Friday, January 19, 2007

UCLA vs. Arizona - Game Preview

By Bruin Basketball Report

“We are the standard; I don’t think UCLA is the standard.”
– Marcus Williams, Arizona

The Arizona Wildcats, losers of their last two games, visit Pauley Pavilion for a Saturday afternoon contest.

Arizona (13-4, 4-3) lost at home to Oregon last week before venturing out to Los Angeles for what has become one of the toughest road trips in the Pac-10 this season.  On Thursday, the Wildcats were upset by a much improved USC Trojan club, 80-73.

Coach Lute Olson’s Wildcats are an explosive offensive team, leading the Pac-10 in scoring at 84.9 points a game and shooting 50.5% from the field.

Arizona has scorers at every position on the floor with all five Arizona starters averaging double-figures in scoring.  The team also hits 37.8% from beyond the arc.
However, due to the loss of key players on the team they lack depth off the bench.  Playing just one or sometimes just two reserves in games, all five Arizona starters average over 31 minutes played a game.   

While offensively, Arizona pushes the ball aggressively looking to push the action, the lack of depth has begun to take its toll on the team as they’ve looked fatigued at the end of some games.

Moreover, the Wildcats play much more zone defense than they have in the past in order to preserve their starters.  With the loss of defensive stand-outs Hassan Adams and Carlos Rodgers, the Wildcat defense is no where as athletic or aggressive as in past seasons.  While averaging over 12 steals a game last season, the Arizona defense has managed only 6.6 steals a game, and the zone has been porous at times this season.

Arizona switches up their defense throughout the game, playing a 1-3-1, 2-3, and some man-to-man defense.  Considering how the UCLA offense has sputtered against zones this season, the Bruins should expect to see zone defenses throughout Saturday.

The Wildcats have an extremely talented-offensive starting line-up, and it starts with forward Marcus Williams.

Williams (So, 6’7, 205) has NBA skills and will likely go pro after this season.  He is the team’s leading scorer at 18.5 points and second-leading rebounder with 7.4 a game while shooting 53.4% from the field.
The sophomore forward can score a variety of ways, back the basket or face-up, and is the team’s go-to-guy when they need a score.

Mustafa Shakur (Sr, 6’3, 190) flirted with the idea of going pro last summer but wisely took the advice of scouts who told him he wasn’t ready yet.  He went back to Tucson with a great attitude and has improved many facets of his game, especially his decision-making and leadership.

The senior point-guard leads the Pac-10 in assists with 7.6 a game and has an good 2.3/1 assist-to-turnover ratio.  He is also averaging 14.7 points a game while shooting 53.8% from the field including 39.5% on three-pointers.

UCLA’s Darren Collison gave Shakur loads of problems last season by using his speed and quickness to frustrate the Wildcat guard.  Shakur averaged only 4.3 points in three games last season including zero points in Tucson, in addition, he committed 12 turnovers.

It will be interesting if a more mature and experienced Mustafa Shakur can shake off his poor past performances against Collison.   

At the shooting guard spot is Jawann McClellan (Jr, 6’4, 225).  Injured most of last season, McClellan averages 11.9 points a game and is dangerous from beyond the arc shooting over 40%.  He’s also a strong physical guard who hits the boards, especially on the offensive end.   

Chase Budinger (6’7, 190) has had a solid freshman season started every game for the Wildcats. He is averaging 15.5 points and 5.6 rebounds a game.   
However, he has struggled offensively in three of his last four games. 

Budinger is an excellent shooter from the perimeter but lacks strong ball-handling skills from the wing spot.  As a result, teams are forcing him to put the ball on the floor rather than allow him to shoot jumpers from outside. 

Senior center Ivan Radenovic (6’10, 244) is having a break-out season.  Always a threat from outside, he’s shooting 45.5% from beyond the arc and 61.5% from the field.  He is averaging 16.1 points and leads the team in rebounds with 8.0 a game.   

With his solid outside shooting, Radenovic usually drags his defender to the perimeter but also has the ability to put the ball on the floor and go by his man.   Radenovic will be a tough match-up for Lorenzo Mata especially defending him on the perimeter.  Alfred Aboya has played solidly of late, especially on defense and with rebounding, and may see added action on Saturday. 

Daniel Dillon (Jr, 6’3, 195) has been the primary player off the bench for the Wildcats this season.   He is averaging only 2.1 points in 11.6 minutes of action a game.  Dillion holds the spot on the floor when one of the Wildcat starters need a rest.  He does not make many mistakes on offense and is a solid perimeter defender.

Forward Jordan Hill (Fr, 6’8, 210) has given the Wildcats a shot-blocker at times during the season but has not played much during Pac-10 conference play.   

Nic Wise (Fr, 5’10, 180) was reportedly recently reinstated back onto the team.  He can provide Shakur some back-up minutes but he has struggled with turnovers sporting a 1/1.7 assist-to-turnover ration in thirteen games this season.

Not wanting to fall too far back in the ultra-competitive Pac-10 conference race, much less face going back to Tucson with a three-game losing streak, Arizona will be ready to play on Saturday.    With a senior at the point and a talented and experienced club, Arizona will go far in the tourney this season.

The Bruins, who got off to a slow start against Arizona State, will also be sky-high for the game and will ready to face their rival at home.  Expect the Bruins to come out with the same electric intensity it did against Washington earlier in the year, in what will likely be a hard-fought game which goes down to the wire.

BBR Notes: As he usually does with practices between Thursday-Saturday games, UCLA Coach Ben Howland only had his team do a walk-through on Friday. 

Howland was pleased with the play of freshman Russell Westbrook against Arizona State.” Russell is a competitor and a real tough kid.” Howland said. “He goes out there and has a lot of confidence and makes things happen.  He gave us a nice lift yesterday.”

J.P. Prince recently transferred from Arizona to Tennessee.  He will be eligible to play for the Volunteers next season.  Center Kirk Walters and wing Bret Briemaier have been injured adding to the Wildcat’s depth problems this season.

(photo credit: AZ Athletics)



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