The Arizona Wildcats played poorly against UCLA. Depending on who you talk to, they’ll say the UA looked like either the Titanic, the Hindenburg or the approval rating of “Fifty Shades of Grey.”
Unless you’re talking to this guy. You won’t hear me complaining about beating UCLA one bit.
No, I’m not blind. I saw the UA miss two-thirds of its shots. I know the Wildcats went scoreless in the first six minutes of the first half only to top that by posting a bagel for nearly seven minutes to open the second half.
I just know we’re well past the point of awarding style points. Since Christmas, Arizona’s modus operandi has been dominate or lose. Lose to UNLV then win the next two games by an average of 21 points. Lose to Oregon State then go on a three-week rampage with an average margin of victory of 20 points. Fall to ASU then 24-point win, 27-point win, 30-point win.
Against UCLA, the UA didn’t dominate but didn’t lose either. Everybody dance!
If the three losses this season each served as a wake-up call, this un-pretty win should do the same. The Bruins didn’t play much man-to-man and Stanley Johnson, T.J. McConnell and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson combined to miss all six of their 3-point attempts. It was a reminder the Cats need to attack the basket even when facing a zone.
You can worry about the Wildcats’ offense or rave about the defense. UCLA shot 38% from the floor. Arizona pulled down 26 defensive rebounds while the Bruins could only grab one offensive board. UCLA scored five points in the final nine minutes of the first half and eight points in the final 11 minutes of the second half.
Arizona didn’t start well. But it finished just fine.
This was fourth time in the last six weeks the UA scored fewer than 70 points and still won by double digits. That defense is going to be the engine that propels this ship as far as it’ll go.
Where it’s going now is the Pac-12’s unofficial Championship Week.
It looked like the loss to the Sun Devils was going to be the hoops equivalent of knocking them out of the Rose Bowl. Arizona and Utah were tied atop the standings but the Feb. 28 showdown in Salt Lake City was looming.
Instead, the Utes joined the Cats in stumbling on the Oregon Trail and Arizona’s one-game cushion is back.
It’s interesting that the Wildcats and Utes both got stuck with the extended Thursday / Sunday schedule against Oregon / Oregon State and both favorites fell in the Sunday contest. We discussed how long road trips could play a factor in the Pac-12 race and, sure enough, they have.
Utah was poised to take sole possession of first place on its home court this week but now Arizona can chinch no worse than a share of the regular season championship with a pair of wins.
Let the record show I did say a pair of wins. The benefit of Utah losing to Oregon goes away if the Cats don’t take care of business at Colorado on Thursday. Catching up on the Buffaloes’ latest round of bulletin board material should be required reading for every Wildcat player this week.
There was nothing about the UCLA game that could be termed beautiful. Nothing, that is, except the final score. And the defense. That sweet, sweet defense.
Arizona is still in the top 10, still in first place and the Wildcats are playing for a conference title this week.
It’s going to take a lot more than a few (dozen) missed shots to get me to complain about that.
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