Arizona Basketball faces tough challenge with UCLA

It wasn’t an ideal start for Arizona Basketball (9-2, 3-2) against the Los Angeles schools this week as the Wildcats will look to rebound against the UCLA Bruins (8-2, 4-0).

Thursday was not a great evening for Arizona Basketball. Despite starting the game strong, their poor shooting and poor play at the guard positions allowed USC to control the game and ultimately dominate in their 87-73 win.

The challenge for Arizona is that UCLA is likely the better team than USC, and they too have good guards with a lot of size and length, which happens to be Arizona’s biggest weakness thus far.

Coming in, UCLA is riding high. They did lose big to San Diego State earlier in the year and lost in a close battle with Ohio State, but since then, the Bruins are on a roll, winners of three-straight with wins over Utah, Colorado, and most recently ASU on Thursday night.

No doubt they will have the confidence and momentum coming into this game, but to me, the bigger story here will be Arizona’s response from their poor performance against USC.

To me, Arizona has the talent to compete and win, but as we all know, in the game of basketball, it is all about the matchups.

USC’s guard dominated Arizona, driving to the bucket at will and hitting big shots. It also didn’t help that James Akinjo and Jemarl Baker scored a combined three points, and went just 1-16 from the field.

If Arizona is going to win, they will need to find ways to slow down players like Jamie Jaquez, Johnny Juzang, Tyger Campbell, and Chris Smith most notably.

The Bruins are a balanced team that doesn’t stick out in just one or two major areas, overall they are just a talented team overall that finds ways to win and use their length and athleticism to do it.

This is a game Arizona can win however, as I had noted previously, the Bruins are a better team than USC in my opinion. If Arizona is to come away with the victory, they are going to have to play much better than they did on Thursday evening and these are the Keys to do it:

Guard Play: This is perhaps the Wildcats’ biggest weakness as a team. They have decent but not exceptional guard play, and as we saw on Thursday evening against USC, that was the difference-maker.

UCLA has some talented guards, and if Arizona is to come away victorious, Akinjo and Baker are going to have to play better. They cannot afford another 1-16 and three-point performance.

If Arizona’s guards can step up, I like their chances of winning.

Defensive Effort: The last two games have been more forgettable performances defensively for Arizona. Allowing Washington State to shoot over 40 percent from the field, and USC to shoot over 58 percent from the field including 57 percent from three, the intensity and effort has to improve.

Typically priding themselves on defense, their play has to improve if they hope to beat UCLA. Arizona is a decent offensive team, but they are not good enough to outpace great offensive teams.

For this one, Arizona will have to get back to the basics and bring the effort defensively if they hope to come away with the win.

Urgency: On Thursday evening, as USC started to gain momentum and confidence, the urgency and play dissipated for Arizona. That cannot happen if they hope to beat UCLA.

Basketball is a game of stretches and runs, and the Wildcats need to play with urgency throughout the game. Following their 14-point loss to the Trojans, head coach Sean Miller questioned his teams’ effort down the stretch.

Hopefully, Arizona responds and comes out with a bit more effort and urgency. If they can do that, their chances of winning are much better.

Game Information:

Date: Saturday, January 9th, 2021

Time: 7:00 PM MST (Arizona Time), 6:00 PM PST

Location: Tucson, AZ – McKale Center (14,545… 0)

Line: -2.5 Arizona

Television: ESPN

Radio: Arizona IMG Sports Network Arizona Wildcats (Try TuneIn Radio)

Team Records:

  • Arizona Wildcats (9-2, 3-2):  Arizona got manhandled by USC’s guards, and the challenge will be even greater against UCLA if they hope to come away victorious.
  • UCLA Bruins (8-2, 4-0): After losing to San Diego State and Ohio State earlier this year, UCLA has been rolling, off to a 4-0 start in the Pac-12. Can they extend their winning streak?

All-Time Record: 42-57. Since 1949-50, UCLA has been in control of this series, but in about the last 20-30 years, this has become a bit of an intense Basketball rivalry in the Pac-12. Always creating entertaining games, UCLA dominated the Wildcats last year, winning both games in Tucson and in Westwood.

Hopefully, Arizona responds and plays better against UCLA, and of course come away with the victory. UCLA is a talented team and will certainly pose a challenge. As always, Bear Down, Arizona!