The Arizona Wildcats will square off against the UCLA Bruins for the third time this season on Friday in the Pac-12 Tournament semifinals in Las Vegas.
The two teams split the first two matchups, and the winner this time will have a chance to play in the Pac-12 Tournament championship game, plus have the inside track to a higher seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Here’s what Arizona needs to do to win:
In the last matchup between Arizona and UCLA, the Wildcats did everything they needed to do defensively to win — except rebound.
UCLA shot below its season averages across the board, but turned 14 offensive rebounds in 20 second chance points.
The weird thing is that UCLA has a lot of strengths on offense, especially shooting from the perimeter and scoring at the rim, but offensive rebounding is not one of them. Yet, the Bruins were able to take advantage of the Wildcats’ poor defensive rebounding effort, allowing them to escape Tucson with a rare road win.
The Wildcats might not be able to turn in the same defensive effort against UCLA as they did a couple weeks ago, but they have no shot at winning if they can’t finish off the possessions when they do force a miss.
Execute against UCLA’s zone
We know the drill — attacking zone offenses is Arizona’s perceived Achilles heel. But the Wildcats actually did have success scoring on UCLA’s zone in their loss to the Bruins.
Sean Miller pointed out Arizona scored 31 points on 29 possessions when UCLA went to a zone a couple weeks ago, which is acceptable efficiency. The issue was the Wildcats started 1 for 8 against it and it led to Miller burning all of Arizona’s timeouts in order to sort out the kinks.
I guess you could say that worked because Arizona’s overall efficiency ended up being solid, but not having a timeout came back to bite the Wildcats as they were unable to set up a play with the game on the line.
In any event, obviously when you’re playing UCLA you have to be able match its offensive efficiency, which is the best in the country. Therefore Arizona generating good looks against UCLA’s zone — and making them — will be paramount if it is going to win this rematch.
Play at UCLA’s pace
Whoa. Arizona should play UCLA’s style of game?
OK, usually you do not want to play into the other team’s hands. Normally, you want to play your style and make the other team adjust, but in this case Arizona actually might benefit from abandoning its methodical pace in favor of UCLA’s run-and-gun style.
For a couple reasons.
First, it will minimize Arizona’s dependence on scoring against UCLA’s zone defense in the halfcourt.
Secondly, the Wildcats have performed better against the Bruins when the tempo is cranked up.
Take game one, for example. According to sports-reference.com, the pace — an estimate of the number of possessions per 48 minutes by a team — was 75.3 in the Wildcats’ win at Pauley Pavilion.
Arizona had an offensive rating — the number of points scored per 100 possessions — of 128.0 in that game, while UCLA was at 113.3.
In the second game in McKale Center, the pace was 67.3, notably slower. Arizona had a 107.5 offensive rating, and UCLA had a 114.9 offensive rating. The Bruins obviously won.
Seeing that Arizona had more success in the first game, perhaps it would be wise to follow the blueprint of that game this time around — and that is to make this rubber match into a track meet.
It sounds daunting, but unlike a lot of teams, the Wildcats proved in the first meeting that they have the athletes, talent, and depth to do it.
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