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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Wildcats face UCLA in Pac-12 semifinals

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Kyle Wasson

Sean Miller talks to the media in a post-game press conference after losing to UCLA in the semifinals of the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas on March 15, 2013.

LAS VEGAS – Before the season started, Arizona was chosen to win the Pac-12 conference over UCLA – by one vote. The Wildcats had the No. 3 ranked freshman class in the country, two behind the Bruins.

But that’s where the similarities have ended for the two schools.

The UA was swept by UCLA this season, losing at McKale Center Jan. 24, 84-73, and at Pauley Pavilion March 2, by a score of 74-69.

At MGM Grand Garden Arena at 6 p.m. the Wildcats and Bruins will face off for the third time this season with an appearance in the Pac-12 conference championship at stake.

The difference between the previous matchups and this one is the UA seems to have singled out what has been its Achilles heel in both losses.

“We know UCLA is very good,” Arizona head coach Sean Miller said after Thursday’s win over Colorado. “[Point guard] Larry Drew II has been a huge reason we lost both games. He has scored and also gotten his teammates easy baskets.

“We have to be able to contain him and make sure he isn’t able to control the game at the end of the clock at the end of the game.”

The task of containing Drew is easier said than done.

Drew led the conference in assists, with 7.6 of UCLA’s 16.7 per game, also tops in the Pac-12. In two games against Arizona, Drew averaged nine assists to only three turnovers and scored a total of 21 points.

“Larry Drew was really the pacesetter for their team,” senior forward Solomon Hill said. “He gets a lot of guys easy shots.”

Not to be forgotten in Pac-12 Co-Freshman of the Year Shabazz Muhammad, who torched the Wildcats for 23 points in the first meeting and 18 in the second.

UA guard Nick Johnson has been the go-to defensive stopper for Arizona this season, often guarding the other team’s best wing player consistently. But with the reemergence of junior Jordin Mayes, who Miller called “one of our best perimeter defenders” after Thursday’s win, the Wildcats won’t have to rely solely on Johnson to get the job done.

“They have a lot of talented players,” Miller said. “In terms of us being able to score, we have to be unselfish, move and create great shots.”

Arizona has not been unable to hold onto the ball long enough to create enough shots against the Bruins, as the Wildcats have 30 total turnovers to 23 assists in two games, compared to 35 assists and 19 turnovers for UCLA. The UA also has only shot 40.9 percent from the field in the two losses.

“Any time a team beats you twice, you really want to get that win,” Miller said. We’re going to give our best shot. Whether we do it or not, we’ll see. Everybody on our side of the fence is eager and knows that it’s going to be a really really hard-fought game; maybe even a harder fought game than we played tonight.

“We’ll have to play our best performance of the season to beat those guys.”

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