Rushed Reactions: UCLA 75, #3 Arizona 71Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 15th, 2014
Three Key Takeaways:
- Rare Talent. If you watched the game, you saw it all over the place. You saw it in UCLA’s 6’9” sophomore point guard Kyle Anderson, who had 15 defensive rebounds to go with 21 points, five assists and just one turnover. You saw it in Arizona’s freshman power forward Aaron Gordon, who spent time trying to check the opposition’s point guard as well creating plays of his own, dishing out a whopping eight assists (many of them of the spectacular variety, such as an epic alley-oop to junior Nick Johnson). Speaking of Johnson, this is a 6’3” guy who looks like your average ordinary Joe, right up until the point that his feet leave the ground and then just keep going up and up and up. Jordan Adams, Norman Powell, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, T.J. McConnell, Gabe York, and the Wear twins. There was no shortage of talent on the MGM Grand Arena court this afternoon and with many of them turning in elite performances, it was a fantastic game to watch.
- Toughness. Despite all the high-flying wonderment and spectacular plays, tournament titles require toughness, and there was no shortage of that today. Often things like this are measured in rebounding, and guys like Anderson and Gordon did not disappoint there with Tony Parker (seven boards), Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (eight) and Kaleb Tarczewski (seven) chipping in as well. But it is more than just that. It is setting and fighting through hard screens, like the one Parker set to free up Jordan Adams for what would turn out to be the game-winning three. It is getting on the floor for loose ball, as happened several times today, most famously when Travis Wear dug down deep and outraced Gordon to dive for a loose ball near the end line. As Arizona head coach Sean Miller put it afterward, “If you want to love college basketball, just watch that.” And if you want to win championships, you’ve gotta do that too.
- Redemption. Back in January when Arizona knocked off UCLA at Pauley Pavilion, Jordan Adams had a clean look at a three with 50 seconds left that would have tied up the score at 73. The shot rimmed out. Today, with 45 seconds left and both teams having suffered through some sloppy possessions in the previous couple minutes, Adams ran off that screen, received the pass from Anderson and drilled the go-ahead three – a classic story of redemption for a guy who had his season end at this very event last season with a last-minute broken foot. But his was not the only story of redemption today. UCLA head coach Steve Alford was berated by New Mexico fans for leaving Albuquerque last season, then was welcomed to Westwood with more distrust and complaint. Today he began the first steps on the way to earning the (temporary) approval of UCLA fans, and along the way he won his third consecutive conference tournament championship in this city. The Wear twins also earned a measure of redemption. They have been talked down from coast-to-coast over their five seasons in college basketball, and while their numbers aren’t mind-blowing from today’s game (11 points, six boards, three assists, a block, a steal and a three in a total of 62 minutes of action), but they were instrumental to the Bruins’ success today. They left everything they had on court today, diving for loose balls, grinding after rebounds, fighting through screens defensively. It may have taken the better part of their collegiate eligibility, but the Wears deserve the respect they earned today.
Star of the Game. Kyle Anderson, UCLA. Arizona knew where Anderson was at all moments on Saturday afternoon, and they sent a variety of different players to try to stop him. Aaron Gordon started on him and certainly gave Slo-Mo problems at times. Nick Johnson had more than a few cracks at him. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and T.J. McConnell had their opportunities as well. And at all times, regardless of who was primarily responsible for Anderson, the rest of the defense had an eye on him as well. And, still: 21 points, 15 boards, five assists, one turnover. He was not just the star of this game, he’s been one of the biggest stars this season.
Sights & Sounds. An Arizona Home Game. After playing at Pauley Pavilion earlier in the season, the setting today may not have been the McKale Center but it was a heavily partisan MGM Grand Arena, with at least 90 percent of the fans in the sold-out arena supporting the Wildcats. When Gordon hit Johnson for a spectacular alley-oop jam, the place erupted in cheers. Sure, some of the other bits and pieces that go into making a home game such an advantage (sleeping in your own bed the night before; the regular game-day routine; familiarity with the back drop) were absent, but in terms of fan support, Arizona was the heavy favorite.
Quotable. Arizona’s Sean Miller on Aaron Gordon’s questionable decision to take a three late in the game: “This isn’t Aaron’s fault. This is my fault. I’m the coach. We lost our poise.”
What’s Next? Both teams are off to the NCAA Tournament, with Arizona still likely locked into a #1 seed when the brackets are announced tomorrow. For UCLA, where they’ll wind up being seeded is still up in the air, but with an RPI in the upper 20s, a #5 seed sounds about right.