Thursday, January 24, 2013
Rapid Reaction: UCLA 84, Arizona 73
By Eamonn Brennan
The quick nitty-gritty on UCLA's impressive 84-73 win at No. 6 Arizona on Thursday night:
Overview: Arizona fans showed up in uniform, decked to the highest rafters in white shirts, ready to cheer their revived, No. 6-ranked Wildcats to an expected home win over the hated UCLA Bruins.
It would not be that easy.
That crowd was silenced early and emphatically; UCLA began the game hot, Arizona started 1-of-10, and by the time Sean Miller called at timeout at the 14-minute mark the Bruins led 17-3. UCLA couldn't have asked for a better start, but it kept up its torrid pace throughout, outrunning and outgunning an Arizona team that could never quite find its rhythm.
The Wildcats made a totally expected push in the second half, but they never got all the way back, never got things close enough to let that crowd put UCLA in a grinder. Instead, the Bruins -- so circumspect in November -- coolly killed the game. By the final two minutes, as UCLA freshman Kyle Anderson set up David Wear for a fast break dunk, the Bruins had what play-by-play genius Bill Walton called the Bruins' "first meaningful road win in five years."
Key player: Shabazz Muhammad. For as good as freshman Jordan Adams has played this season, and for as much as the Wears have improved, and as impressive as Larry Drew has been, the key figure driving this genuinely good UCLA offense is Muhammad. Muhammad has been scoring both at volume and with efficiency, using his unique blend of outside touch, ballhandling and explosion, and things were no different Thursday night. Muhammad helped set the tone early, and finished with 23 points on 16 shots and 5-of-8 from the free throw line. In early January, we made the argument that if he hadn't already, Muhammad could play himself onto Wooden Award watch list contention; he is worthy of that distinction by now.
Key stat: Arizona shot just 5-of-24 from 3, and 38.4 percent overall. Shooting poorly is one thing, but shooting poorly at home, on a night when you can't get stops against a talented offense -- that's not a winning formula.
Also, Mark Lyons, the Wildcats' ostensible point guard, finished his 33-minute performance with zero assists. Yep: zero.
And in general, Arizona entered Thursday night allowing the fifth-most points per possession in Pac-12 play (.98). They allowed well more than a point per trip to the Bruins. Simply put: To be a real national title contender, the Wildcats have to defend better.
And speaking of which: After playing horrible defense for much of the season, the Bruins are now playing some of the best defensive basketball in their conference. If they can be merely average, with Muhammad & Co. scoring at will? Look out.
What's next: The Bruins, who moved into sole possession of second place in the Pac-12 -- and perhaps more importantly, made it clear they can be more than the sum of their talented parts -- will finish the second half of their trip to Arizona with a game at better-than-you-think Arizona State on Saturday. The Wildcats, meanwhile, can lick their wounds at home against USC, which, while improving, should be a relatively easy out.