Arizona vs. UCLA: Time, TV and Kyle Anderson's growth under Alford

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Anderson has taken major steps forward in his development under a new regime.

Time

7 p.m. MST

TV

ESPN

When UCLA Bruins coach Steve Alford became the successor to Ben Howland this summer, the first order of business was re-recruiting the returning Howland recruits. At the top of the list was Kyle Anderson, the 6-foot-9 sophomore forward who rebounds like a center and plays like a point guard.

Alford said on this week's Pac-12 teleconference call that the point-forward needed to run the show. That he'll do -- and more -- against the No. 1 Arizona Wildcats Thursday night in Pauley Pavilion. Stopping the mismatch-inducing Anderson will be the UA defense's biggest test thus far.

"He has worked really hard at leading this team, because it's a young team with not much experience on it," Alford said. "He's grasped it, he's put both hands around it.

"It's not every day you get to coach a 6'9 point guard," he added. "He sees over people. He delivers the ball. The thing where Kyle has really worked on his game and improved, he's making shots. That's why the game is really opening up for him."

Alford knew he had to play Anderson at point guard since arriving at UCLA but having never coached a player with those abilities, it was about avoiding over-coaching. The Bruins will use Anderson at point, but they'll also play him off the ball, use him in pick-and-rolls and then force-feed him in the post if the Wildcats don't match up well.

But mostly, Anderson will be passing.

UCLA has leading scorer Jordan Adams back since breaking his foot in the infamous "He touched the ball!" Arizona-UCLA game in last year's Pac-12 tournament. He's scoring 18.7 points per game. Anderson is second by averaging 15.1 points per game, and he's leading the team with 6.6 assists per game and 8.9 rebounds.

Miller began rattling off Anderson's stats during the Tuesday Pac-12 teleconference call.

"One of the things that jumps out ... he has 105 defensive rebounds," Miller said. "The next closest on UCLA's team is a guy who has 50. When you think of Kyle Anderson, you don't even think of him as the best rebounder."

If Arizona wants to match up with a capable rebounder with size to bother Anderson, the obvious answer would be sticking Aaron Gordon on him. The UCLA forward might also get a heavy dose of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.

No matter the case, T.J. McConnell will be a matchup issue on the defensive end for the Wildcats. UCLA starts the two wear twins and will rotate in sophomore center Tony Parker to go with Adams, Anderson and Norman Powell. So they're very big. The best bet is putting McConnell on the 6-foot-4 Powell, who isn't a strong jump-shooter but is still averaging 11 points per game.

The matchup issues all start with Anderson.

The Bruins will bring NBA prospect Zach LaVine and Alford's son, Bryce, off the bench for more than 20 minutes each. It'll be about matchup strategy in stretches as one of the nation's best offensive teams plays one of the best defenses. Miller's Arizona team will be playing chess trying to stop UCLA as the lineups change, and it will need to use its versatility to combat Anderson and Co.

"Depth is deceiving," Miller said. "In our case, if you have the versatility ... it almost makes you deeper than maybe it appears. We've had that. The seven (rotation players) really play two positions."

But will they have answers for a uniquely-designed Bruins squad?

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