Arizona Basketball is in a position to accomplish back-to-back Pac-12 sweeps and remain among the leaders in the conference with a win over the UCLA Bruins.
In what used to be one of the top rivalries in college basketball, Arizona Basketball faces off against the UCLA Bruins at 8pm MST tonight. The Wildcats are looking for the rare back-to-back Pac-12 sweeps with a win, while the Bruins are looking to just stay above .500 in the conference and overall. Time to break out those brooms again, I have that “sweep” feeling.
The Wildcats are coming off a five-point win against the Trojans, in which they barely survived. They were able to knock down a few more throws to help come away win the win. Sean Miller was not happy at all with how his team performed and hoping they can get back on track and focused tonight.
For the Bruins, it has been an up and down season to say the least. A lot of fans were excited and hopefully with the addition of new head coach Mick Cronin, considering what he had done while at Cincinnati. The Bruins do have the core talent there, but similar to the Wildcats they have a lot of freshmen.
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The difference between these two teams this season is the Wildcats have been able to fight their way through tough times and get the wins, where the Bruins have not been able to get the job done. Plus, they were hoping to have Shareef O’Neal back this season, but he saw limited playing time and recently decided to transfer (and might be playing for LSU, his dad’s former team).
The last time these two teams met, the Bruins destroyed the Wildcats by 21 in Los Angeles. This time around, lineups for each team are completely different and the Wildcats are the more dominant teat. But as it goes in the Pac-12, nothing can be taken for granted. For the Wildcats to win this one and improve to 7-3 in conference they have to play 40 minutes, not 32.
All season long the one main downfall for this team has been shooting and closing out the games. As a team, they are averaging 80 points per game, where their opponent is only averaging 69.6 points per game. If everyone can get going on the offensive end and contribute close to their average points per game, the Wildcats win this one.
Against the Trojans, Josh Green came out of his slump and was a huge reason why the Wildcats win. He was scoring, grabbing rebounds, going after loose balls, playing incredible defense, he was doing it all! Other players will need to do this same in this one.
The Bruins do have the size and strength to compete, but athletically the Wildcats have the edge. More than likely they will be facing a zone defense and need to continue to feed Stone Gettings and Zeke Nnaji. Those two are confident in the shot-making abilities and if they get going, watch out!
Bench play will be huge in this matchup as well. It wasn’t really there versus the Trojans, except for Ira Lee who had a big night. Look for Max Hazzard, Jemarl Baker, and even Christian Koloko to step up tonight.
Defensively, the Wildcats will need to focus on the leading scorer for the Bruins, Chris Smith. He is averaging 12.6 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game. Smith is the only player for his team averaging in double figures. I would not be surprised to see Green defending him as he is the Wildcats’ best defender.
In the blocks, as has been the case all season long, controlling the boards will be key again in this matchup. Jalen Hill is their leading rebounder with 7.1 per game. The Wildcats’ bigs will need to box him out and prevent 2nd chance point or fast breaks off of misses.
There have been many memorable games between these two programs, including this one during the semifinal of the Pac-12 Tournament in 2015. Both teams battled back and forth, but the Wildcats came away with a 70-64 with Brandon Ashley leading the way with 24 points:
I’m sure the message was loud and clear by Miller to his team after the Trojans game in how they poorly executed down the stretch and were lucky to win. Versus the Bruins, it’s a chance for Arizona Basketball, not only get the back-to-back Pac-12 sweeps but to prove to their fans, coaches and themselves they are a great team. As always, Bear Down, Arizona!