HANSEN

Greg Hansen: Hole way too deep for Cats to climb out

2013-01-25T00:00:00Z Greg Hansen: Hole way too deep for Cats to climb outGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
January 25, 2013 12:00 am  • 

These were the bloody numbers that only left a stain at McKale Center:

Colorado 30, Arizona 13

Florida 30, Arizona 19

Utah 39, Arizona 29

So you wondered, as UCLA took a 21-5 lead Thursday night, how far the Wildcats could push it this time. How far could they fall behind and survive? Were they halfway there, living on a prayer?

Inside, simmering on the Arizona bench, Sean Miller's instincts told him that his team had pushed it too far. UCLA was too good, better than the Florida Gators, better on this night than any team the Wildcats have played this year.

"It just didn't feel right tonight," he said. "We never had that look in our eyes that, OK, we're here."

This time Arizona spilled too much blood.

The Bruins won 84-73, winning so decisively that they scored on their final 10 possessions. They were so dominating that they shot 27 free throws in the second half, on the road. Nobody does that at McKale, do they?

In 2002, when UCLA was No. 9, they came to Tucson and took a 73-53 lead with 13:41 remaining, and all hell broke loose. Arizona rallied, historically, winning 96-86, but that's because the '02 Wildcats had the league's top point guard, Jason Gardner, and because he was surrounded by names such as Channing Frye, Luke Walton and Salim Stoudamire, old hands who didn't scatter when it was necessary to stick together.

This time, Arizona needed UCLA's point guard, Larry Drew II, who was fabulous. How good was he? He was better than Shabazz Muhammad, who scored 23 points and performed the best Pac-12 imitation of James Harden since, well, James Harden.

UCLA coach Ben Howland sat calmly on a folding chair after the game, surrounded by reporters, tossing around adjectives like "fantastic" for Muhammad and "absolutely phenomenal" for Drew.

Howland knows what he's got. He's sitting on a stock about to double in value. Arizona isn't in ruins - "we've got a good situation being 16-2," said Solomon Hill - but the Bruins have more pieces, a bit more everything, especially at point guard, than Arizona.

It makes you ask: How did the Bruins lose to Oregon at Pauley Pavilion last week?

Arizona was stuck Thursday, and the most vivid evidence was that Hill and Brandon Ashley both took shots that wedged between the rim and the backboard. Have you ever seen that twice in one game? Whatever the UA tried, the Bruins countered.

"That start is such a punch," said Miller, shaking his head.

Here's "that start" for those who can't quite believe the nation's No. 6 team could start a game shooting 1 for 13:

Hill miss, at 18:54.

Kaleb Tarczewski miss, 18:42.

Nick Johnson miss, 18:00.

Hill miss, 17:15.

Mark Lyons scores, 16:50.

Lyons miss, 15:51.

Ashley miss, 15:47.

Johnson miss, 15:36.

Hill miss, 15:14.

Johnson miss, 14:24.

Lyons miss, 13:39.

Grant Jerrett miss, 12:57.

Hill miss, 12:23.

By then, Arizona had fractured. Whatever offense Miller had installed during the week turned into whoever-gets-it-shoots-it.

"We didn't pass the ball, we didn't share it quite as well," said Miller. "That can happen when you're playing from behind." He referred to his offense as "fool's gold."

So much for kid gloves, huh?

Locally, UA fans, steamed by their team's fissure in the year's Big Home Game, will rage that Lyons isn't a point guard. Well, if Lyons isn't Arizona's point guard for two more months, who will be?

Deploying Lyons at point guard is like moving a third baseman to shortstop. Arizona doesn't have another option. But through 18 games, he has led Arizona to 16 victories. By the time this thing is through, he might help author 16 more.

Miller, the former Pitt point guard, so admired Drew's performance that he couldn't stop talking about him.

"His nine assists don't reflect how he dominated the game," said Miller. "He picked us apart. He's the perfect point guard for that team; he makes everybody better."

Drew especially makes Muhammad better. Do you realize how hard it is for a freshman to score 23 points in his debut at McKale, against a top-10 Arizona team?

In the last 30 years, UCLA's marquee freshmen have done the following in their McKale debuts:

Reggie Miller, zero points.

Baron Davis, five points.

Russell Westbrook, zero points.

Don MacLean, 10 points.

Kevin Love, 24 points.

That should put Muhammad's performance in context.

"He's good, he's really good," said Miller, arching his eyebrow. "What does a guy who looks like a really good player look like? Him."

As unsettling as Arizona's loss is, the road ahead is not altogether imposing. The Bruins were a bad matchup for Arizona, a transition team that has finally been unleashed by the old-school Howland. Most of the remaining teams on Arizona's schedule are favorable matchups.

Howland indicated that the Bruins, who are even younger than Arizona, benefited from some earlier setbacks. "Until you get drilled, as we did early in the season," he said, "then you learn."

That'll now be Arizona's mandate. It got drilled. It's got time to mend the wound.

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