Rushed Reactions: Arizona 70, UCLA 64

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on March 13th, 2015


Three Key Takeaways.

When Arizona and UCLA Match Up, Especially In March, Great Things Are Bound To Happen (Mamta Popat, Arizona Daily Star)

When Arizona and UCLA Match Up, Especially In March, Great Things Are Bound To Happen (Mamta Popat, Arizona Daily Star)

  1. This Rivalry Never Disappoints. The six-point final margin doesn’t begin to hint at the sustained intensity in the MGM Grand Arena over the course of 40 minutes of another great college basketball game. Over the past three seasons, the Bruins and the Wildcats have met three times in this very arena in the Pac-12 Tournament, and each of those games has been an instant classic. While the Pac-12 Conference has yet to see fit to make sure that these guys are scheduled to play each other twice every season, the basketball gods have stepped in and seen fit to getting these two together in March. And the classics have had plenty of similarities. As Adam Butler pointed out, the game was tied at 68 with 43 seconds remaining last year when Jordan Adams hit a big three to propel UCLA to the win. Tonight, it was Stanley Johnson with a three with 39 seconds remaining to bump the Arizona lead up to 66-61 and effectively seal the game. The big takeaway is quite simply this: When these two teams play, especially in March, it is required viewing.
  2. One Big Run. Midway through the second half, a slashing Norman Powell layup in the middle of the Arizona defense put UCLA up 47-40, prompting a Sean Miller timeout. Over the next five minutes, Arizona reeled off 15 straight points to flip the script. They never trailed again. So, what goes into a run? How about three T.J. McConnell assists and a layup, five team offensive rebounds, a forced turnover and limiting UCLA’s other five possessions to five missed jumpers and an immediate defensive rebound?
  3. Rebounding. UCLA can probably come up with plenty of excuses: Kevon Looney’s facial injury and resultant mask; Tony Parker’s early foul trouble; having to play zone defense for much of the game. But Arizona’s ability to get on the glass and get putbacks was a key here. The Wildcats’ came away with 40 percent of their own missed shots, turning those into 12 points, a key in a close game. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who struggled offensively, had five of those offensive boards by himself. If UCLA had been as good cleaning the defensive glass today (against admittedly above-average competition) as they have been all year long, maybe they’d still be playing on Saturday.

Star of the GameBrandon Ashley. The ‘Cats junior forward has been good all year. He didn’t make the All-Pac-12 team (all 15 spots that the conference awards over two teams), although he did make the RTC All-Pac-12 second team. But he’s been good. Today, he was great. His stats indicate as much – a career-high 24 points on 11 field goal attempts, seven boards, a block, an offensive rating off the charts – but they don’t begin to sum up the impact he had in this game. Knocking in jumpers when the Wildcats were struggling to find offense; putting in contested, twisting shots at the rim; challenging UCLA bigs Tony Parker and Kevon Looney at the rim. And, don’t for a second think his enormous contribution got by head coach Sean Miller. “I told Brandon this was the best game that I’ve seen him play at Arizona just because every basket and everything he did had great meaning. And that was from the start of the game to the end.” Miller went on to talk about Ashley’s recovery from his broken foot last season.

“When you suffer an injury like he did on February 1 (2014), you not only are taken out of the game for a couple of months, but Brandon didn’t really start playing basketball again until early September, late August. He’s had a great season, but he has to work out in the anxiety and you have to get over the fact that you’re jumping and landing in a crowd. You don’t just again flip the switch and say I’m back. But it makes sense to me now that he’s gotten through 25 games, 24 games, and we’re six months in, five months in, this is truly who he is as a player. And it’s great to see him play that way. And it’s one of the big reasons our team has played its best basketball the last month because I think he has played his best basketball as well.”

Brandon Ashley Turned In His Best Game As A Wildcat (Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports)

Brandon Ashley Turned In His Best Game As A Wildcat (Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports)

Sights and Sounds. McKale Center – MGM Style. The Pac-12 plays its conference tournament on a “neutral floor.” And yes, while the floor may indeed be neutral, the crowd in the stands at the MGM is certainly not. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 90 percent of the arena was decked out in red on Friday night. Certainly, some not insignificant amount of those wearing red were in fact Utah fans, but beyond any doubt, the vast majority of fans here were rooting for the Wildcats, with only a small section of UCLA partisans.

Quotable: Sean Miller on freshman Stanley Johnson and his big late three: “These guys will tell you, one of Stanley’s gifts is he can forget something bad that happened real quick. I mean, it’s not like he’s hard on himself over there, like I can’t believe I screwed something up. He can go from screwing something up to saying, bang, three. That’s what happened, if you think about it. He probably had a judgment call on should I push the ball off that steal or not [with just under two minutes remaining in the game]. He elected to push it. It didn’t work out. It was a huge swing for UCLA. And you know what, a freshman, you would think that maybe he would be gun shy. But he’s the furthest thing from that. I think that’s what we love about him. That was a huge shot. Maybe the biggest shot in the game.”

What’s Next? Arizona plays tomorrow at 8:00 PM against the winner of Utah and Oregon. UCLA, meanwhile, waits. And sweats. They are as bubblicious as bubble teams get. Sure, Steve Alford and Sean Miller both agree that the Bruins are among the best at-large teams in the country, but neither of those guys gets a vote on the Selection Committee. And, as Miller points out: “They do it by numbers.” And what are the numbers? UCLA’s RPI is #65: not good. Two wins over teams in the top 30 of the RPI. Another three over teams #31-#100. A lot of missed opportunities. UCLA can’t be particularly confident of its chances to earn an NCAA invitation this weekend.

AMurawa (999 Posts)

Andrew Murawa Likes Basketball.

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