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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Wildcats win highlighted by defense and European dominance

Simon Asher

Arizona’s Kadeem Allen (5) passes to a teammate during the Pac-12 Semi-finals on Friday, March 10. Arizona beat UCLA 86-75. 

LAS VEGAS– The Intensity was at an all-time high for the No. 7 Arizona Wildcats as they defeated the No. 3 UCLA Bruins in the Pac-12 semifinals Friday in T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas to set up a showdown with No. 5 Oregon on Saturday. But before we cover the game against the Ducks, we’ll look at some things that stood out on Friday night.

Zone busters

All season Arizona was beat down when teams played zone against them, against UCLA it was a different story. The Wildcats attacked the zone without hesitation time after time with success, a far cry from their passive play that cost them against the Bruins two weeks ago.

Arizona decimated UCLA inside the paint to the tune of 32 points while shooting 50 percent from the field in the game. Couple that with solid outside shooting and you have a recipe for an 11-point win against a top three team. The Wildcats shot 50 percent from three as well as pushing the ball in transition to avoid slowing the game down due to the zone.

Trier too much, too early

Allonzo Trier was ultra aggressive early on in the game which resulted in a mixed bag of production on the evening. Trier, noticeably excited in the beginning of the game, went at UCLA star Lonzo Ball with minimal effect. On one possession Ball blocked Triers’ shot attempt after Allonzo attacked Ball with a series of ineffective dribbles. However, the ebb and flow of Trier is his ability to forget what happened and attack time after time, which he did following the turnover by taking it to the rim and getting fouled.

Trier’s excitement in the game was tempered due to the closeness of the game, but he was still as effective as ever with another seemingly patented 20-point performance on 5-of-9 shooting. Efficiency at its finest despite the early slip ups.

Rebound woes no more

In Tucson, Arizona was destroyed on the offensive glass by UCLA, giving up 20 second shot points. However, the Bruins luck ran out in Vegas as the Wildcats out rebounded UCLA 38-32 and gave up only six second chance points this time around.

Alford and Ball…where you at?

Arizona kept guard Bryce Alford away from the ball time and time again and also forced Lonzo Ball to pass out of double teams, many times without leading to assists. Arizona essentially cut off the head of the snake by shutting down UCLA’s 3-point bucket tandem and forcing the Bruins to drive to the basket. 

Neither player was effective as Arizona was on another defensive level Friday. UCLA shot 4-for-25 from three and wasn’t in the game for most of the second half. Alford finished the game with five points on 2-of-12 shooting.

“We knew they were going to take crazy threes,” said guard Rawle Alkins. “They live and die by the threes…When they’re hitting their shots they look like a million dollars, and when they’re not they look crazy.”

Lonzo Ball was a noticeably different player against Arizona. Though he had success against the Wildcats in both matchups prior, he was a non-factor in the game Friday. Ball finished with just eight points on 2-of-7 shooting. He struggled against UA’s frenetic defense as well turning the ball over four times.

Free throws could be dangerous

If Arizona wants to win the Pac-12 Championship against Oregon, well, it can’t shoot 20-32 from the charity stripe. That is as clear as it gets.

Return of the Mark

Lauri Markkanen is back and better than ever. His confidence appears to be high and, against the Bruins, he scored using every tool in his shooting bag. From three, on a pull up or with a dunk, Markkanen looked to be the best player on the floor without a doubt Friday night. UCLA forward TJ Leaf got the best of Markkanen two weeks ago, but the Finnish freshman destroyed Leaf and everything else blue and gold, putting up 29 points and hauling in six rebounds. Leaf fouled out with 4:23 left in the game and the former Arizona committ finished the game overpowered, overmatched and out finessed by Markkanen.

“My shot is falling so that helped me a lot,” Markkanen said. “They were closing out on me so I was going by them and getting fouls on their players.”

Just another game?

The Wildcats can speak all they want about the Pac-12 Championship being just the next game on the schedule, but they know it isn’t. The drubbing they received in Eugene over a month ago was the low point of the season. Saturday can change all that.

Oregon has beaten the Wildcats three times in a row since losing to Arizona in the Pac-12 Championship two seasons ago. Since then, the Ducks snapped the Wildcats 49-game home winning streak, defeated the Wildcats in the Pac-12 semi-finals a season ago and thumped Arizona by shooting a seemingly endless barrage of threes to humiliate UA by 27 in Eugene.

“I’m ready to play them,” said guard Kadeem Allen. “Everyone in here knew what happened when we went to Oregon. We’re just looking forward to tomorrow and may the best team win.”

Both teams are at different places now than in January, and Saturday we will see if the route in Eugene was a fluke or a case of someone having a teams number. For now, the Wildcats stranglehold on UCLA will provide them with a chance to answer that question.

Follow Saul Bookman on Twitter.

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