In college basketball’s regular season, top 10 match-ups rarely live up to their billing, but Arizona and UCLA looked like an Elite 8 game.
BY MATTY D.
UCLA hosted the game as the AP 7th ranked team in the nation. After only losing once this season, Arizona entered the game as the 3rd ranked team by the AP. With USC and Oregon finding its tournament resume footing, both teams are part of a PAC-12 Conference that has several dangerous threats for a Final 4.
Arizona head coach Tommy Lloyd entered the game as the clear-cut front runner for coach of the year. The longtime Gonzaga Bulldogs assistant coach is leading his Wildcats to a 16-1 record as a first time head man.
Arizona vs. UCLA First Half Recap NCAA Basketball
The starting lineups for each team featured subtle different wrinkles as compared to their norm. Lithuanian big man for Arizona, Azuolas Tubelis, started the game on the bench because he was nursing a sprained ankle. He came in shortly after the game started and contributed immediately.
Jaylen Clark missed the game for UCLA after suffering an injury at practice, according to the ESPN telecast.
UCLA went with a “smaller” starting lineup, considering that Rutgers transfer and center Myles Johnson wasn’t in the starting lineup. UCLA went with Riley, Juzang, Jaquez Jr., Campbell and Bernard.
The start of the game showcased exactly why these are two Final 4 caliber teams. The shooting was electric. Both teams raced up and down the floor. UCLA point guard Tyger Campbell and shooting guard Johnny Juzang would probe the paint and then secure points. Arizona’s blossoming pro prospect Bennedict Mathurin would answer with a perfect posture three point shot. Each team started the game shooting at an unsustainably high percentage.
ESPN color commentator Bill Walton was on the call. He aptly described the game, multiple times, as a showcase of athletes in top physical fitness. This game started as a track meet.
After the electric start, Arizona suffered the first scoring drought of the game. They found themselves in a 36-25 hole after going 3 for 21 from the field during one stretch.
Arizona stopped the bleeding in terms of scoring droughts with its size down low. Oumar Ballo and Christian Koloko scored on a put-back and alley-oop styled layup respectively. Pelle Larsson then raced down the floor for a full court layup drill to cut the halftime lead to 40-29 UCLA.
Arizona vs. UCLA Second Half Recap NCAA Basketball
The second half started with Arizona eagerly double-teaming Johnny Juzang and feeding Christian Koloko in the post. Koloko missed hook shots on consecutive possessions as both teams started cold from the field.
Jaimie Jaquez scored his first points of the game to tie UCLA’s biggest lead of 15 at 44-29.
Bennedict Mathurin rushed the ball back down the floor for a do-it-yourself and-1 to cut the lead to 12. Johnny Juzang took the same approach with a one-man-fast-break against the half court defense after a free throw make.
Both UCLA and Arizona alternated between clubs that wanted to play half court offense and transition showtime. The on-ball pressure was also ratcheted up by both teams.
The game started to slow down around the 14 minute mark with each team getting to the free throw line more. Bennedict Mathurin was barking encouragement at his teammates. He fed Tubelis on a lob for a close range layup attempt where he was fouled. On the next possession, Mathurin hit a step back three pointer to cut the deficit to 10.
UCLA continued with the same four guards and forwards in the rotation, alternating Myles Johnson into the game around that 14 minute mark.
Jaime Jaquez continued getting hot as he drove the lane and scored after pump faking two defenders out of the picture. UCLA led 58-46 athe the 11 minute mark when Juzang drove the lane and fed Johnson for an and-1 bucket down low.
Scoring came to a screeching halt around the 10 to 8 minute marks. Finally, it looked like fatigued settled in slightly.
Senior UCLA guard David Singleton got some rare minutes around the 7 minute mark when he hit a three pointer. Jules Bernard doubled-down with another 3 for UCLA on the next possession. It looked like the dagger. Jaime Jaquez blocked his second shot (team’s 7th block) on the next defensive possession.
Arizona suffered its second long scoring drought around the mid-way point of the second half. The Wildcats missed 12 of 13 shots in one stretch. Guard Kerr Kriisa was 0 for 9 from the 3 point line as Arizona looked like it was taking some desperation shots. Azuolas Tubelis played limited minutes late as Justin Kier provided some scoring.
UCLA grew and sustained the lead for a final score of 75-59.
After watching the Arizona Wildcats versus the UCLA Bruins, you should be buying stock in both teams.