Nick Johnson’s 360-degree spins, Aaron Gordon’s power dunks and T.J. McConnell’s alley-oops are always a good bet for Arizona Wildcats highlight reels.
But Thursday night, when UCLA hosts the UA at Pauley Pavilion, the real intrigue may come on the other side of the court.
There, the Bruins will put up one of the nation’s highest-scoring offenses against the Wildcats’ famously stubborn defense.
“That’s what makes it a very interesting matchup,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said Tuesday. “Of our 14 opponents so far, this is without question the best defensive team to date. They do so many good things — they’re athletic, big, physical, keep people in front, and they do a good job of dominating the backboards.”
“They’re really playing well, especially offensively,” UA coach Sean Miller said of UCLA. “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.”
Here’s how the Bruins break down individually:
Kyle Anderson does so many things so well for the Bruins that UA assistant coach Damon Stoudamire, who has been scouting the Bruins, calls him a “Penny Hardaway guy,” reminiscent of the versatile star he once faced.
“He just has so much effect on the game,” Stoudamire said.
Miller expounded on Anderson’s game several times this week, having apparently committed the sophomore’s stats to memory.
“The alarming stat that stands out is he’s 12 for 24 from three,” Miller said. “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 (almost) nine rebounds, has 92 assists for somebody who is 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.”
The coach’s son
UCLA’s other point guard is Bryce Alford, Steve’s son, who actually has a 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio and averages 7.8 points a game while averaging 22.7 minutes a game — all as a true freshman.
“He’s an energy player who comes in and can shoot the three,” Stoudamire said. “He’s very aggressive when he comes in off the bench and he’s not just trying to run the offense. We can’t allow him to have that big an effect on the game.”
UCLA fuels its transition game with freshman Zach LaVine and junior Norman Powell, two aggressive and speedy guards.
Although LaVine is the Bruins’ third-leading scorer and is drawing NBA attention for his combination of size, speed and shooting, Powell starts because of his tenure and defensive skills.
“Upperclassmen always get the nod, and Norman has proven himself,” Steve Alford said. “To say we have to put one in over the other, I just don’t do that. Norman has done a great job for us, and he’s arguably our best defender.”
But when the Bruins do put in LaVine, things don’t drop off.
“Zach LaVine has come in and given them even more firepower and talent,” Miller said. “When he’s on the court, they’re electric in transition, and he’s anBother player who can get his own shot.”
Before a certain officiating controversy erupted, the toughest memory for Arizona fans in last season’s Pac-12 tournament semifinals may have been how guard Jordan Adams reached the basket almost at will and drew fouls, scoring 24 points and then breaking his foot.
“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,” Miller said. “That’s a problem with the voting, not him. He had an incredible year.”
Adams has returned as a sophomore to lead the Bruins in scoring (18.7 points), with the ability to better take the ball on the floor and cause trouble defensively, too.
“He’s a good steals guy,” said Stoudamire, who recruited Adams for Memphis. “I’m not going to say he’s a lockdown defender but he gets his hands on a lot of balls.”
The twins … and one
Yes, David and Travis Wear are still in college. David’s the better shooter who stretches defenses, and Travis is effective inside, almost a center of sorts for the Bruins.
Long ago recruiting targets of Lute Olson’s, they also have a history of playing well against the Wildcats.
“He’s a helluva player, a stretch four who’s capable of knocking down a lot of shots,” Stoudamire said of David Wear while Travis is “more of a banger than his brother. He’s going to mix it up.”
The Bruins also add a different look inside with 6-9, 255-pound Tony Parker, whose size complements the twins’ skills.
“He’s more of a traditional big, a put-back guy, getting rebounds,” Stoudamire said.
Parker is averaging 7.6 points and 5.6 rebounds a game but shoots just 50 percent from the free-throw line.