Thursday night. Begging the question: Are the Bruins the best team in the Pac-12?