Arizona Wildcats have no answer for UCLA’s attacking style insideby Javier Morales on Feb. 26, 2011, under Sports
Arizona’s players should withstand the criticism of media and fans this week after hearing all they wanted from coach Sean Miller after the UCLA game Saturday.
The Wildcats’ players and coaches were in the locker room for at least a half-hour after the Bruins won convincingly 71-49 at Pauley Pavilion. When Miller emerged, he was barely audible during the KCUB (1400-AM) postgame radio interview with veteran play-by-play man Brian Jeffries.
“We need a few days to regroup,” Miller said. “This trip (the fourth time Arizona was swept in L.A. in the last six years) taught us some lessons. … We played a team (UCLA) that is playing at a high level. We need to play at a high level.”
No doubt, Arizona will hear these words this week from the media: The Wildcats have been exposed and overrated. They will be reminded of their shortcomings — especially their interior defense — until they play Thursday against Oregon State at McKale Center.
How will the Wildcats respond at a time when they need an answer? Entering Saturday, the Beavers were in ninth place in the Pac-10 with a 5-10 conference record and 10-16 overall. But Oregon State coach Craig Robinson is 3-0 against Sean Miller at Arizona, the only conference coach who has not lost to the second-year Arizona coach.
The Wildcats (23-6 overall, 12-4 in the Pac-10) had no answers for UCLA’s frontcourt players Reeves Nelson, Tyler Honeycutt and Joshua Smith. The trio combined for 59 of UCLA’s points on 23-of-36 shooting from the field.
Smith, a freshman center, had 17 points, four rebounds, a career-high three assists, and one blocked shot. He shot 7-for-11 from the field.
Nelson, a sophomore power forward, finished with a career-high 25 points.
Arizona’s first-team All-American candidate Derrick Williams, the likely Pac-10 Player of the Year, was matched often against both of them. Williams finished with a quiet 15 points and made the four free throws attempted.
“Derrick will probably be a Top 5 pick in the (NBA) draft next year if he decides to go,” Nelson said when asked by Fox broadcaster Samantha Steele why he played well against him. “I just like taking on challenges.”
Taking on challenges is what Miller meant by matching UCLA’s high level of intensity when the Wildcats play Oregon State and Oregon next weekend in Tucson. The Bruins and Wildcats are tied atop the conference standings with 12-4 records. Washington will likely close the gap to one game behind (11-5) after it hosts Washington State Sunday night.
If Washington beats UCLA and Arizona beats Oregon State Thursday night, the Wildcats can claim an outright league title by defeating Oregon at McKale Center on Saturday.
If UCLA and Arizona remained tied for the regular-season title after next weekend, the tiebreaker is the team’s record against league opponents starting from the top. At this point, it’s too early to tell what that scenario would involve.
“We are tied for first place and we have to take advantage of playing at home,” Miller said, simply to Jeffries.
What will not be so simple is getting Arizona’s offense back on track against Oregon State’s pesky 2-3 zone. Against USC and UCLA, the Wildcats achieved only nine assists. As a result, Williams had only 23 in the games combined.
“We played two teams that are excellent on defense,” Miller told Bruce Pascoe of The Arizona Daily Star afterward. “That took our scoring away and it really exposed our defense.”
And then Miller,whose team was 6-0 in the critical month of February before this trip, added this revelation: “As we’ve gone on this win streak, our defense has steadily slipped, regressed.”
Can Miller fix it in a week? Will the Wildcats respond at a time when they need an answer the most?