LAS VEGAS — Arizona and UCLA renew the Pac-12′s best basketball rivalry tonight in the conference tournament semifinals, and here are three things to watch (otherwise known as Larry Drew II, Larry Drew II, Larry Drew):
1. Uh… Larry Drew II
The UCLA senior has carved up Arizona in two meetings this season with his superior point guard play, averaging 10.5 points and nine assists per game, with just five turnovers. Arizona’s counterpart, Mark Lyons, is averaging 14.5 points, but that’s not the story.
This is the story: 10 turnovers and a scant one assist in two games vs. the Bruins.
Arizona’s chances of winning get skinny if Lyons doesn’t somewhat approximate Drew’s effectiveness.
“Larry Drew has been a huge reason that we’ve lost both games,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said.
“He has scored and also gotten his teammates easy baskets. I’m pretty sure we’re not the only team that feels that way. But we have to be able to contain him. We have to be able to make sure that he doesn’t control the game at the end of the clock, at the end of the game.”
Drew isn’t known as a scorer, but he is coming off a career-high 20-point performance in a quarterfinals victory over Arizona State. Miller had lobbied for Drew to be the Pac-12 Player of the Year, an honor that went to Cal’s Allen Crabbe.
2. Rematch revenge
Emotions will be running hot, and the Wildcats, after beating Colorado on Thursday night, said all the right things about being revved for another shot against UCLA.
Said center Kaleb Tarczewski: “I don’t think anybody wants to beat another team in the country as bad as we want to beat UCLA.”
Said forward Solomon Hill: “Any time a team beats you twice, you really want to get that one win. … I know this: Everybody on our side of the fence is eager and knows that it’s going to be a really, really hard fought game.”
Said guard Nick Johnson: “It’s a great blessing being able to play UCLA. We know they got us two times in the season so we are definitely looking forward to it. I think this time we will play better defense against them. That got away from us in the middle of the season.”
UCLA won the first meeting, 84-73 in Tucson. The Bruins took Game 2, 74-69 in Los Angeles.
3. Board battle
Before the Cats played at UCLA on March 2, assistant coach James Whitford said, “We have to win battle of the boards and it can’t be close.”
Arizona out-rebounded the Bruins by five … but still lost. Perhaps that edge on the boards needs to be wider, considering the teams each had eight second-chance points.
The Bruins, in a rarity for them this season, actually won the rebounding battle when they won in Tucson, and the disparity in the final score reflected that advantage. In this third meeting, the Wildcats need to win the board battle, and more decisively than they did two weeks ago.
UCLA has length, but not the size of UA center Kaleb Tarczewski, who pulled down 10 rebounds in Los Angeles. The Bruins, until beating ASU on Thursday night, had been out-rebounded in 11 consecutive games.
Multi-talented 6-9 forward Kyle Anderson leads UCLA with 8.8 rebounds per game, and 6-6 wing Shabazz Muhammad can be a force on the offensive glass.