The UCLA Bruins face a tough task in their nationally televised matchup versus No. 11 Arizona. The Wildcats were embarrassed at ‘SC this week and will be looking to right the ship versus the Bruins.
UCLA has already beaten Arizona once this season, but that was over a month ago so it’s hard to tell if the results from that game have much bearing. Circumstances are different this time around. UCLA was smarting from a loss to Oregon, while Arizona was coming off a convincing win at Arizona State. This time it’s UCLA coming in having just beaten Arizona State, looking to polish the resume and keep their regular season Pac-12 title hopes alive. Arizona is in danger of sustaining a massive double blow to their national ranking as well as a real possibility of falling out of the top-four in the Pac-12. Arizona should be playing with desperation; UCLA should be playing to show they are capable of being dominant. Both have plenty to prove and lose.
Looking at the matchup, there are several keys to UCLA completing a sweep of Arizona. One key will be rebounding. UCLA fared well overall versus Arizona in their first game, pulling down only three fewer rebounds than the Wildcats: 38 to 41. However, on the offensive glass, the Wildcats did out-rebound the Bruins 18 to 11. Travis Wear played only 11 minutes in that game after sustaining a concussion. Assuming he will play tonight, one thing to watch for is if he is an asset in this area. Kyle Anderson was the workman in the previous matchup, pulling down 12 boards. He needs to duplicate that effort. With Muhammad and Adams also buying in to the importance of rebounding of late, there is reason for optimism in this area.
Another key is to keep Arizona on their heels by scoring early and often. UCLA jumped all over Arizona in their first matchup, and the Bruins need to do so again today. Arizona is reeling and their collective heart is available for crushing. The Wildcats are 3-3 in their last six games, but it’s important to note that the three losses came against teams with winning records in the conference.
A third key is exploiting the Wildcats’ perimeter defense. In their last three losses, the Cats defense has allowed California, Colorado and SC to shoot 58.8, 50.0 and 61.1 percent from the field respectively. Arizona isn’t playing defense. Worse, Arizona’s perimeter defense has been awful. Examining those same games, California, Colorado and ‘SC shot 46.2, 52.9 and 60.0 percent respectively from deep. If the Bruins are patient and smart with their shot selection, the opportunity to rock Arizona may well be there.
One final key is defensive intensity. The Bruins have to come out and expect a particularly intense Arizona team looking to emotionally punch them in the mouth and take the sell-out crowd out of the game. Turning the Wildcats over, forcing low percentage perimeter shots and not allowing second-chance points will lead to success for the Bruins.
The Bruins absolutely have to win this game. It is a true statement game given the national spotlight, UCLA’s early struggles and the Pac-12 title and tournament ramifications. This season has been a roller coaster as the freshmen have adjusted to the college game and the team has sought to establish its identity. There is reason to believe they have arrived. The training wheels are off. Setting aside unrealistic expectations of lunatic fans, it is reasonable to expect nothing less than a victory by the Bruins this evening. It sez here, they will win.