The 2013 Arizona Wildcats basketball team is no joke. Neither are the 2013 UCLA Bruins. In a game pitting two of the best four Pac-12 teams against one another in the most famous arena in the Pac-12 Arizona found a way to knock off the Bruins, but not without a scare.
During the 2012-2013 campaign the Wildcats dropped three games against the Bruins. I repeat, THREE games. Do you know how hard it is to lose three games to the same opponent while being one of the 15 best programs in the country? It’s pretty freaking hard. Without question the Wildcats had revenge on their minds when they walked into Pauley Pavilion on Thursday night.
The #1 ranked Wildcats stormed John Wooden Court inside Pauley and took control of the game early; however, the feisty Bruins never gave up and, in the end, almost made a fantastic comeback.
With the Wildcats up by 13 and 6:16 left in the second half, UCLA went on a 15-1 run to take that lead, if only for a moment, over Arizona. With the Wildcats down by one they used the charity stripe to their advantage by hitting 8 of 10 down the stretch, while being limited to only one field goal over the last 90 seconds.
It was pretty clear who was the better team on the court Thursday night. The top-ranked Wildcats are a legitimate Final Four contender and are now 16-0, which is tied for the best start in school history. This version of the Wildcats has completely bought into Sean Miller’s system and they are truly playing like a team.
The combination of Nick Johnson, who has turned into the Wildcats best player and one of the top players in the nation, and Aaron Gordon, who is steadily improving as the season goes on, is one of the most fearsome 1-2 duos in the country. However, they are not Arizona’s most important piece.
No, that would be PG T.J. McConnell. McConnell is, without question in my mind, the heart and soul of the Arizona basketball team and is the team’s engine on both sides of the court. While Arizona’s offense may get a lot of the credit for the teams success, it is the Wildcats defense that is going to lead them this season. And that all starts with McConnell’s energy.
McConnell had 8 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists on the game; however, it was his two steals that were critical for the Arizona defense that only forced 8 turnovers from the Bruins while committing a season-high 17 turnovers themselves on offense. That is something to be concerned about going forward, but the Wildcats still found a way to prevail.
UCLA, on the other hand, is a team still trying to find itself under first year coach Steve Alford. While the Bruins have a ton of individual talent, including Jordan Adams, Kyle Anderson, highly touted prospect Zach LaVine and the Wear twins, they aren’t a team yet. If the Bruins ever put a full game together and play as a unit, as they did during their 15-1 stretch near the end of the game against Arizona, they could be a force to be reckon with in the Pac-12. Until then, they are the 3rd or 4th best team in the Conference and should make the tournament as an 8 or a 9 seed. However, if they get rolling as a unit, it could be a team that could make some noise come tournament time.