UCLA Bruins (13-6, 5-2) at Arizona Wildcats (16-4, 5-2)by Javier Morales on Jan. 26, 2011, under Sports
A look at what to expect Thursday night in the all-important contest for second place in the Pac-10 (more info to come at our partner site, WILDABOUTAZCATS.COM):
Matchups (Tipoff 7 p.m., Tucson time)
What’s going right: A major reason why UCLA has won four consecutive games: Lazeric Jones, a teammate of UA forward Jesse Perry at Logan (Ill.) Junior College, who has scored 13, 12, 24 and 17 points during the winning streak. In the last two games — sweep of the Bay area schools in Los Angeles — Jones attempted a Derrick Williams-like 23 free throws, converting 20 of them.
What’s going wrong: Jones and backcourt mate Malcolm Lee are struggling from three-point range in Pac-10 games, making only 19 of 58 (32.8 percent).
What’s going right: Kyle Fogg‘s defensive performance against prolific-scoring Washington State guard Klay Thompson Saturday ranks as one of the program’s best. Thompson entered as the Pac-10 leading scorer. and Fogg held him to a season-low 9 points on 4-of-16 shooting from the field. Thompson’s output was nearly 14 points below his scoring average of 22.9 ppg entering the contest and snapped a streak of 22 straight games in double figures. The off-night could also affect Thompson’s chance to top Williams as the Pac-10 Player of the Year.
What’s going wrong: Lamont “MoMo” Jones and Fogg are similarly struggling from beyond the arc like their counterparts in this game. Overall, they are shooting 32 of 105 (30.5 percent) from three-point range.
Who has the edge? UCLA. Lazeric Jones and Lee, three-point shooting notwithstanding, comprise one of the most productive backcourts in the Pac-10. Lee leads the Bruins in scoring in Pac-10 games at 13.9 a game. Within the arc, Lee is shooting 19 of 35 (54.3 percent), and he and his backcourt mate have a tendency to get to the foul line. Lazeric Jones has gone the most to the foul line in Pac-10 games, making 32 of 37 attempts. Lee has converted 23 of 31. Jones also has 24 assists with only 11 turnovers in 197 minutes played in conference games. Can Fogg and MoMo Jones duplicate their performance Saturday against WSU (11 assists and one turnover in 57 minutes)?
What’s going right: When healthy, Reeves Nelson and Joshua Smith offer UCLA coach Ben Howland an imposing frontcourt combination. Nelson and Smith are nursing injuries — Smith after banging his head against Cal and Nelson after spraining his ankle against Stanford. They have undergone light practices this week. Nelson and Smith combine for 22.6 points and 14.9 rebounds a game while shooting 61 of 97 from the field (62.9 percent) in Pac-10 games.
What’s going wrong: Sophomore wing Tyler Honeycutt has endured an inconsistent season to this point. He looked like a Pac-10 Player of the Year candidate with 33 points on 11 of 16 shooting from the field at Kansas in a near-upset of the Jayhawks. But in the next game, he scored only 11 on 3 of 12 shooting in an upset loss to Montana at home. Last week, Honeycutt awoke to score 15 against Cal and 16 against Stanford. In the four previous games, Honeycutt shot only 13 of 38 from the field (34.2 percent) while averaging 9.3 points a game. So much for grooming the backup in case of an emergency: Little-used redshirt freshman Anthony Stover, a 6-10 post player from Pasadena, started in Smith’s place last weekend. He averages 6.8 minutes a game and has 12 points and 24 rebounds all season.
What’s going right: Could this be the turning point for Perry as he finally gets acclimated to big-time college basketball (his former JC teammate Lazeric Jones is heating up)? Against Washington State, Perry scored seven points, grabbed seven rebounds and recorded a steal. If Perry averaged 7 to 8 rebounds the rest of the way, UA coach Sean Miller would likely be thrilled. Perry currently averages 4.1. Perry nailed a shot-clock-beating three-point attempt with 8:34 left in regulation, tying the game at 47 and capping a pivotal 10-2 run for the Wildcats.
What’s going wrong: Solomon Hill, a sophomore wing like Honeycutt, pulled down only three rebounds in 49 minutes last weekend against the Washington schools. Honeycutt is averaging 7.7 rebounds a game while Hill is at 4.4.
Who has the edge?: Arizona. Any time a college player pulls down 19 rebounds a game, it’s obvious he’s playing with a purpose. There’s no denying Williams these days. He posted his third consecutive double-double, scoring 17 points to go with his rebound performance against the Cougars. Williams is averaging 23.0 points and 12.2 rebounds over the last five games, which is as good of a stretch that any Wildcat has experienced in the history of the program. Look for Hill and Perry to take this game as a personal challenge — Hill matched up against Honeycutt and Perry showing his former teammate he belongs at this level as well.
What’s going right: The Bruins essentially go eight deep — without Stover — but now that he has gained starting experience for Howland, it should help the Bruins’ depth. The three players involved in UCLA’s eight-player rotation the most are junior guard Jerime Anderson, sophomore forward Brendan Lane and freshman guard Tyler Lamb. Anderson’s experience spelling Lazeric Jones off the bench is valuable; he has 56 assists with only 24 tunovers and he’s produced 18 steals in 18.2 minutes per game.
What’s going wrong: Lane and Lamb are undergoing some growing pains. In Pac-10 games, the young, promising duo is only averaging 3.5 points a 4 rebounds combined. Together, they are shooting 8-for-33 from the field (24.2 percent).
What’s going right: This from Arizona sports information specialist Richard Paige — Brendon Lavender contributed six points with a pair of three-pointers, equaled a career-high with two steals and grabbed a rebound in 11 minutes against Washington State. Incidentally, Lavender, who ranks third on the team with 22 three-pointers, averages one for every 11.8 minutes, the best of any of the Arizona regulars.
What’s going wrong: Kevin Parrom has attempted only two free throws (making both) in the UA’s seven conference games to date. Somebody who plays as physical and aggressive as Parrom does should be going to the line more. Jordin Mayes, who averages 13.4 minutes a game in the Pac-10 compared to Parrom’s 18.9, has attempted more — making 1 of 5.
Who has the edge?: Overall, Arizona. Miller does a good job of rotating in Jamelle Horne, Parrom and Lavender at most opportune times it seems. That trio has more experience and clutch performances than UCLA’s most-used threesome off the bench. Remember when you once cringed when Horne attempted a three-pointer? Does anybody really care now that Horne has made more three-pointers (10) than field goals inside the arc (six) during conference games? Conference opponents now have to respect his ability to shoot from three-point range, where he is making 52.6 percent of his attempts (10 of 19). Mind-boggling stat: Horne, Hill and Williams — wing and power forward types — have combined to make 21 of 34 three-point attempts (61.8) in Pac-10 games. That versatility makes Arizona a dangerous team to defend inside and out.
Two of the most tireless recruiters in the league — Howland and Miller — figure to keep UCLA and Arizona on top of the Pac-10 standings for quite a while. That means Howland and Miller should develop the same kind of rivalry that Mike Montgomery and Lute Olson experienced. It also means the rebirth of the UCLA-Arizona rivalry is upon us. Howland heard some catcalls for his job earlier this season when the Bruins started 3-4 after endurig a four-game losing streak, including an embarrassing loss to Montana at Pauley Pavilion. The criticism comes with the territory for a coach who has turned out an abundance of NBA talent and won three Pac-10 titles in his first five seasons in Westwood. UCLA responded after the four-game skid to win six straight, including a victory over BYU and Jimmer Fredette in Anaheim. Howland has edge over Miller in terms of overall success (three Final Fours) but Howland should keep a good look over his shoulder.
Thanks to UA’s fortuitous win over Wazzu on Saturday, my weekend was also not lost after picking Arizona to upset Washington in the Thursday game. UCLA may not play Nelson and Smith in this game, but I believe the Wildcats would present a difficult challenge at home against the Bruins if they play. The students are back in town, it’s UCLA and ESPN2 is telecasting the game live. All that’s missing is Dick Vitale, but the well-informed Jay Bilas will do just fine. This Arizona team feeds off the McKale crowd as much as any I can remember and the arena should be buzzing. The Wildcats are 11-0 at home this season. Williams’ versatility creates matchup problems against a UCLA frontcourt without much depth. Arizona by 7.
WildAboutAZCats.com and another partner — SteveRiveraVentures.com — have a promotion this season with Tino’s Pizza in Tucson. During any UA men’s hoops game, order any large pizza (dine-in or carryout) get a discount of $2. Tino’s Pizza was voted as the Best Eastside Pizzeria by the Tucson Weekly last year. If you take advantage of this opportunity at Tino’s save your receipt and mail it to: TINO’S PIZZA / WILDABOUTAZCATS.COM CHALLENGE, c/o Javier Morales, P.O. Box 531418, Henderson, NV 89053 (include your full name, address and phone number). The person who spends the most during this promotion over the UA’s 18-game Pac-10 schedule wins a free Lute Olson-autographed “UA Basketball Vault” book (valued at $50)