Earlier this week, we spent the better part of a Morning Five poking around the state of Oregon. Today, we’re gonna spend most of our time in Los Angeles, where Steve Alford got his recruiting mojo going on Thursday when five-star recruit Kevon Looney made a verbal commitment to the Bruins. With the UCLA frontline undermanned in 2014-15, Looney’s choice of the Bruins over other big-time programs like Duke, Florida, Michigan State, Tennessee and Wisconsin is a huge boon to the program. ESPN’s scouting report on the big man is glowing: a combo forward who can hit the three, score off the bounce, and pound the boards. Still, after Alford previously got burned when Trevon Blueittbacked out of his commitment to UCLA, just remember that nothing is set in stone until that letter of intent gets signed.
And as Isaac Hamilton proved to UTEP, even a signed letter of intent doesn’t exactly seal the deal. Hamilton, a four-star wing in the 2013 class, was originally the centerpiece of Tim Floyd’s recruiting class in El Paso. But Hamilton second-guessed that decision over the summer and decided that he didn’t want to play at UTEP after all. Floyd refused the youngster’s request to back out of his commitment, but Hamilton petitioned the NCAA for immediate eligibility after he chose UCLA for his college. Hamilton’s petition was rejected on Thursday, meaning that not only will he be ineligible to play for the Bruins this season, but he’ll lose a year of eligibility. He’ll get to practice with the squad this year, but will be relegated to scout team action.
Wrapping up the news at UCLA, the Bruins got their season underway on Wednesday night with an exhibition game against Cal State San Bernardino. Despite playing without senior forward Travis Wear, who is sidelined, perhaps for up to a month, due to surgery to remove his appendix, the Bruins rolled to an easy 30-point win. Jordan Adams returned from his broken foot to lead all scorers with 25 points, while David Wear filled in ably for his brother with a 12-point, 13-rebound double-double. Tony Parker, who will team primarily with David Wear to make up for Travis Wear’s absence, had 10 points, three blocks and three boards. Meanwhile, Kyle Anderson’s debut as the Bruin point guard began with 10 points, 10 boards and five assists along with three turnovers.
We’ll stop over across town before we leave LA, as ESPN.com’s Dana O’Neil profiles Andy Enfield and the new USC basketball program. For a guy with a business background, Enfield is not only talking about Xs and Os with the Trojans, but about branding and selling a hip and exciting style of basketball to potential recruits. He did that and more at Florida Gulf Coast with a school that completely lacked a brand prior to last season’s Dunk City run, so Enfield sees his job at USC as different, but perhaps easier, than the task he undertook at FGCU.
Lastly, here’s your reminder to flip the calendar and realize that next week at this time, we’ll be preparing to dig into our first weekend of college basketball. As such, let’s take a peek at the AP Top 25 basketball poll, released yesterday to, well, OK, nobody really cares all that much about polls in a sport where we actually decide the champion on the court of play. But, still, Top 25. Arizona leads the way for the conference, checking in at #6 overall, while Oregon checks in at #19, a few spots ahead of UCLA at #22. Four other Pac-12 schools were in the “others receiving votes” category (Colorado, Arizona State, Washington and Stanford), while California, which Doug Gottlieb notoriously had as his #10 team in the nation, was curiously absent.
Yesterday night was filled with exhibition games from many of the top teams in the country (Kentucky, Kansas, Michigan State, and Oklahoma State were all in action), but the most interesting news may have come from the Kansas post-game press conference where Bill Self revealed that Naadir Tharpewill not play in the team’s season opener after violating a NCAA rule by playing in a summer league game in Chicago. Tharpe played well in the team’s exhibition yesterday against Pittsburg State (yes, it is Pittsburg and it is in Kansas not Pennsylvania) putting up nine assists without committing a turnover so we know he can play well against schools that we have never heard of, but by missing their game against Louisiana-Monroe (Frank Mason will start in his place) his next game will be against Duke, a school that we have definitely heard of.
With the season a little over one week away most teams are in the process of fine-tuning their line-ups for the opening tip, but UCLA finds itself scrambling to rearrange its lineup after Travis Wear was hospitalized on Monday night for appendicitis. Travis, the more productive of the Wear twins (his brother David also plays for the Bruins), averaged 10.9 points and 5.2 rebounds per game and would probably be UCLA’s top inside player this season. We have no idea how long he will be out (it depends on if he has any complications), but a prolonged absence would create a big hole in the middle for a Bruin team that only has two other serviceable interior players–David Wear and Tony Parker–available at the moment. Fortunately, the Bruins have two exhibition games to adapt before they start the regular season on November 8 and have a very manageable schedule during the month of December.
We will have to wait two more weeks until North Carolina announces P.J. Hairston’s suspension, but at least we know how long Ole Miss has suspended Marshall Henderson for multiple behavior-related issues: three games, which will include the regular season opener (against Troy) and the team’s first two SEC games (against Auburn and Mississippi State). The suspension is the result of Henderson’s repeated taunting (or responding) to fans during the season including using his middle finger after Ole Miss lost in the NCAA Tournament as well as being pulled over by local police on May 4 and found to have marijuana and cocaine in his system. Although we find the split suspension a little odd it is good to see that it will have a bigger effect on the team as they are much more likely to be challenged in those SEC games than they would if he had sat the second and third games of the regular season (against Coastal Carolina and Mississippi Valley State). We hope that Henderson can find a way to control his behavior, but still keep that edge that made him such a dangerous player.
We usually do not make fun of a player, often a teenager or just beyond that stage, for their indecisiveness, but we might make an exception for Michael Chandler, who committed to Oregon yesterday. The commitment by itself (a 6’10” center from Northwest Florida State, who was forced to go to junior college after failing to academically qualify in 2011) is not particularly remarkable. What is remarkable is the fact that this is at least the fourth school that Chandler has committed to as his previous commitments were to Louisville, Xavier, and UCF before he failed to qualify academically. We hope that Chandler eventually finds his way into Division I basketball, but you will have to forgive us if we hold off in writing his committment to Oregon down in pen.
Tanking doesn’t relate directly to college basketball, but you will be hearing about it quite a bit throughout the year as NBA teams lose games in order to increase their chances of landing Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle, Jabari Parker, or some other highly-coveted college player. So the admission by an anonymous NBA general manager that his team was tanking (known explicitly by everybody, but the players) is somewhat interesting. Obviously the story would be more interesting if it had not been anonymous, but then the GM would no longer be employed. Based on what was said in the story we can probably narrow down the list of potential GMs to a handful of individuals. As the NBA season progresses and a certain number of elite college players emerge we suspect that we will see the list of potential tanking teams grow.
Coaching changes are rarely easy. Aside from the typical human stresses of finding a new home and getting to know your new surroundings, for a head coach at a major college basketball program, there are a bunch of young adults in both high school and college for whom you have to account. More than one new head coach’s job has been made much more difficult by the immediate transfers of key players or decommitments from recruits. And when you’re someone like Steve Alford, walking into a high profile job like UCLA as something other than the program’s first choice, the initial impression can be very important.
Steve Alford’s First Offseason As UCLA Head Coach Has Not Gone Smoothly (Damian Dovarganes/AP)
And, to put it plainly, the first few months of the Alford era in Westwood have been a mixed bag, at best. From the moment the news of the hire came down on the Saturday of last year’s Elite Eight, the wisdom of the decision was questioned. This was a guy just over a week past getting run out of the NCAA Tournament by heavy underdog Harvard, a loss that continued to leave him without a single Sweet Sixteen appearance since 1999. Not long after the hire was announced, many were reliving the questionable decisions Alford made in defending his former player Pierre Pierce against sexual assault charges while both were at Iowa. Alford eventually issued an apology, but it came almost two weeks after he was hired at UCLA and more than 11 years after the initial incident.
The 2013 Pac-12 Championship is upon us. If you want to know who the favorites, dark-horses and long-shots are, or are just looking for a possible team to make a run all the way from Las Vegas to the Final Four, here is your guide.
While the Pac-12 may not be the best conference in the nation, this is going to be one of the most competitive conference tournaments of Championship Week. Any of the top nine seeds are capable of winning it, and every team playing in the first round of the tournament needs at least one win to feel safe on Selection Sunday. Outside of that top five, every team will be playing for their NCAA lives, which could make the first day of the tournament surprisingly entertaining. To make a run through a conference tournament, especially when you need to win four games in four days, you need three or more really solid players. UCLA has Shabazz Muhammad, Jordan Adams, Travis Wear, and Kyle Anderson; Oregon has E.J. Singler, Carlos Emory, and Damyean Dotson; and Colorado has Spencer Dinwiddie, Askia Booker, Andre Roberson, and Josh Scott. Those groups of players can lead their teams through the tournament, but the rest of the field behind them has only one or two solid players they can count on.
Two teams that aren’t currently locked into the field of 68 have a possibility of getting at-large bids through their play this week. Colorado may be in regardless, but they can lock up an at-large this afternoon with a win against Oregon State. Arizona State is about the seventh or eighth team out of the tournament at this point, so anything short of three wins in Vegas will keep the Sun Devils in the NIT. They also need help from the contenders in front of them, meaning ASU fans should be rooting for quick exits by the likes of Iowa, Southern Miss, and Mississippi.
Can Jahii Carson Lead Arizona State To The NCAA Tournament (credit: Arizona State)?
Favorite: UCLA. Carrying the momentum off a regular season conference title, the Bruins come in as slight favorites for the tournament. They’ll likely face Arizona in the semifinals, a team they have more or less dominated in their two previous meetings. Any one of the top four seeds could win this thing (even the top five), but UCLA has the star power to carry them all the way through.
Championship Week Fortnight begins today, and the Pac-12 Tournament is right around the corner as well. This year’s tournament promises to be one of the more crazy ones in history, as any team seeded one through nine has the talent and potential to take the conference’s automatic bid. Washington is going to need that aut0-bid in order to go dancing, and rising fifth-year senior Scott Suggs looks to be an integral part of that run. The shooting guard had a streak going in February in which he only scored four points per game for four out of five games, but starting back on February 23 against Arizona State, Suggs found his stroke and no longer appeared lost within the Husky offense. He went for 16 points against the Sun Devils and for 23 points eight days later in the hardwood Apple Cup. If he can continue this kind of output through the next two weeks, the combination of he and C.J. Wilcox will make the eighth-seeded Dawgs a tough out.
As we teased yesterday, Oregon State and Nike unveiled the results of a nearly two-year long re-branding of the Beaver program. The changes to the basketball uniforms were positive but minimal, as you can see here. The Beavers now have an all-white uniform in their repertoire and have the option of having “OSU” across the front of the jersey. The shorts are simple and clean-looking, with the new logo featured on the bottom side. The back of the tops are what I think is the highlight of the whole thing, as a basketball net and “ghost beaver” logo run from top-to-bottom. Even outside of basketball, a general change for all sports uniforms is the addition of metallic bronze as an accent color. The football uniforms were the highlight of the event, and I’ll leave you with those pictures here.
Even if Arizona did not find a true point guard, the addition of Mark Lyons was a good one, and the right idea at the time by Arizona head coach Sean Miller. The Wildcats are in desperate need of a true point who can break down a defense and be a “pass-first, shoot-second” type of player, but that’s just not going to work with Lyons. So, UA fans will take what they can get at this point in the season. Right now, that’s a team full of shooters, and if that’s what can take them to the Sweet Sixteen and beyond, so be it.
California is 9-1 since it was thoroughly outplayed on a late January afternoon in Boulder. At that point in the season, the Golden Bears were playing with no heart or hustle, sported a middling 11-8 record, and were on the outside looking in for an NIT bid. But there has been a remarkable turnaround, one that will likely result in Cal’s second straight NCAA bid, as Mike Montgomery has done some of his finest work as a head coach to get them to this point. California closes out the regular season with a visit from rival Stanford on Wednesday night, where the Bears will go for their eighth straight victory.
UCLA may not need a Pac-12 Tournament championship to make the NCAA Tournament, but like Washington, the Bruins could use a big boost from junior forward Travis Wear in the coming weeks. Wear is still plagued by a right foot injury that sidelined him for two games stretching back to February 24, and coach Ben Howland is having to make up for his absences on the floor by playing brother David Wear for nearly the whole contest, or placing rarely-used Tony Parker in the game when Wear needs rest. The return of Travis Wear in a full capacity will be crucial for the Bruins, as it would be nearly impossible to win three games in three days without his big body on the court.
On Saturday night, news leaked out of Los Angeles that junior forward Travis Wear, UCLA’s most-used and most-capable post player, had injured a foot and would likely miss Sunday’s game with USC. When he walked out onto the court in street clothes and a walking boot just prior to the game, Bruins’ fans worst fears were confirmed, leaving a squad that was already significantly short-handed in the frontcourt having to rely on just two players – Travis’ twin David Wear and little-used freshman center Tony Parker – to man the post against a Trojan team that features two seven-footers earning regular time.
In The Wake Of Travis Wear’s Foot Injury, Tony Parker Played A Big Role On Sunday (Mark J. Terrill/AP)
But the duo of the other Wear and Parker quickly put those concerns to rest with good production right out of the gates. In the first four minutes of play, David Wear scored four points, grabbed three boards and dished out an inside-out assist while playing with great energy on both ends of the floor. When Tony Parker made his debut, he went straight to work as well, scoring four points in his first four minutes as UCLA point guards Larry Drew II and Kyle Anderson repeatedly looked for him on screen-and-roll opportunities. All told, the duo combined for 18 points and 14 rebounds in a combined 50 minutes of action as the Bruins rolled over their cross-town rival. With Travis Wear currently considered day-to-day and with a couple of very big games coming up this week against the Arizona schools, the Bruins may have to face time with Parker and Wear as the sole bigs. But their performances in the game on Sunday had to have given head coach Ben Howland and UCLA fans confidence that their thinner frontcourt could hold up under pressure.
Last week saw Washington State lose a dramatic game when an underclassman made a poor decision in the waning moments of the game. This week, Oregon State lost a tight one in part due to a poor decision made by an underclassmen in pregame warm-ups. You see, there’s this fairly ridiculous rule that makes dunking in the layup line prior to the game worthy of earning a technical foul against your team. Beavers freshman Olaf Schaftenaar, a guy well-known for his wide variety of aerial acrobatics (note to editors: please use the sarcasm font for that phrase), just couldn’t help himself and threw one down prior to the game. The refs caught the egregious act, penalized OSU with a technical foul, Allen Crabbe knocked down one of two free throws prior to the game, and the Beavers went on to, you know, lose by one. For a Beavers team that Ken Pomeroy currently has ranked as the third-least lucky team in the nation, Saturday’s bad luck reached ridiculous new lows.
Arizona scored a couple of wins this weekend. First, on Saturday they coasted to victory over Washington State behind terrific shooting from senior Kevin Parrom, although head coach Sean Miller wasn’t entirely thrilled with his team’s effort. Then, on Sunday, Miller got a commitment from five-star recruit in the 2014 class, 5’7” point guardParker Jackson-Cartwright. The recruiting coup is not only a big score for what it brings to Tucson, it is also big because the Wildcats beat out Pac-12 rival UCLA for the Los Angeles-area product. Jackson-Cartwright will first play in the 2014-15 season at the same time that Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnell plays his senior season in Tucson.
Speaking of UCLA, junior forward Travis Wear missed Sunday afternoon’s battle with USC after spraining his right foot at the start of practice on Saturday. His brother David Wear got the start in place of him, while freshman Tony Parker saw a big increase in minutes and production as a result as well. Travis wore a walking boot on the foot during the game but was ambulatory without crutches and Ben Howland said after the game that he is considered day-to-day. Unfortunately, if the Bruins are going to get him back for their next game, he’ll have to be a quick healer, as they’ll host Arizona State in Westwood on Wednesday night.
For some time now Arizona State has been right on the anticipated border between NCAA Tournament team and NIT participant, but the consensus was that the Sun Devils needed to finish strong in order to maintain that positioning. While they’ve still got cracks on the road at UCLA and Arizona, Saturday’s home loss to Washington may leave Herb Sendek’s team needing to win the Pac-12 Tournament in order to earn an NCAA Tournament bid. Freshman point guard Jahii Carson turned in one of his worst games of his young career, senior Carrick Felix was largely – and surprisingly – ineffective in his senior night, and once again, the poor free throw shooting from the Sun Devils helped conspire to leave them on the wrong side of the ledger at the final horn.
The race for the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year award is well under way, with Arizona State’s Carrick Felix and Colorado’s Andre Roberson near the top of the list of contenders. Buffaloes head coach Tad Boyle has begun making the case for his guy, by not only listing him as the top defender in the conference, but calling him the best defender in the nation. With guys like Aaron Craft, Victor Oladipo, Russ Smith and Jeff Withey already established and well-recognized as great defenders, there is little doubt that Roberson would fail to medal on the national stage, but in the Pac-12, his rebounding and his ability to guard multiple positions and make insanely athletic plays certainly has him on the short list for the conference award.
After little more that just the news that Dominic Artis was out indefinitely, Oregon head coach Dana Altman shed a bit more light on the freshman point guard’s injury, putting the number of games that Artis will miss at “anywhere from three to five games.” But Altman isn’t overly concerned. Even without the talented freshman, he still wants his team to get up and down the court and he has complete trust in junior Jonathan Loyd and freshman Willie Moore to handle Artis’ duties in his absence. However, you can bet that the lack of Artis will make it that much more difficult for the Ducks to break their 37-year streak of not earning a sweep at the Bay Area schools, starting tonight at Stanford.
Carrick Felix has won so many Pac-12 Player of the Week awards this season that he’s starting to lose count. “Half the time, I don’t even know when I get the player-of-the-week award,” Bud Withers of The Seattle Times quotes Felix as saying. Given that he’s won it three times this year already (the most since Derrick Williams was a three-time winner in 2011), you can hardly blame the senior if it has become passé, because without a doubt, Felix has been a huge part of ASU’s vast improvement this season. After a couple years of relative mediocrity in Tempe, Felix is on pace to earn an easy berth on the all-Pac-12 teams, especially since, like, 35 people make the Pac-12 first team.
ESPN.com’s Dana O’Neil spent some time with UCLA’s Ben Howland last week and is apparently flabbergasted by the fact that the Bruins are enjoying some success despite playing a different brand of basketball than Howland became known for in his years at Pitt and his early years in Westwood. Howland told O’Neil that he’s enjoying coaching this team even if he is still trying to find some way to coax more defense out of his team. And, apparently, all the changes are making him a bit insane. Following the Arizona win, he brushed off questions about the team’s youth, claiming “our young guys aren’t freshmen anymore… They’re playing like veterans.” But then after laying an egg at Arizona State, he fell back on the team’s inexperience as something of an excuse, saying “they’re all learning for the first time.”
And while UCLA unveils their blue-out plans, Arizona head coach Sean Miller seems ready to retire the “white-out” game that the Wildcats have now lost in the past two seasons. Whether he said that in jest or in reality, it matters not (he backed off his initial comments later in the day, essentially saying, “we’ll see”) because Miller is more focused on the cause of the loss during the most recent white-out, not whatever color shirts his team’s fans were wearing. Still, Miller said he felt good about the UA home stand, taking pleasure in the fact that his team bounced back from the bad Thursday loss and played one of their best games in conference play Saturday in a blowout win over USC.
The biggest breaking news over the weekend came out of Eugene late Friday night when Bob Clark of the Register-Guard reported that Dominic Artiswould be out indefinitely with a foot injury of undetermined severity. Oregon still managed to knock off Washington on Saturday evening (in the first sellout at Matthew Knight Arena in almost two years) with Artis watching from the bench in a walking boot. Junior Jonathan Loyd got the start and was solid, getting to the line 10 times in 31 minutes of action and scoring nine points, but he did turn the ball over five times to go along with his five assists. The other guy who earned some of the Artis’ minutes was freshman Willie Moore, who earned nine minutes, his most since before Christmas, but he too struggled with turnovers. With no timetable announced for Artis’ return, the Ducks will have to rely on those two to step up as they go to the Bay Area schools next week.
The other injury of note over the past week was to UCLA’s Travis Wear, whose concussion suffered in the first half against Arizona on Thursday night kept him out of Saturday’s visit to Arizona State. But, Travis Wear or no Travis Wear, the Bruins were going down hard on Saturday. They struggled with the Sun Devils’ athleticism, size and energy, but mostly, they just weren’t engaged in the game after Thursday night’s big win. ASU outhustled UCLA from the opening tip to the closing buzzer, with Jordan Bachynski, Carrick Felix and Evan Gordon having big games and Jahii Carson, despite struggling from the field, conducting a masterful performance at the point.
Last night in front of a sparse crowd limited by blizzard conditions in Salt Lake City, Stanford’s offense got back on track in a big way against Utah, scoring 46 first-half points, 87 points for the game, and looking for the first time in a long time like the explosive team that ran to last year’s NIT title. On the Utah side of the court, sophomore transfer Dallin Bachynski did not suit up for the game and his future at the school is in doubt. After getting double-figure minutes in his first 12 games as a Ute, he hasn’t seen anywhere near that run in Pac-12 play and has lost his starting job to senior Jason Washburn. Bachynski met with head coach Larry Krystkowiak on Friday to discuss his future with the program, and while there are no immediate answers as to his long-term status, the fact that he did still sit on the bench with the team (although he didn’t dress out), indicates that he isn’t going away permanently quite yet.
Arizona bounced back from its disappointing loss on Thursday by jumping out to a commanding early lead against USC and never looking back. The Wildcats held USC to nine points on its first 23 possessions, forcing seven turnovers and 2-of-19 shooting. Aside from the crispness with which the ‘Cats played, another aspect of the game that pleased head coach Sean Miller was the fact that it gave him a chance to extend his bench and find some minutes for guys like Angelo Chol and Gabe York. After playing in the first 14 games of the year, Chol has slid back to take the ninth-man spot in an eight-man rotation, but he played with energy in his eight minutes against the Trojans, grabbing a couple boards and blocking a shot. York, a high-flying freshman, has now played in nine games this year, but the USC game was his first appearance in Pac-12 play and he followed Miller’s advice by being very aggressive in looking for his shot. York played eight minutes and yet found room for five three-point attempts, knocking down a couple. Miller has talked with both guys about their playing time and has come away impressed with their maturity even when the minutes haven’t been there.
Colorado took it to California on Sunday and did so without the services of Andre Roberson for much of the first half. Despite losing the nation’s leading rebounder to foul trouble, the Buffs rode some hot shooting to a 34-18 halftime lead and never looked back. After the game, Cal head coach Mike Montgomery had plenty of questions about his team, including whether the team even thought it could win the game and what type of mindset it now has. With conference leader Oregon due in Haas Pavilion next weekend and any distant hopes of an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament receding into the sunset, the Bears need to get it together, and quick. One good bit of news: senior guard Brandon Smith returned to action this weekend after six games lost due to the effects of a concussion.
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.
Jordan Adams And Shabazz Muhammad Were More Than Ready For Thursday Night’s Game (Gary A. Vasquez, USA Today Sports)
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.
UCLA showed a resolve in Tucson last night that not many could have foreseen from this squad a month ago. Here are three thoughts about the outcome, with the Bruins beating Arizona going away to take over sole possession of second place in the Pac-12.
Thirty-three minutes, five turnovers, zero assists and a 41.2% eFG. There’s your point guard, Arizona fans. I’m not for a minute going to suggest that Mark Lyons was solely responsible for the Wildcats’ 11-point loss at home against UCLA – there’s more than enough blame to go around, beginning with the coaching staff and heading on down the line – but the events of Thursday night showcase in a microcosm the concerns that people have had about Lyons as the lead guard of a team with national championship hopes. Sure, he’s been nails down the stretch in more than a couple games this year (games where, perhaps not coincidentally, he again had more turnovers than assists), but time and again down the court last night, the Arizona offense was unfocused and undisciplined. They’ve got enough playmakers to keep things interesting against quality teams even in the absence of coherent point guard play, but for this team to max out its potential, Lyons either needs to improve his ability to create offense for the Wildcats, or Sean Miller needs to explore using either Solomon Hill or Nick Johnson to more regularly initiate the sets.
While Mark Lyons Has Been Huge In Late-Game Scenarios For Arizona This Year, He Was A Liability Last Night (Jerry Pillarelli)
Repeatedly this season, when Ben Howland has been asked such things as “Why did Tony Parker only get three minutes tonight?” or “Are there any plans to get Parker more minutes?”, he has responded by saying that, to paraphrase, “there will come a game or two this season when, whether due to injury or to foul trouble, we’ll need Parker to give us some quality minutes off the bench.” Exhibit A came last night when, due to concussion-like symptoms exhibited by Travis Wear after taking an unintentional hit to the head in the first half, Parker earned the most minutes he’s had since the Prairie View A&M game in mid-December. He responded as Howland hoped he would, providing 10 rock-solid minutes, scoring six points, grabbing three boards, blocking a shot, playing good post defense and even knocking down some clutch free throws and an interesting fall-away jumper. While saying that UCLA would not have won without Parker is taking it too far, that game would certainly have been much tighter down the stretch in his absence. The freshman has most certainly earned enough trust from his coach to see a bit of a bump in minutes going forward. While on the topic, give credit to David Wear for stepping in for his fallen brother and scrapping his way to his best game of the year. Read the rest of this entry »
While this may not be the first of two that will decide the conference race as we postulated in the preseason, tonight we are still looking forward to our first UCLA/Arizona game of the year, with a pair of highly-touted freshman classes — not to mention host of talented veterans — clashing for the first time. And, we can barely contain our excitement. So, let’s get right to the point.
“Arizona/UCLA, Part I tips off Thursday night. Who’s going to win, and why?”
Adam Butler:Arizona and UCLA has been the premier rivalry on the West Coast for the better part of three decades now. I love the statistic that between 1984 and 2008, 19 of 30 conference championship banners hung in McKale or Pauley. That’s impressive. And then it’s also very well-documented how each of these programs has faltered recently. But it would appear they are now back(ish). Arizona is undoubtedly on the up-and-up and is poised to be around for a long time. UCLA is a team with parts that scare Frank Haith almost as much as the NCAA. ESPN cast this match-up for a Gameday appearance before the season even started and will be in attendance when the Wildcats head to Pauley in March (as will I). So when the Bruins and Wildcats tip in Tucson Thursday night, there will be no shortage of storylines or intrigue. The question will center on whether the Bruins’ short bench can hang with Arizona’s depth? Can Travis Wear continue to shoot at the level he’s been connecting on in conference play (59%)? Is Jordan Adams showing us who Jordan Adams really is or just slumping? Per usual, Arizona is going to force a lot of threes and deep jumpers. But UCLA has shot well and often from this distance. They take 48% of their shots in the form of two-point jumpers and make them at a 43% clip, 12th and fifth by national ranking, respectively. Could that haunt the Wildcats? I ultimately think Arizona has too many weapons for the Bruins to combat. Mark Lyons will be able to expose Drew2 and there are too many dynamic athletes defensively, for Arizona to not slow Travis Wear. The grand equalizer, as it always has been against the Wildcats, is the three-pointer. But considering a raucous McKale and the Bruins’ general mediocrity in hitting that shot (35%), I’m picking Sean Miller to beat UCLA for the sixth time in his nine tries.
The McKale Will Be Jumping Thursday Night, Providing Yet Another Boost For The Wildcats (Willy Low, AP Photo)
Connor Pelton: Arizona will win this one because of two reasons. Most importantly, while the Wildcats are a turnover-prone team, they take care of the ball in big games. Only 10 turnovers against Florida, eight against San Diego State, and nine against Arizona State keyed huge wins for Zona, and the increased production also resulted in bigger scoring outputs from primary ball-handler Mark Lyons. With the number of play-makers on the UCLA side, giving the Bruins too many extra possessions will be costly. Not as important but still a big factor for a possible UA win is the McKale effect. UCLA hasn’t won in Tucson since the 2007-08 season, and the Wildcats haven’t dropped a game there all year. It’ll be the annual White-Out game, which traditionally brings the biggest crowd of the season, and as Florida, Colorado, and Utah proved, you don’t want to have to operate your offense late with the Zona Zoo rattling your brain. Give me the Wildcats in a close one.