Arizona Week: Players Not Returning

Posted by AMurawa on June 26th, 2012

Even at the start of last season, head coach Sean Miller knew that the 2012-13 team would be absent four seniors who had completed their collegiate eligibility (Jesse Perry, Kyle Fogg, Brendon Lavender and Alex Jacobson). But, given that Miller was welcoming in a strong four-man 2011 recruiting class and had already dialed in an elite 2012 recruiting class, the Wildcats still figured to be a deep and relatively young squad. However, as is so often the case these days in college basketball, half of last year’s four freshmen never stuck around long enough to see their sophomore seasons in Tucson, and would-be senior Kyryl Natyazkho also decided to forgo his final season of eligibility in pursuit of a professional career in Europe. As a result, instead of simply losing four players from last year’s team, there are a total of seven players who earned minutes last year who will not be in UA uniforms next season. We’ll look at all seven players below, roughly in the order of the degree to which they will be missed.

Kyle Fogg, Arizona

After Four Strong Years In Tucson, Kyle Fogg Finds Himself On Several All-Time Lists (John Miller, AP)

  • Kyle Fogg – Fogg came to Tucson in relative obscurity in the class of 2008, a late bloomer ranked as just the 64th best shooting guard in his recruiting class by ESPNU. Four ever-improving seasons later, Fogg bowed out while holding some pretty impressive spots on the all-time Wildcat lists. He’s fifth on the all-time list in games started and first in games played, fourth in three-point field goals made, and seventh in minutes played. He’s 22nd all-time on the Wildcat career scoring list, quite impressive given some of the elite players who have passed through this program. What’s more, he was a guy who was considerably better as a senior than he was as a surprising freshman who earned 24 minutes a game. The quiet freshman who was a recruiting afterthought turned into a great asset for his team by the time his impressive college career was up. He’ll be missed in Tucson.
  • Jesse Perry – Perry only spent two seasons in Tucson after transferring in from Logan Community College in 2010, but he was a solid contributor in his time with the Wildcats. After a relatively slow start, he turned up his game in time to help UA make its run to the 2011 Pac-10 title and the Elite Eight, then nearly doubled his output as a senior while upping his efficiency numbers too. Though undersized at 6’6” for a guy who was ostensibly a power forward, Perry was third in the conference in rebounding last season (7.5 RPG) and a key part of the UA attack. Luckily for Sean Miller and company, though, Perry’s loss will be mitigated by the arrival of three freshman big men ready to step into his role.
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Pac-12 Comings and Goings: Shabazz Muhammad and Josiah Turner

Posted by AMurawa on April 12th, 2012

It was a big day of comings and goings in the Pac-12 on Wednesday as the picture surrounding the two historic basketball powers in the conference crystallized a bit. UCLA and its embattled head coach Ben Howland got a piece of great news as the nation’s #2 recruit – Shabazz Muhammad – announced his intentions to attend the school next year, while Arizona finally cleared up the status of freshman point guard Josiah Turner when it was announced he would be transferring out of the program.

Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA

Shabazz Muhammad Gives The Bruins Plenty Of Talent And Plenty Of Options

First, the Bruins. Despite UCLA’s struggles over the past three seasons (their 56-43 record since 2009-10 is the worst three-year record in program history since Wilbur Johns went 38-36 from 1945 to 1948 prior to the John Wooden era), Howland was able to add Muhammad to an already strong recruiting class that already featured the #5 recruit in the nation (according to ESPNU) – Kyle Anderson – and highly touted sharpshooter Jordan Adams. And, with the program still in hot pursuit of widebody Tony Parker, their haul could get even gaudier. Muhammad is an explosive offensive talent with the ability to throw down highlight-reel dunks with the best of them as well as knock down threes or score in a variety of ways in between. He will join a roster that features plenty of depth and versatility. Muhammad can play either the two or the three, and he is joined on the wings by returnees like Tyler Lamb and Norman Powell, a pair of nice pieces as well as Adams. Anderson as well can play the two or the three, but he is very adept with the ball in his hands and will play a part at the point, along with controversial North Carolina transfer Larry Drew Jr. And then up front, there are the Wear twins as well as big man Joshua Smith (although there is still a chance, somehow, that Smith could decide on his own or be encouraged to leave early), and perhaps Parker. In short, Howland has put together a ton of pieces in Westwood, but he’ll need to prove his ability to congeal those parts into a gestalt. Is Drew the answer at the point or can Anderson run the Bruin offense? Can Howland open up the offense enough to take advantage of Muhammad’s vast skills in the open court? Can Smith lose half a hundred pounds and be effective for 25 minutes a night? Can the Wear twins develop their offensive games and their defensive toughness? And can Lamb or Powell be counted on to knock down threes when called upon, or will Adams jump ahead of them in the rotation? There are plenty of questions to be answered at UCLA, but one thing is for certain: it should be fun to see it all play out.

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Pac-12 Morning Five: 02.24.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on February 24th, 2012

  1. And then there were two. After skating through its first seven home conference games, Colorado turned in a stinker on Thursday night, getting thoroughly dominated by Stanford in front of their home crowd. The Buffaloes shot just a 33.3% eFG and got badly outrebounded (Stanford grabbed 81.4% of their defensive rebound opportunities and 40% on the offensive end), as sophomore forward Andre Roberson got no help on the boards. CU still has a chance to have a significant impact on the eventual winner of the conference, since they host league-leading California on Sunday afternoon, but barring a wild swing down the stretch, the Buffs are out of the title race. Worse yet, given their tough three-game stretch the rest of the way, they could be well on their way to losing the opening-round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament. Chasson Randle led the Cardinal with 20 points, and was one of three players to knock down three three-pointers on the game.
  2. Meanwhile, California did what they needed to do, handling Utah in order to set up a battle with the aforementioned Buffaloes on Sunday. Leading scorer Allen Crabbe was held without a point from the field and Justin Cobbs was limited to just five points, but the Golden Bears forced 17 Ute turnovers, took care of the ball on their own end and gutted out a win. The win temporarily puts the Bears alone in first place, with Washington off tonight in advance of their Apple Cup rivalry with Washington State on Saturday.
  3. While the race for the conference title is rapidly clearing up, we’ve still got some gridlock among the next tier of teams, of which Colorado is now one, as the teams vie to avoid the #5 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament and miss out on the four byes through the opening round. Arizona did its homework on Thursday night, putting in a workmanlike effort in a 70-54 win over USC. Freshman point guard Josiah Turner did not start the game, but came off the bench strong and turned in the best game of his career, scoring a career-high 15 points and adding six assists – one shy of his career high – with no turnovers in 31 minutes of action. Senior guard Kyle Fogg also excelled, posting his first career double-double in his second-to-last home game, with 16 points and a career-high 12 rebounds. Prior to the game, head coach Sean Miller announced the suspension junior center Kyryl Natyazkho, who had only earned a total of five minutes in the last nine games, for a violation of unspecified team rules.
  4. A bit up the road in Tempe, Lazeric Jones showed he takes instruction well after head coach Ben Howland encouraged him during the week to shoot more. Jones did just that against Arizona State, shooting 15 times on his way to 20 points and taking over down the stretch as UCLA pulled away from the short-handed Sun Devils. Jones scored 13 of his points in the second half as his team turned a one-point halftime lead into a lead as big as 17. ASU played without junior wing Carrick Felix due to an illness.
  5. Interesting take from Bud Withers of the Seattle Times on a possible reason why the Pac-12 is down this year, and why it may not get better in the future: demographics. In short, the idea is that because success in basketball is largely dependent on African-Americans, and because the western United States has a lower proportion of African-Americans than other regions, the schools in the Pac-12 may be at a bit of a competitive disadvantage to schools in other regions. At best, this is probably just one of the drops in an otherwise large bucket, as Withers rightly points out that allowing high school recruits from their own backyard to matriculate elsewhere certainly doesn’t help their cause. But, there could be something to look at here going forward.
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Pac-12 Morning Five: 01.13.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on January 13th, 2012

  1. It’s tough to decide where to begin on another wild night in the Pac-12, but we’ll have to go with our RTC Game of the Week between Colorado and California in Berkeley, the game with the biggest impact on the conference race. The Golden Bears handed the Buffaloes their first conference loss of the season, and overcame a horrendous shooting night from their two stars, as senior Jorge Gutierrez and sophomore Allen Crabbe combined to hit just four of their combined 26 field goal attempts. However, they rode senior forward Harper Kamp down the stretch, as he out-dueled Colorado’s senior Austin Dufault in a battle between two unlikely stars. In the end, however, California’s experience paid off, as the Buffs suffered through some bad shots in the closing minutes and sealed their fate with an unfortunate turnover with just under a minute left, followed up by their failure to secure a defensive rebound following a missed Cal foul shot. While the game was tight throughout, the Buffs’ failure to come through in the clutch was entirely predictable for a young team playing its first road game since the late 60s. Or something like that.
  2. Across the San Francisco Bay and south a bit, Stanford was having some unlikely trouble with expected Pac-12 cellar contender Utah, who turned in its third-straight extremely solid performance in losing by just three despite coming into the game a 22-point underdog. The Utes fought back from a seven-point half-time deficit to actually lead the game through much of the early part of the second half. However, it was Cardinal sophomore forward Josh Huestis who provided the heroics, scoring all 13 of his points in the second half on six-for-six shooting (including a three) and grabbing ten total rebounds. He did miss all three of his foul shots, but that was de rigeur for the evening, as the teams combined to shoot just six-of-26 from the charity stripe, with Utah especially kicking itself by missing all but one of its nine free throw attempts. Larry Krystkowiak’s club simply does not have the talent to give away those types of points and pull out road victories. Likewise, while Johnny Dawkins will take this win and look forward to a tough battle with Colorado on Saturday, knowing they are tied with Cal atop the Pac-12 standings, this was not a win that inspired a ton of confidence.
  3. Oregon State dropped its second consecutive overtime game Thursday night, losing to Arizona in 15 less minutes than they required on Saturday night. Does that qualify as progress? The game was marred somewhat by a little scuffle late in the overtime period, following a fast break layup by Kyle Fogg that put the Wildcats up six, during which Fogg drew the fourth foul on OSU guard Jared Cunningham. Following the play, Fogg started yapping at Cunningham, which drew a shove in retaliation. From there, the Arizona bench came close to emptying, some Oregon State players came onto the court and there was some general pushing and shoving that resulted in Cunningham and Fogg both earning technical fouls – the fifth personals for each – and Kyryl Natyazkho and Joe Burton being ejected for leaving their benches. While the whole thing was stupid and immature, special demerits go to Fogg and teammate Solomon Hill, upperclassmen who are supposed to be the leaders of this Wildcat team, both of whom acted like anything but leaders. Lost in all that was Arizona freshman Nick Johnson breaking out of a mini-slump by hitting three threes on his way to 19 points in a complete performance that included a offensive rebound slam just before the dustup. Cunningham was also big for the Beavs, scoring 22 points, but it was Ahmad Starks who caught fire at the end of regulation, scoring seven points on three straight possessions, preceded by a beautiful strip of Hill on a fastbreak, to get Oregon State into overtime. Nevertheless, the Beavers fall to 1-4 in conference play, while the Wildcats keep pace with Stanford, Cal, Colorado, and Washington atop the conference with just one loss.
  4. Lastly, Oregon scored the lone road victory of the night in the conference, going into Arizona State and coming out with a workmanlike nine-point win. Just looking at the stat sheet, this was an incredibly tight game in a lot of areas, but it again came down to the fact that the Sun Devils just don’t have a point guard able to run this team effectively. Junior guard Trent Lockett did his best playing out of position, scoring 23 points on eight-of-11 shooting, grabbing four rebounds and handing out five assists, but he turned it over seven times and Arizona State turned it over 16 times as a unit, while forcing just eight turnovers by the Ducks. Oregon was led by senior Devoe Joseph who had 15 points, three threes, four steals, and four assists.
  5. Looking ahead to the weekend, we have a couple of big rivalry games on Sunday, including Washington hosting Washington State. Last year, the Cougs swept the season series in a couple of games that weren’t really that close. This year, however, the Washington State defense has been particularly bad, in part due to the premature losses of interior presence DeAngelo Casto and underrated perimeter defender Klay Thompson. Given that the Husky defense hasn’t been much to write home about either, we could be in for quite the shootout in the hardwood version of the Apple Cup.
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UCLA and Arizona: Reasons For Hope and Reasons For Concern

Posted by AMurawa on January 7th, 2012

Thursday night in Anaheim, the two blueblood Pac-12 basketball programs squared off in a battle of deeply flawed teams. While neither UCLA nor Arizona has lived up to either of their historical standards or even their diminished expectations heading into the 2011-12 season, both programs have reasons to believe that not only will things get better in a big way next season, but that they have the ability to improve between now and the Pac-12 Tournament in March. However, at the same time, if changes aren’t made and improvement not shown, both of these teams could continue to disappoint. So, below, the reasons for hope and the reasons for concern for both UCLA and Arizona.

Reasons for Hope – UCLA

The Bruins played without sophomore center Joshua Smith last night, as he was sidelined due to a concussion he suffered in practice on Wednesday. However, in his postgame press conference, head coach Ben Howland noted that Smith was making significant progress in his quest to improve his conditioning, reporting that he was down to his lowest weight in more than a year and that he had been putting in extra running and completed a three-mile run on Sunday. Improved conditioning should keep him on the floor for longer stretches, make him more effective for those stretches, and would hopefully improve his ability to avoid cheap defensive fouls. He still has to prove that on the court, however.  Another positive for the Bruins was the play of the Wear twins last night. The sophomores turned in their best collective performance, combining to score 34 points on 13-of-16 shooting while grabbing ten rebounds and just generally playing more aggressively and actively than they had displayed in the past. As Howland noted, this is really the first time in their career that they’ve played extended minutes, so there is still improvement to be had from both of them. Ideally, Thursday night was a first step towards realizing that improvement.

David Wear, UCLA

David Wear, And His Brother Travis, Are Still Growing Into Full-Time Players (photo credit: Lawrence K. Ho, LA Times)

Reasons for Hope – Arizona

In the previous ten games Solomon Hill had played against the two Los Angeles area schools, the LA native had averaged about five points and three rebounds. Thursday night Hill went for 16 points and 11 rebounds and has clearly matured to the point where he is the team’s go-to offensive player and their team leader. He’s a versatile 6’6” wing capable of scoring off the bounce, rebounding with the big boys (he’s second in the conference in rebounding), and creating for his teammates (he leads the Wildcats in assists and is 14th in the Pac-12). More importantly, he is beginning to lead by example. And perhaps his leadership is starting to rub off on Josiah Turner. The mercurial freshman point guard earned back his starting position which he last held in the Wildcats’ season opener, played the most minutes of his career, and scored nine points, grabbed six rebounds and handed out three assists – not the most impressive of lines, but a start at least. Turner was effective at getting in the lane and drawing contact (he got to the line six times) and also showed a willingness to look to set up his teammates. He’s got plenty of talent; if he can harness it positively, the Wildcats will be better for it.

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