I asked Carlos Sandoval, lead editor of Go Joe Bruin, what he thought about this Thursday’s Pac-12 game against the Arizona Wildcats and the UCLA Bruins. Though some of his answers are a little testy–this is a rivalry after all–here is what he had to say:
1. UCLA’s freshman appear to be the real deal and have carried the Bruins throughout the season. What is it about their play that makes them so successful so early on?
They actually stumbled out of the gate. Jordan Adams started hot but he’s been invisible the past five or six games. Shabazz Muhammad started slow, picked up, and he’s struggled lately, too. Kyle Anderson’s been the only consistent freshman for these Bruins, and he’s really hard to classify. He’s a hell of a rebounder though, and he’s becoming a difference-maker. That said, they’ve been important largely because UCLA only has eight players on scholarship.
2. What player in particular will Arizona have to look out for most?
Arizona is going to have to look out for all of ‘em; the overrated squad down south is about one or two shots away from being where UCLA is at and to avoid being suprassed, they’re going to have to be aware that Travis Wear, Jordan Adams, Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson could go off at any point in the game. Travis Wear has come on really well on offense, though his inability to rebound is maddening.
3. What is UCLA’s weakest link?
UCLA’s weakest link is easily rebounding and that’s due to the fact that Travis and David Wear are ridiculously soft in boxing out opposition for the boards. The Bruins have had serious struggles rebounding against teams that are pretty good at doing so, and Arizona, for all their dorkiness, is very good at crashing the glasses. Huge disadvantage right there.
4. What Arizona player concerns you the most against the Bruins?
The Arizona bigs concern me for the reason I stated above — rebounding. If the Kitty ‘Cats play as big as they have, and if they can get enough energy out of their guys to crash the boards, expect all of them to accumulate for a huge day in second-chance points against UCLA.
5. What concerns you most about this matchup overall?
Rebounding. That’s easily the biggest key here.
6. If you were an Arizona fan, what would concern you most about UCLA?
I’d say the offense in general. It’s really hard to pinpoint what this team does well outside of just going out on the fast-break and trying to put up points in bunches. Shabazz Muhammad is a terror in transition, but he’s struggled lately and has put up bad shots. Jordan Adams was at one point a terror because he was so automatic when open from three, but he’s lost his groove. Travis Wear’s a big deal and it’ll be hard to stop his 15-foot jumper, but I feel as if teams can take him out of a game with physicality. The only player who I can’t find a definitive answer for is Kyle Anderson, who’s liable to act as UCLA’s point guard and really drive home some momentum while also being really difficult to guard when he’s driving. Defensively, he’s also a very solid rebounder, and UCLA’s best. Think Shaun Livingston or Shawn Marion without the athleticism.
7. Has Ben Howland’s success this year got him off the hot seat, or are fans still skeptical?
The assumption is that he’s gone at the end of the season barring something that would make it inexcusable to do so (i.e., get to the Final Four or win a banner). He’s burned a lot of bridges in local recruiting — what was once his bread and butter — and he’s now relying on going after hot-shot, five-star recruits and he’s missing out on them. Meanwhile, he’s still not playing freshman Tony Parker despite it being the most obvious thing to do to shore up UCLA’s issues with having to play man defense while being uptempo at the same time.