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Offensive efficiency, defensive rebounding have become Arizona’s true success indicators

arizona-wildcats-ucla-bruins-preview-offensive-efficiency-defensive-rebounding-2023-pac12 Photo by Christopher Hook/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As Arizona prepares for the biggest game of the season, all facets of its gameplan must be crisp in order to topple one of the hottest teams in the country. But based on the results from their first 19 games, there may be only two areas in which the Wildcats have to be good in order to win.

11th-ranked UA (16-3, 5-3 Pac-12) faces off against No. 5 UCLA (17-2, 8-0) at 12 p.m. MT Saturday, and if it wants to have any shot at repeating as conference regular-season champs a victory over the Bruins—who come to Tucson on a 14-game win streak—is a must.

UCLA ended its 74-62 win at ASU on a 16-2 run, holding the Sun Devils scoreless over the final 3-plus minutes. It has the top offensive and defensive efficiency in the league, per, and is also best in the Pac-12 on the offensive boards and in forcing turnovers.

On paper that sounds like a nightmare matchup for Arizona, which has turned it over 51 times in the past three games and has been inconsistent with its rebounding.

“Our rebounding numbers are good, but I don’t know if we’re a good rebounding team, if that makes sense,” coach Tommy Lloyd said after the USC win. “Our plus/minus is good, the percentages are okay, but I just think our team has more potential. And when you look back at some of the times we’ve struggled, I think a little bit it’s been effort-based on the last. And listen, that’s a common denominator for a lot of teams if you really dive in and evaluate the game, so we’re no different than anybody else. The better we rebound, the better chance we have to win.”

In Arizona’s case in particular, how it rebounds on the defensive glass has had a direct correlation to winning or losing. All three teams that have collected at least 35 percent of their missed shots have beaten the Wildcats, while in the 16 wins that rate is 31.7 percent or lower.

For the season, Arizona ranks 94th out of 363 Division I teams in opponent offensive rebound percentage (26.3). In Pac-12 games that rate climbs to 30.7, 6th-best in the league.

USC rebounded 26.2 percent of its misses on Thursday, turning 11 offensive boards into 14 second-chance points. Overall, opponents are averaging just under 10 second-chance points per game.

UCLA has had an OR percentage of 40 or better in four straight games, and in addition to being tops in the Pac-12 (37.4) it is 31st nationally (34.1). In their two losses, which were over a 3-day span before Thanksgiving against Illinois and Baylor in Las Vegas, the Bruins were far less efficient on the offensive glass and also had two of their three worst defensive games from an efficiency standpoint.

Which brings us to Arizona’s other stat that has dictated wins and losses: offensive efficiency.

The UA is ninth nationally in that category, at 117.9, though it hasn’t hit that number since before Christmas. It has been below four of the last six games, including the losses to Washington State (93.2) and Oregon (93.8), which along with the Utah loss (86.0) are the three lowest OE numbers of the season.

The Bruins have only allowed three teams to have an OE of 100 or better, including both that beat them. If Arizona can be the fourth, while also keeping UCLA from grabbing more than one-third of its misses, it will pick up a fifth victory this season over a ranked team and first against a Top-5 foe since beating No. 3 UCLA at McKale last February.