Posted on March 11, 2023
The possibility of getting seeded in the West, and the value it brings to either school, can’t be overstated.
With the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 in Las Vegas, the path to the Final Four will be much easier starting in the West.
The loser of this game will, in all likelihood, be shipped off elsewhere, exponentially increasing the importance of the matchup.
I preview the game here and my pick, along with that of Stephen Vilardo, appears at the bottom.
2-seed Arizona v. 1-seed UCLA
Saturday, March 11
7:30 pm PT, ESPN
The two marquee programs in the Pac-12 battle it out for the Tournament Championship for the second year in a row.
UCLA is short-handed without Jaylen Clark and Adem Bona, but that arguably won’t change anything. The Bruins showed they are capable of adjusting to the personnel they have available with a dominating performance against Oregon.
Kenneth Nwuba is a capable replacement for Bona and Mac Etienne can contribute solid minutes.
Laden with upperclassmen, Mick Cronin’s team knows how to handle adversity. Tyger Campbell can take the game over and Jaime Jaquez Jr. is a matchup problem for Arizona.
Still, the game figures to come down to the number of turnovers Arizona commits. Even when adjusting for Tommy Lloyd’s pace of play, the Wildcats commit far too many mistakes per game.
Entering the Championship 266th in the nation in TO’s per night, the number of extra possession UA gives UCLA could be crucial.
Although the Bruins adequately handled Oregon’s length without Bona in the lineup, Arizona has stronger bigs that play together better.
Azuolas Tubelis and Oumar Ballo are a problem for Cronin’s depleted frontcourt. The Wildcats’ identity is to run their offense through the duo and the emphasis promises to be even greater against UCLA’s undermanned roster.
But it’s the production of Arizona’s guards and wings that could be the determining factor.
Cedric Henderson Jr. has stepped his game up to become the catalyst of the offense. Whenever UA has needed a big shot in the Tournament, Henderson has delivered.
If the Wildcat small forward has an efficient game, Lloyd’s team will be hard to beat.
At the same time, Courtney Ramey’s three-point shooting is an X-Factor that could tip the scales either way. If the senior is cold from three, it might not matter how well the rest of Arizona’s roster plays.
On defense, the Wildcats must find a way to deal with Cronin’s screen action. The Bruins generate most of their offense through screens along the perimeter, creating a mismatch or open shot depending on how the opponent plays it.
The Cats must fight through those screens and avoid going under them. If they chose to go under them, Campbell and Bailey will thrive off the open looks from three.
The Arizona bigs that get brought out to the perimeter during the screenplays must switch effectively and the rotation of the rest of the defense must be on point.
Communicating throughout the possession is a must, otherwise, the Bruins will gash Lloyd’s defense from the opening tip.
It’s another battle between the two top programs in the West with history on the line. The season has come down to this game and the players will leave it all out on the court.
Just taking a step back, could we ask for anything more?
Our Senior Writers’ Game Picks
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