Rushed Reactions: Arizona 86, UCLA 75Posted by RJ Abeytia on March 11th, 2017
Arizona took all the suspense out of the most anticipated game of the Pac-12 Tournament by dominating UCLA as well as any team has this year. This is the Wildcats’ team that can absolutely play in the Final Four (and with all the talk of UCLA playing in Sacramento followed by San Jose, why has nobody talked about Arizona playing for a National Championship just up the road in Glendale? Such dreams are no longer as far-fetched as they may have seemed before the Pac-12 Tournament started.
- Arizona’s defense. There are poor shooting nights and there are nights when a team forces poor shots all night. Friday night’s game was the latter. Yes, the Bruins shot miserably from the floor. UCLA’s 4-of-25 performance from three-point range was every bit as ugly as it seemed, but the vast majority of those misses were contested threes. Arizona was willing to allow penetration off the bounce occasionally, but they closed out on shooters, contested passes and fought through screens all night long. They were also willing to put the Bruins on the line in exchange for banging and shoving them all over the court. UCLA made 23-of-26 from the foul line, but they shot only 41 percent from the field with an offensive efficiency rating of 96.2. No Pac-12 opponent had to date held the Bruins below 101.0 in that category this season.
- Lauri Markannen has smashed through the freshman wall. Arizona was forced to send Markannen into the post on its Washington road trip, and that move has really triggered the growth of the rest of his game. Despite a prolonged shooting slump from beyond the arc, Markannen found a physicality that has only made him more lethal now that his shot has returned. Against UCLA, Markannen was the best player on the floor for much of the game. He had 29 points on 10-of-22 shooting to go along with six rebounds in 32 turnover-free minutes. He can hurt teams all over the floor, and he’s becoming a physical and effective defender all as well. It’s somewhat scary to think that we may not have seen his best game yet.
- UCLA is Lonzo Ball and T.J. Leaf. The Bruins as a team have undoubtedly improved from the last year’s group that went 15-17, but they have no answer when both of their talented freshmen struggle against elite competition. Leaf still looked a step slow in dealing with his injured left ankle, shooting 3-of-9 from the field and struggling to find his range in the post. Ball didn’t look like himself for much of the night either, in large part because of the ferocious defense of Allonzo Trier, Rawle Alkins and Kadeem Allen. The superstar freshman logged eight points, six assists and four turnovers, but he did not at any point have control of this game in the same way that he’s controlled so many others. The bottom line is that UCLA is only going as far as its two freshmen take them, and that could be an unsettling thought for Bruins’ fans worried about the NCAA Tournament draw.
Stars of the Game. Lauri Markannen and Allonzo Trier. The Wildcats were stunningly effective (+22) with Trier on the court, scoring 20 points and needing only nine shots to get there. Remember that Trier and Parker Jackson-Cartwright missed the December defeat to Gonzaga, one of which the Wildcats would love to run back with the Zags now that they are at full strength.
- “I love Kadeem Allen. And we didn’’t end his senior night the right way. We wanted to pay him back tonight.” – Sean Miller, when asked about his emotions at the end of the game.
- “When you lose it’s over. Nobody talks about you. It’s deafening.” – Miller again, on the harsh reality of March Madness.
Sights and sounds. These are Arizona home games. Don’t kid yourself. There were 19,224 people in T-Mobile Arena tonight, and a good 16-17,000 of them were in red. Then there was also this:
Sean Miller. Ice cold. pic.twitter.com/Z2XBm6Q1zJ
— Damien Alameda (@DAlamedaKOLD) March 11, 2017
What’s next. An epic championship game rematch from last year. The only tournament final to feature two top-seven teams, the Ducks and the Wildcats will do battle for the second time this year. Arizona remembers its only encounter with Oregon quite vividly and will be looking for some payback. That said, it’s likely both of these teams will be #2 seeds on Sunday evening, although the door to a #1 seed could still be open to the winner.