By Casey Gagnon @CaseySportsAZ on March 16, 2014
Beating the Arizona Wildcats isn't easy, but that's what the UCLA Bruins did on Saturday at the Pac-12 Tournament final in Las Vegas. The Wildcats cruised to blowout tournament wins over the Utah Utes and Colorado Buffaloes, but the Bruins conquered the conference's top-ranked defense with a relentless first-half offensive attack, while at the same time playing stalwart defense of their own, specifically showcasing five ways to get the job done.
The Wildcats entered the tournament holding opponents to under 40 percent shooting this season. The Bruins weren't intimidated and wasted no time coming at the Wildcats inside to put a lot of points on the board early. Junior guard Norman Powell (pictured) led the early charge and was already in double figures by halftime. The Bruins shot 58.1 percent in the first half.
The Wildcats' backcourt tandem of juniors T.J. McConnell (pictured) and Nick Johnson penetrate every wide open lane they can find, and the Bruins stepped up at the defensive end by either swarming McConnell and Johnson every time one of them touched the ball, or else clogging the lane with their big men. As a result, the pair were forced on multiple occasions, especially in the second half, to heave desperation shots as the shot clock ran down.
Despite the fact that the Wildcats have been ranked in the top five nationally all season long, the charity stripe hasn't been their friend. They entered the conference tournament barely shooting 65 percent from the line, second worst in the conference. The futility escalated on Saturday as the Wildcats shot an anemic 6-for-16 at the line, and coach Sean Miller (pictured) has often lamented that his team continues leaving points on the table.
Wildcats forward Aaron Gordon is one of the best freshmen in the nation, but still, a "newbie" without big game experience that upperclassmen possess. The Bruins were in Gordon's face all afternoon and he shot only 4-for-11 from the floor. Although he scored 11 points, he had to bust his tail for every one of them. Gordon is also an unofficial poster child for his team's aforementioned foul shooting woes, going 2-for-8 from the line Saturday.
The Wildcats hammered both the Utes and Buffaloes on the boards by a combined 80-49 margin. The Bruins weren't about to allow the Wildcats to keep the trend rolling, and finished with a 38-37 rebounding advantage in Saturday's contest. Sophomore Kyle Anderson snagged 15 boards, all on the defensive glass, steamrolling over Wildcats big men Kaleb Tarczewski and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (both pictured) to nicely complement his 21 points.
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