Friday, March 10, 2006

UCLA vs. Arizona - Game Preview

By Bruin Basketball Report

The No.1 seed UCLA Bruins take on the No.4 seed Arizona Wildcats in a semifinal match-up in the Pac-10 tournament.

The Bruins (25-6, 14-4) easily disposed of the Oregon St. Beavers 79-47 on Thursday. Led by Ryan Hollins 17 points and 8 rebounds, the Bruins never trailed and put the game away at the start of the second half.

Arizona (19-11, 11-7) advanced to the semifinal with a 73-68 victory over Stanford. Four of five Arizona starters scored in double figures led by Ivan Radenovic's 21 points.

But it was the Wildcat defense which was difference in the game. Arizona forced Stanford into a season-high 23 turnovers on 13 steals. Guard Chris Rodgers had 5 steals by himself as the Wildcat pressure defense unraveled Stanford.

"It's the best defensive team we've had,” Arizona coach Lute Olson said, “and I think that pressure on the ball forced a lot of those turnovers. We ended up with 16 more possessions as a result of the turnover margin."

Arizona won despite shooting only 39% from the field versus Stanford’s 50%; and were out-rebounded 33-25.

The Wildcats will be looking for payback when they face the Bruins in their next semifinal match-up.

UCLA swept Arizona this year in conference play for the first time since the 1996-1997 season. The Bruins defeated the Wildcats in Tucson 85-79 behind 22 points from Arron Afflalo; and beat them again in Pauley 84-73 when Afflalo scored a career-high 27 points.

Arizona is without their leader and top scorer, Hassan Adams, who was suspended from the tournament due to a DUI arrest over the weekend. He was averaging 17.3 points and 2.7 steals per game.

Against Stanford, a number of Wildcats stepped up to make up for Adam’s absence from the line-up

In addition to his game-high 21 points, forward Ivan Radenovic grabbed a team-high 7 rebounds, and got to the foul line often shooting 9-10 from the stripe. Radenovic averaged 11.4 points per game during the regular season.

Radenovic has played well against UCLA in both their meetings scoring 30 points on 12-16 (75%) shooting. He can step out and hit from the perimeter, but at the urging of coach Lute Olson, he has been posting up effectively inside.

Depending on whether Radenovic is paired with teammate Kirk Walter in the line-up, coach Ben Howland will likely rotate Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Alfred Aboya, and Ryan Hollins on him hoping to slow him down.

Arizona’s Chris Rodgers has not shot well from the field this year (34%) nor has he shot well from three-point distance (35%). Yet, he creates most of his offensive opportunities from his suffocating defense.

Rodgers is averaging 9.4 points and 2.2 steals per game. His defensive pressure on Stanford's guard Chris Hernandez was a key to the Wildcat victory on Thursday.

The Bruins, who have been prone to turnovers this year, must take good care of the ball. Against Oregon St the Bruins committed 11 turnovers in the first-half, but only 4 in the second half. Not surprisingly, UCLA began pulling away in the second half after they began cutting down on their turnovers.

Arizona's junior guard Mustafa Shakur has been inconsistent this year but pulled together a great game against Stanford. He scored 18 points and dished out 6 assists in the loss.

However, Shakur has struggled. mightily against the Bruins this year. He has scored only 8 points on 2-14 (14%) shooting and has committed 7 turnovers in two games.

UCLA guard Darren Collison has given Shakur fits in both games with his speed and quickness.

With Hassan Adams out, Shakur’s play on Thursday may determine how well Arizona does in the game.

Arizona’s Marcus Williams has had a terrific freshman campaign. He was the runner-up to UCLA’s Luc Richard Mbah a Moute for the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year.

Williams scored 19 points in the first meeting against UCLA but only 11 in the rematch at Pauley. The biggest difference between the two games was the defense of UCLA’s Cedric Bozeman.

Bozeman did not play in the first game due to injury (shoulder) but played in the second game and he completely blanketed Williams. Unfortuantely for the Bruins, Bozeman may not play on Friday.

Shortly before the end of the first half against the Beavers on Thursday, Bozeman sprained his ankle. Whether Bozeman will play on Friday – it will be up to the coaching staff who have indicated his playing status will be a game-day decision.

If Bozeman does not suit up for the game then UCLA’s Michael Roll and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute will match-up with Williams.

Center Kirk Walters was 6-6 for 14 points against the Bruins in the second conference game and was aggressive in the paint. With Hollins and Alfred Aboya presently playing good solid interior defense, the Bruins should be able to match-up better with Walters this time around.

Arizona reserve Bret Brielmaier played a season-high 25 minutes against Stanford in place of Hassan Adams. He scored 6 points on 3-6 shooting. Brielmaier has been known to hit key shots during a game.

UCLA has been playing their best basketball of the year, and much of it can be attributed to the improved play of senior center Ryan Hollins.

In just his last two contests, Hollins has averaged 15 points and 8 rebounds per game while shooting 73% (11-15) from the field. He needs to continue his stellar play – both offensively and defensively, especially if both Radenovic and Walters play well on Friday.

Bruin opponents have been attempting to exploit the Bruin's weakness against zone defenses, but it appears coach Howland and the team have finally solved the zone.

Over the past few games, Michael Roll has been consistently hitting from three-point distance. He is 6-7 from beyond the arc in his last two games (86%).

In addition, the Bruins have altered their offensive sets against zone defenses. Rather than have Jordan Farmar dribble the ball around the perimeter of the defense, they now put Farmar in the soft corners of the zone where his shot has been deadly.

Beavers’ coach Jay John tried a 2-3 zone for only a short while against UCLA on Thursday, but when Farmar and Roll showed they could hit the three-point shot, the zone was called off.

The Bruin offense has been humming along. They are scoring inside with their big men and scoring from the perimeter with solid three-point shooting. Against the Beavers, the Bruins shot 10-16 (62%) from beyond the three-point arc.

The Bruins have scored 70 or more points in four of the last five games and are shooting at a 54% clip from the floor.

As they did against the Beavers, UCLA needs to come out against Arizona with energy and intensity to avoid a slow start.

Although the Wildcats are without Hassan Adams, they still have a lot of offensive weapons in Radenovic, Shakur, and Williams. In addition, Arizona has won many games this year with their pressure defense creating turnovers and scoring opportunities.

The Bruins need to make sure they take care of the ball and play with the urgency they have displayed in their previous two games.

If UCLA beats Arizona then they will face the winner of the Oregon Ducks/California Bears contest. On Thursday, No.7 seed Oregon upset No.2 Washington; while No.3 seed California took care of No.6 seed USC to advance to their semifinal game.



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