After UCLA beat USC 107-73 on Sunday, boosting its scoring average to 87.1 points, Sean Miller’s opening remarks were no surprise during his news conference today.
“We view them as one of the best teams in the country, certainly one of the best teams in our conference,” Miller said. In Steve Alford, UCLA has a “very, very good coach and excellent team filled with individual talent. They’re really playing well especially offensively and I think it will be potentially our most difficult challenge of the season when it comes from trying to stop the other team from scoring.
“They’re very efficient right now. They have a number of different players who can do different things and it seems like the roles that each one of their players has right now is a good fit.”
How efficient? Kenpom rates UCLA No. 21 in adjusted offensive efficiency, and the Bruins’ offensive stats are a marked contrast to UA’s defensive stats: While UCLA is eighth in scoring offense, UA is third in scoring defense (54.9). UCLA is second in field-goal percentage (52.7) while UA is fifth in field goal percentage defense (36.6). (You can sort through the rankings on the NCAA's statistical database).
The way Miller sees it, the key to that offense is Kyle Anderson, the Bruins’ exceptionally versatile sophomore.
“There’s a lot being made of the elite young players in this country, especially the freshmen but I guess because Kyle is a sophomore maybe the focus isn’t on him as much,” Miller said. “But if you’re paying attention, first of all the alarming stat that stands out is he’s 12 for 24 from three. A year ago, that wasn’t even part of his offensive game, and he’s shooting 54 percent from the floor, 75 percent from the line, averaging nine rebounds, has 92 assists for somebody whose 6-8. The way he impacts the game is so unique. He does play point guard and when he’s in for another point guard it’s like they have two on the court.
“He has a great gift of using size. He doesn’t go around you, but can pretty much take you into 12 feet, 10 feet at will and when he does it, his gift he not only can get his own shot off but he is obviously also a great passer. Because he’s such a great defensive rebounder, like some of our guys he takes the ball off the defensive glass and pushes it himself. But the decisions that he makes and the easy baskets he gets for his teammates might be UCLA’s best offense.”
Of UCLA’s other players, Miller said:
“They have a lot of returners back from last year’s team. Jordan Adams, I think I said a couple times a year ago, I’m not sure he wasn’t in contention for the player of the year in our conference. That’s a problem with the voting, not him. He had an incredible year and …. (the upperclass) has Norman Powell and I think every team in the country would like to have two 6-10, fifth year seniors with (the Wear twins’) size and skill level.
“Zach LaVine has come in and given them even more firepower and talent. When he’s on the court, they’re electric in transition and he’s another player who can get his own shot. They have talent, offensive chemistry, a coach who’s doing a fantastic job coaching their team. It’s going to be a great game and we’re going to have to play a terrific game to beat them at Pauley.”
Miller only went seven deep on Saturday, keeping even Jordin Mayes on the bench, but said Gabe York’s reserve role is a key for the Wildcats moving forward. York hit a three in transition and a layup during UA’s second-half charge Saturday.
“The three-point shot in transition – we have to get more of that,” Miller said. “I think that’s healthy for our team, and it’s really healthy for Gabe. He’s kind of like that sniper in transition where if you lose him he can knock that three down and sometimes more than one.
“Our team will continue to get more comfortable with him in that role and no question Gabe relishes that. He has a calm about him when he plays. I think he’s more confident now. Our nonconference schedule prepared him for a confident pac-12 because I think Gabe’s seen virtually everything he needed to see before conference season began.”
With a pair of true road wins already, and a neutral-site win over Duke, the Wildcats may be as prepared as ever to head out for their first Pac-12 road trip this week.
“What you want to do on the road -- all coaches feel this way -- you want to do the things you do well whether you’re at home or on the road,” Miller said. “You don’t want to be a different team than when you’re not playing at home. You look at your stats sheet at home, and think wow you really do a great job on defense but as soon as you go on the road, you don’t play any defense.
“You want to go on the road (and be the same) and to this point this year, we’ve had that. That doesn’t mean it’s going to continue. But that’s the key to us playing on the road.”
Center Kaleb Tarczewski said today his sprained ankle feels fine after two games back. He hurt the ankle on Dec. 14 at Michigan, missed two games and spent the Christmas break rehabilitating it – but is not complaining about the extra rehab work.
“This is basketball,” Tarczewski said. “It’s a sport I came to Arizona to play. A sport that our whole team loves. It doesn’t matter if it’s (Christmas) break or not.”
Tarczewski said the issue now is getting in a rhythm. He was 2 for 10 from the field against Washington, but Miller said that was because some plays just “didn’t work out for him.”
“Maybe he didn’t make some plays he normally makes,” Miller said. “I like the fact that he was involved in so many plays. I think him being involved in that many plays … there’s going to be a time when he’s going to finish them.”
Miller is participating in the Infiniti Coaches Charity Challenge on behalf of the Ronald McDonald House of Southern Arizona, and fans can vote for him at this link.
Colorado's Askia Booker was named the Pac-12's Player of the Week after collecting 27 points, seven rebounds and four assists in the Buffaloes' win over Oregon.