Two preseason AP All-Americans. Two top 10 teams who split their home-and-home series last season. Two conference foes who have had just one non-conference game to prepare them for what they are about to do.
What will it take for the No. 7 Arizona Wildcats or the No. 9 UCLA Bruins to emerge victorious on Friday night?
“We sort of know what we’re going to get from Aari (McDonald) and from Cate Reese,” said UCLA head coach Cori Close. “And I think that they would probably say the same about (Charisma Osborne) and Michaela (Onyenwere). I really do believe it’s going to be the other players. It’s going to be the ones that step up in new roles and do things and make an impact.”
For the Wildcats, that means someone stepping up to help break the zone defense that Adia Barnes expects UCLA to deploy. With only eight scholarship players available, the Bruins will need to protect them from foul trouble and fatigue.
“The eight players, we all only play seven players in conference,” Barnes said. “So I don’t think that that’s a huge factor. I mean, you’ll see even us with a longer bench, we’re going to probably play eight people. So I think that’s pretty similar. I think that the thing that can be a challenge for them with eight players is their style of defense. So they’re aggressive, and they get up in the passing lanes and stuff. So that’s probably hard to sustain with the small (roster) or if someone gets in foul trouble. I think that’s a big disadvantage for them, and I think that’s why you’ll see them play more zone. I’m anticipating probably at least 40 percent zone, and if they’re in foul trouble more.”
If it comes to pass, facing that zone could be a problem for the Wildcats. They have gone up against zone defenses consistently over the past few years because of their inability to shoot over or get the ball into the middle of it.
As a team, Arizona shot 34.8 percent from the 3-point line last year. That was an improvement from the 32.5 percent they shot in 2018-19, but still not consistent enough to keep opponents from zoning them.
The same problem reared its head in the Wildcats’ first game this season. They hit just three of the 13 3-pointers they took against NAU. All three came from McDonald in the second half.
Arizona also needs to keep UCLA off the boards.
“I don’t value offensive rebounds,” Barnes said, explaining that she’s more concerned with transition defense.
Boxing out is a different story. Last year, Barnes took to having players run for missed box outs in practice. She said that she probably should have kept doing it because the Wildcats were not good on the boards against the Lumberjacks.
Arizona outrebounded the smaller NAU team by a margin of just 48-46. UCLA out-rebounded Cal State Fullerton 42-30 in their lone tune-up game. Nineteen of those boards were on the offensive end, giving UCLA another chance at scoring. Four Bruins had at least seven rebounds each.
Meanwhile, UCLA was shooting 48.6 percent from the field. When combined with their dominant night on the glass, it was a 98-49 victory for the Bruins.
These two aspects of the game are important for Arizona. As last year demonstrated, it doesn’t take a long lapse in the quality of play for UCLA to take control.
Barnes characterized the meeting at Pauley Pavilion as her team “getting our butts kicked.” That’s certainly true of the third quarter of that game. Arizona and UCLA went into halftime tied at 31.
The Wildcats had outscored the Bruins 17-14 in the opening period. UCLA returned the favor by the exact same score in the second quarter.
The difference was that the Bruins came out ready for the second half. The Wildcats did not. The home team blew the doors off with a 28-13 third quarter. Arizona pulled it together over the final period, leading by a margin of 14-11 over the final 10 minutes, but it was too little too late.
That kind of lapse cannot happen on Friday. If the Wildcats want to protect their home court, they will need to play a complete game.
How to watch and follow the game
Start time: Tip off is at 7 p.m. MST on Friday, Dec. 4, 2020.
Location: McKale Center, Tucson, Ariz.
TV/Streaming: The game will air on the Pac-12 Network and Pac-12 Arizona.
Radio: Derrick Palmer will have the call. Listen on TuneIn or at KTUC 1400 AM
Stats: In-game stats are available on Arizona Live Stats.
Our coverage from this week
- Bendu Yeaney has been quarantined several times due to contact tracing
- Turkish forward Sevval Gül has put her name into the portal
- Adia Barnes is still trying to find non-conference games. Could a family reunion be in the cards?
- The Wildcats have ended up on the final list of yet another top recruit. Can they close the deal with Kailyn Gilbert?