A Bryce Alford buzzer-beater gave the UCLA Bruins an 87-84 win over the Arizona Wildcats at Pauley Pavilion on Thursday night. The Wildcats were down by nearly 20 points in the second half, so the fact they tied it with less than a minute left in the game was impressive, but they could not complete the comeback. Nonetheless, the game still served as a learning experience for the team.
Here are four things that we learned:
The team's defense is (still) a major issue
This was the worst defensive performance by a Sean Miller-coached team I've seen in a long time. In fact, Miller said after the game that might've been the worst ever since becoming Arizona's head coach, and I tend to agree.
The team didn't do a particular thing well on the defensive end. On the perimeter, the Wildcats were unable to stop penetration from UCLA's guards and wings, they were slow to rotate to three-point shooters, and they weren't able to fight through or around screens. On the interior, Dusan Ristic's subpar pick-and-roll defense and inability to prevent UCLA bigs from establishing favorable post position was evident. As a result of the all-around poor defense along with UCLA's talent and cohesive ball movement, the Bruins were essentially able to get open look after open look, and it resulted in the Bruins shooting 51.9% from the field and 11-22 from three.
Aside from what was mentioned above, there were far too many mental errors committed by the Wildcats as well. Ryan Anderson in particular seemed to get mixed up on pick-and-roll coverage a few times, which led to easy baskets. The Wildcats also got caught switching -- which was not by design. On Alford's final shot, for example, the Bruins were able to get Kaleb Tarczewski to switch onto Bryce Alford, and Tarczewski, not wanting to get blown by, took a step back towards the paint, which gave Alford more than enough space to deliver the dagger game-winning three..
Yes, Tarczewski was put into a tough spot because of the switch, but he also has to know how much time is on the clock. You just can't allow a guy to get that much space when you know he has to hoist up a shot. Still, had Arizona "hedged and recovered" on the pick-and-roll instead of switching as Miller intended, Zeus wouldn't have even been put in that situation to begin with.
Physical errors are unfortunate and are going to happen to every team, but mental errors -- especially as many as Arizona had -- are not acceptable. It was only fitting that two mental errors on the final play cost the team the game.
Tarczewski is healthy and will be starting again soon
While I love Dusan Ristic's efficient and aesthetically-pleasing offensive game, Tarczewski's defensive ability -- namely his rim-protection, post defense, and pick-and-roll defense -- is severely needed on this team. The team has trouble staying in front of talented guards and wings and Ristic simply doesn't offer enough resistance in the paint to erase mistakes. And, for this team, scoring the ball hasn't been much of an issue, so plugging in Tarczewski's defense for Ristic's offense is a worthwhile exchange.
But while Tarczewski's lateral quickness and savvy for disrupting the timing of shots in and around the paint is something that no other player on the team can offer, he has to be healthy to be able to offer that, and the good news is that in his two games since returning from injury, he hasn't looked limited physically at all. Honestly, I felt he was as bouncy as ever in this game. He was extremely active on the glass -- he had 12 rebounds in 24 minutes -- and he had a vicious dunk in traffic that Bill Walton called "the best play of all-time" or something like that. Anyway, it seems to be inevitable that he'll get his starting spot back. I could even see it happening next game. His minutes were increased from 15 against ASU to 24 against UCLA. The latter is nearly starter minutes, and so if he's not starting this weekend against USC, you can bet he'll be starting next week.
This team won't quit
Raise your hand if you thought the game was over when the Wildcats were down by 14 with just under six minutes left in the game. If you're not raising your hand, you're probably lying. I thought the game was all but done, but the 'Cats clawed their way back in the game and even managed to tie it up in the final minute. Sure they didn't get the result they wanted, but you have to admire how the team continued to fight until the final whistle. It would've been easy to succumb to the hostile road atmosphere, especially since UCLA couldn't miss, but they continued to work, and it nearly allowed them to steal a win on the road.
Hopefully they don't have many double-digit deficits in the future, but at least we know that, if they do, it wouldn't be wise to count them out.
Sean Miller was right about Parker Jackson-Cartwright's shooting
Parker Jackson-Cartwright struggled with his shot in non-conference play, but Sean Miller wasn't worried that it would be a season-long occurrence. He believed PJC would start hitting shots, and he's right. Jackson-Cartwright, after hitting his lone three-point attempt against ASU, responded by knocking down two out of three of his three-point attempts in this game.
But while his shooting may be coming around, his defense is still a concern. Before this game, PJC had the worst defensive rating among all of Arizona's rotation players (94.5). Kadeem Allen, on the other hand, has the best defensive rating on the (85.7), and it's become clear that Allen is the better player, and it wouldn't be surprising if PJC's minutes per game average continues to take a dip. Especially since Justin Simon has shown some flashes on brilliance on the court lately.