Tonight the Arizona Wildcats face the UCLA Bruins in Tucson. UCLA is 7-4 in conference play and 16-7 overall. They have won 3 in a row–all at home–and are 1-5 on the year in true road games.
#3 Aaron Holiday 6’1″ G (Jr.)
#23 Prince Ali 6’3″ G (So.)
#4 Jaylen Hands 6’3″ G (Fr.)
#13 Kris Wilkes 6’8″ G (Fr.)
#40 Thomas Welsh 7’0″ C/F (Sr.)
Off the bench: #14 Gyorgy Goloman 6’10” F (Sr.), #0 Alex Olesinski 6’10” F (So.), #5 Chris Smith 6’9″ G (Fr.)
Offense: UCLA looks to run quite a bit and take quick shots, but when they do set up in half court they will either spread the floor and look to get the ball to #40 Welsh or run a series of curls through the lane and look for the guards to get free or create their own shot. They are 28th in the NCAA averaging 82.9 points per game. They get to the free throw line regularly and are 25th in the NCAA in free throws made and 28th in free throws attempted.
Defense: In their most recent game against USC, they split their time on D playing either man to man or a 1-2-2 zone. On a few occasions they extended that zone to a half court press. This is much more of an offensive team than it is defensive. They are 267th in the NCAA allowing 75.8 points per game.
Strengths: Aggressive and athletic with good veteran leadership. Holiday and Welsh are their key players with Wilkes, Hands, and Ali adding versatility and athleticism. Goloman off the bench brings another interior presence, and is active and physical. Welsh has a knack for using his body to hold off defenders and get good looks both in the paint and from the perimeter. Holiday averages almost 20 points per game and shoots 42% from behind the arc.
Weaknesses: UCLA only goes 8 deep but all 8 are very good players. After that the bench is, for most part, unused. Any kind of foul trouble could put them at a disadvantage. They are aggressive overall but generally don’t play great defense as a team.
Summary: It will be interesting to see how these teams use their bigs in this game. Ayton and Ristic vs. Welsh and Goloman would be fun to watch if all 4 shared considerable court time, but it may not be in UCLA’s best interest because of their lack of depth inside. They may also look for an advantage with their athleticism and go a little smaller. Holiday is an exceptional 1-on-1 player. Wilkes and Goloman could be the key players to watch in this game. They will need to have good games in their respective match-ups to give UCLA a better chance to win. Jaylen Hands is also very good at creating his own shot. So far this year they have had much more difficulty playing on the road than at home.
Keys for the Cats: I’m not sure there is any one player in the Pac-12 who can stop Aaron Holiday from getting his, and the Cats will be tested once again in trying to stop dribble penetration and recovering back to open shooters/slashers. Ayton and Welsh will be quite a match-up to watch and will be a good test for Ayton because of Welsh’s versatility and outside shooting ability. The Cats will have their hands full with Holiday and will need to limit his open looks without over-extending and letting him get to the basket for a quick shot or a drop off pass. If the Cats can rebound effectively and limit them to one shot they should be able to put the pressure back on them and slow them down a little.
This has the makings of a high scoring game which would seem to favor UCLA, as they will be looking to push the tempo and get the Cats out of rhythm. In their 16 wins, UCLA is shooting an average of about 40% from 3-point range while in their 7 losses they are shooting around 30% on average from 3. Making sure they don’t get too many open and easy looks from 3 will be a key for the Cats to win this game. With UCLA averaging 82.9 points per game and the Cats averaging 82.2, this will most likely be a back and forth game going down to the wire with big shots and/or big defensive stops needed to get the W.