Pac-12 Burning Question: Arizona or UCLA?Posted by AMurawa on January 24th, 2013
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.
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.
Parker Baruh: This could very well be the game of the year in the Pac-12. Despite Oregon having the best record in the league as of today, the two most talented teams are still UCLA and Arizona. Arizona hasn’t lost a game at home all year and I don’t expect that to change on Thursday night. The Wildcats have too much depth for UCLA and will be able to throw Solomon Hill and Kevin Parrom at Shabazz Muhammad and Nick Johnson at Jordan Adams. Travis Wear has played great of late, but he’s playing in the most hostile environment the Bruins have seen this season and also will struggle with the size and athleticism of Arizona’s front line. For the Wildcats, Mark Lyons will need to have another great performance, which seems typical considering his play in big games all year. They will also have to limit their turnovers. As Connor pointed out above, Arizona hasn’t committed more than 10 turnovers in any of their highly anticipated games this year and tonight should be no different. Ultimately, Sean Miller, the athletic defense and depth that Arizona has, along with the rocking McKale Center should propel the Wildcats to another victory in the Pac-12.
Andrew Murawa: So, I guess it falls to me to make the case for UCLA going on the road and coming away with a win at the McKale Center. Hmm. How exactly am I supposed to do this again? The Bruins are getting regularly killed by allowing offensive rebounds, and the Wildcats grab nearly 38% of their own misses. UCLA has had trouble stopping dribble penetration all season long and, oh, looky here, Mark Lyons has been beating better defensive teams on his way to the paint like clockwork all year long. Maybe I could point to the heady all-around play of Bruins freshman Kyle Anderson? Well, check that; Arizona’s got a heady all-around player of their own, and Solomon Hill is a grizzled veteran, not some young rookie coming off the stomach flu. So how am I going to make the case for this supposed UCLA win? Well, it all starts with the head man, Ben Howland. You see, contrary to the reports you’ll see on certain unnamed UCLA message boards, the man can coach a little. Aw hell, he can coach a lot. Now in his 10th year in the conference, in the first game of the weekend, when Howland has a chance to coach up his team and game plan for several days for the next one, he’s won 72 out of the 92 games he’s coached at UCLA. That’s good for 78.3%. Throw out that first year with the dregs of the Steve Lavin-era leftovers and that percentage climbs to 81.9%. That’s good. And with Howland’s ability to X-and-O around bringing Travis Wear away from the hoop and pulling the Arizona bigs out with him, clearing the lane for Anderson, Larry Drew II and Shabazz Muhammad to take advantage, the Bruins can get the ‘Cats out of their comfort zone. Throw in the fact that Muhammad is coming off his worst half of basketball in his short college career and will be primed to make up for it and…. Oh, forget it. I can’t do it. Arizona by 10.