No.11 Arizona vs. UCLA: Preview, Breakdown and Prediction
No.11 Arizona vs. UCLA
After a strong start to the season, Arizona has really struggled recently. The Wildcats went 18-4 over the first 22 games of the season, but have dropped three of their last six, all to unranked teams. The major reason for Arizona’s recent struggles has been its inability to convert from beyond the arc. Since the start of PAC-12 play, the Wildcats have taken the most three-pointers of any team in the conference, however, they have converted only 33.7 percent of their attempts. In Arizona’s loss to UCLA on Jan. 24, Sean Miller’s team connected on only five of its 24 shots from three-point range.
In their prior meeting, the Bruins traveled to Tucson, and came away with their biggest win of the season, defeating then-No.6 Arizona by the score of 84-73. The game was supposed to be a statement win for the Bruins, yet they got crushed in their next game, losing by 18 points at Arizona State. After another loss to rival USC, UCLA turned it around, and went 5-1 during the month of February. Tonight, the Bruins will host the Wildcats at Pauley Pavilion, where they have absolutely dominated. UCLA has gone 14-3 at home this season, and is currently riding a three-game home winning streak. The Wildcats are ranked No.11 in the AP Top 25, and UCLA will be seeking its third win against a ranked opponent this season.
Check out the breakdown of each team, and the major themes that will decide this game.
No.11 Arizona Wildcats (23-5, 11-5 PAC-12)
The Wildcats had a great start to the season, and took down then-No.5 Florida on the way to a 14-game winning streak. Arizona got off to its fast start through its ability to rack up points in a hurry. In PAC-12 play, the Wildcats are averaging 71.3 points, and are leading the conference in scoring margin. Since Jan. 10, the Wildcats have gone just 9-5, with every loss coming to an unranked team. The major reason for Arizona’s recent struggles has come from three-point range, on both ends of the court.
Offensively, 31 percent of the ‘Cats shot attempts come from long-range, but they are converting on only 33.7 percent of their shots. On the defensive end, Arizona has the worst perimeter defense in the conference, and are allowing opposing teams to connect on 37.3 percent of their shots from three-point range. In tonight’s game, the Wildcats will be looking to right the ship by going into Pauley Pavilion and coming away with the W.
Star Player: SF Solomon Hill
#44 - SF Solomon Hill - 6’7’’ 220 - Senior
Stat Line: 33.1 MPG, 13.9 PPG, 45.6 FG%, 38.8 3P%, 5.3 RPG, 2.6 APG, 1.3 SPG
While his statistics have fallen across the board, Solomon Hill has made markable progress in his ability to play on the wing. The 6’7’’ forward has developed into an all-around scorer by adding range to his jumper, and improving his perimeter game. After shooting 34 percent on mid-range jump shots as a junior, Hill is currently connecting on 41 percent of his mid-range j’s. As a senior, Hill has connected on a career-high 47 three-pointers, and is converting on 38.8 percent of his shots from deep.
The major weakness in Hill’s game has been his overall regression in major statistical categories. A career 49.4 percent shooter, Hill is currently converting on 45.6 percent of his shots from the field. After averaging a career-high 7.7 rebounds per game last season, Hill is pulling in 5.3 rebounds per contest, which is third on his own team.
Strengths: Constantly Developing Offensive Game, 3-Point Shooter
Weaknesses: Lack of Development in Other Aspects of his Game
UCLA (21-7, 11-4 PAC-12)
The Bruins season has been a rollercoaster ride of big wins, followed up by even bigger losses. For example, after taking down then-No.6 Arizona on Jan. 24, UCLA dropped consecutive games to Arizona State and USC. The Bruins are at their best on the offensive end of the court. UCLA is currently leading the PAC-12 in both scoring, and assists, and starting point guard Larry Drew II is fourth in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio.
UCLA’s biggest weakness has been its inability to make an impact on the glass. The Bruins are giving up 41.4 rebounds per game, and 14.6 offensive boards per game, which are both dead last in the conference. The Bruins have gone 14-3 at home this season, and are currently riding a three-game home winning streak. In tonight’s game, UCLA will attempt to continue its dominance at Pauley Pavilion and build momentum going into the postseason.
Star Player: SF Shabazz Muhammad
#15 - SF Shabazz Muhammad - 6’6’’ 225 - Freshman
Stat Line: 30.6 PPG, 18.3 PPG, 46.4 FG%, 44.9% 3P%, 5.2 RPG, 1 APG, 0.7 SPG
As the No.1 recruit in the class of 2012, Shabazz Muhammad had major expectations surrounding his debut in Westwood. The 6’6” wing possesses the strength to compete in the NBA right now and uses his physique to get to the rim at will, where he finishes with authority. Muhammad has improved dramatically in multiple facets of his game throughout his short college career, especially in his consistency from the perimeter. He primarily relied on his strength and athleticism to excel at Bishop Gorman High School, but has continued to develop as a perimeter shooter, and is currently leading UCLA in three-point shooting percentage.
The biggest weakness in his game is that he does not offer much else besides his scoring prowess. With his size and strength, he should be able to absolutely dominate his defensive assignment every game, however, he seems uncommitted on the defensive end, and is averaging only 0.7 steals per game.
Strengths: NBA-Ready Body, Lethal Scorer
Three Keys to the Game: No.1 - Can the Bruins Capitalize From Behind the Arc?
For UCLA, the key to tonight’s game will be its ability to knock down shots from the perimeter. Arizona possesses one of the worst perimeter defenses in the nation, and has allowed opponents to convert on 37.3 percent of their three-point shots. The Wildcats’ inability to extend their defense out to the arc has been especially evident over the last three weeks. In Arizona’s last three losses, its opponents have shot a combined 23 for 40 from long-range, a ridiculous 57.5 percent mark. If UCLA is going to sweep the season series with Arizona, the Bruins will have to capitalize on their advantage from the perimeter.
Three Keys to the Game: No.2 - Will Arizona’s 6th- Man Continue to Step Up?
Arizona’s 6th-man, Kevin Parrom, is one of the most inspirational stories in college basketball. Parrom sat out a majority of last season recovering from a gunshot wound (the bullet remains lodged in his leg) and a broken foot. While he has been very inconsistent throughout his senior year, Parrom has been on fire in his last two games. In his previous three games, Parrom scored a combined 13 points on 5 of 15 shooting from the floor. In his last two games, the 6’6’’ small forward has averaged 17.5 points, while shooting 75 percent from the field, including a remarkable 8 for 12 from behind the arc. Tonight, Parrom’s contribution will be especially important. During his two-game hot streak, Parrom has shot 75 percent, while the rest of the Arizona team has converted on just 41.5 percent of their shots from the field. The Wildcats will need Parrom to step up if they are going to have any chance of traveling to Westwood and coming away with a victory.
Three Keys to the Game: No.3 - Who Will Win the Point Guard Matchup?
One of the major aspects of tonight’s game will be the positional battle at the point guard spot. Arizona’s starting point guard, Mark Lyons, is currently leading the team in points with an average of 15.2 per game. The senior transfer from Xavier has continued to improve as the season has progressed. In his first 19 games as a Wildcat, Lyons posted double digit scoring totals in 12 games. In his last 10 games, Lyons has scored double figures in every single game. On the other side, UCLA’s starting point guard Larry Drew II is one of the best facilitators in the nation. The UNC transfer is currently fourth in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio, and is averaging 3.5 assists for every turnover. The point guard matchup will be a major factor tonight, as both players have the ability to dominate on the offensive end of the floor.
In tonight’s game, I expect UCLA to maintain its home winning streak and sweep the season series with the Wildcats. After dropping three of six, the Wildcats are reeling, and have been abysmal on the defensive end. Look for Shabazz Muhammad and Jordan Adams to light up the scoreboard, and lead the Bruins to their third win against a Top 25 team this season.
Final Score: UCLA 76 - Arizona 73