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Point guard battle goes to UCLA in win over sixth-ranked Arizona

Mark Lyons

UCLA’s Larry Drew (left) got the best of Arizona’s Mark Lyons on Thursday night. Photo by Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Arizona’s Sean Miller praised a point guard Thursday night. It was not his own.

As he made a point to say after an 84-73 home loss to UCLA, there is a long line of Wildcats who can take the blame for the early cold shooting, the shoddy defense and undisciplined offense that contributed to the Bruins’ victory.

But point guard would seem to be a good place to start.

In a battle of senior transfers, UCLA’s Larry Drew had seven points, nine assists and two turnovers while Arizona’s Mark Lyons had 16 points, no assists and five turnovers.

The set-em-up Drew had a far superior night to the score-first Lyons.

“Their point guard played a great, great game,” Miller said.

“His nine assists don’t reflect on how he dominated the game. I would say he had probably four or five other plays when his pass led to a foul, so that’s not an assist. But we had no answer for him; he picked us apart.

“He’s a really, really good player. He’s the perfect point guard for their team because he makes everybody better. I thought you really felt that watching the game tonight.”

Lyons has saved Arizona’s bacon on a few occasions this season. He’s tough. He’s fearless. The Cats are so much better off because he transferred from Xavier for his final year of eligibility. But you have to take the good with the bad.

He is what he is — a player transitioning to a full-time point guard role who struggles when he has to set up the offense in the half court and get the Cats in offensive rhythm.

Each of Lyons’ five turnovers was devastating. Each created a quick transition and points for the Bruins. Here’s the ugly break down:

–Lyons’ turnover at 16:13 of the first half: Travis Wear dunks seven seconds later.

–Lyons’ turnover at 8:27 of the first half. David Wear hits a jumper seven seconds later.

–Lyons’ turnover at 5:25 of the first half: Jordan Adams makes a layup six seconds later.

–Lyons’ turnover at 2:43 of the first half: Adams lays it in three seconds later.

–Lyons’ turnover at 5:28 of the second half: He fouls Shabazz Muhammad, who makes two free throws three seconds later.

Five turnovers led to 10 quick, easy points.

It was much the same story for all of Arizona’s 14 turnovers.

“Our turnovers were disastrous turnovers,” Miller said.

“They were turnovers that didn’t really come from our offense; they came from individual play. We didn’t pass the ball. We didn’t share it quite as well. And that can happen when you’re always playing from behind.

Arizona, which fell behind 21-5, kept jabbing back at the Bruins. The Cats were within five late in the first half, within 55-51 in the second half and were down only six with 3:47 to go. The white-clad Arizona fans, with flashbacks to the big comebacks against Florida and Colorado dancing in their heads, were ready to blow off the roof off McKale.

Miller called the rallies “fool’s gold.”

“I don’t know if we ever had that look in our eye like, ‘OK, we’re here,’” Miller said. “We always seemed to be playing catch-up, because we were. That start is such a punch.”

Through it all, Drew kept the Bruins humming. He entered the game third in the nation in assists (8.1 per game) and first in assist-to-turnover ratio (4.67-to-1).

“I thought Larry Drew did a phenomenal job,” UCLA coach Ben Howland said.

“With about seven or eight minutes to go, he made some great decisions where he hit (David) Wear for an open jump shot, he hit Shabazz for an open 3, he hit Wear on another open jump stop for a layup inside. He really controlled things.

“With all the pressure they were applying, he was nine assists, two turnovers. He plays 35 minutes and was absolutely phenomenal.”

Lyons has sometimes been phenomenal, especially late in games, but Thursday night was not his night. He fouled out with 1:12 to go.

“He didn’t have a good game, no question,” Miller said. “He’s had a quite a few good games for us. We needed him to play really well tonight, and he didn’t.”

There was no panic, no anger, in Miller’s postgame public comments. His was all a reasoned approach. Arizona lost to a good team that can be great. It’s a long season. Sixth-ranked Arizona is still 16-2.

One of the lessons from the loss is that Arizona can’t start getting out of its game plan and play one-on-one ball when it falls behind. That is going to fall on the point guard, on Lyons. It’s not like the Cats are teeming with other options.

“There is a reason that you win with the pass and you have patience and you have execution and you play true team ball,” Miller said.

“We needed much more poise, much more passing.”

Maybe next time.

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