Arizona Basketball

Arizona overcomes 10-point deficit, turns up defense, rebounding against UCLA

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Kaleb Tarczewski’s “physicality dominated the action” against UCLA, according to Arizona coach Sean Miller (YouTube video capture)
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Down by 10 points at halftime with a listless McKale Center crowd and the memories fresh of the home loss against Oregon two weeks ago, Arizona somehow had to gather itself against UCLA.

“I challenged the guys at halftime, particularly the seniors who in the month of February are not coming down this path again, to raise their level,” Arizona coach Sean Miller told Brian Jeffries on the Arizona IMG Network postgame show.

“They played much better defensively in the second half. You’re going to say the offense looked much better too. But they’re connected. … Our defense fed our offense in the second half.”

UCLA, which led 44-34 at halftime behind 53.1 percent shooting from the field, cooled to only 38.7 percent in the second half. Arizona came alive offensively behind Allonzo Trier’s 15 second-half points on 4-of-7 shooting from the field and 6-of-6 from the line.

But it was Arizona’s defense, rebounding and aggressive play that knocked out the Bruins, who went from looking invincible to being invisible, literally, in the paint. UCLA’s top two frontcourt performers Thomas Welsh and Tony Parker fouled out by when 5:55 remained in the game.

When Parker fouled out with 5:55 left, Arizona had already made its comeback, tying the game at 63 on two Tarczweski free throws after Parker walked to the bench for good. After that, in the last five minutes, Tarczewski had five points and five rebounds, which is the equivalent of a 20-point and 20-rebound pace over a 40-minute period.

He finished with a career-high 14 rebounds, gaining redemption against the Bruins for when Bryce Alford made the game-winning three-pointer against him last month at Pauley Pavilion. That game was at the depths of Arizona’s defensive effort, one in which Miller said was the worst he’s seen with the Wildcats since his first year in Tucson.

In Friday night’s game, UCLA’s top frontcourt players Welsh, Parker and Jonah Bolden combined for 23 points and 19 rebounds. Tarczewski and Ryan Anderson had 20 points and 27 rebounds.

“I told Kaleb after the game that I haven’t seen him ever rebound like he did tonight,” Miller told Jeffries. “He’s rebounding at a career-best level with 10 defensive rebounds, 14 for the game. His physicality dominated the action.”

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Fellow senior Gabe York had 15 points but Miller lauded him most for his defense, particularly matched against Alford. The UCLA coach’s son, who had 25 points last month against Arizona, was limited to 17 points on 4-of-14 shooting from the field, including 3-of-10 from three-point range.

Alford nor Aaron Holiday (only six points on 2-of-11 shooting) could really get a clean look at the basket while defended by York and Arizona’s guard rotation. Their inability to make an impression on the game was significant because Isaac Hamilton poured in 24 points on 10-of-15 shooting from the field.

“York’s defense in the second half was outstanding,” Miller told Jeffries. “It comes down to concepts. What are the things that we do? Where are we supposed to be? And when we do the things we’re supposed to do and we’re where we are supposed to be, they may make the shot but it’s going to be a challenged shot.”

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Arizona finished with six steals, only three less than the Wildcats’ amount of turnovers. In the loss against Oregon, the Wildcats had only one steal as the Ducks were relentless to the basket.

Arizona’s aggressive play, especially in the second half, allowed the Wildcats to go to the free-throw line 45 times. The Wildcats made only 29, which was 17 more than UCLA made. In fact, the Wildcats missed as many free-throw attempts (16) as the Bruins attempted.

The 45 attempts is excessive but Arizona is a team that gets to the free-throw line, a promising development all season because it shows the Wildcats are showing a physicality that is dominating the action, as Miller would put it.

Arizona entered the game ranked No. 24 nationally with 612 free-throw attempts and No. 18 with 447 made at the line.

The ranking that matters the most for the Wildcats right now is their position in the Pac-12. They are alone at second place with an 8-4 record with USC’s loss at ASU tonight. Oregon is 9-3, only a game ahead in the loss column, with a regular-season-ending road trip against USC and UCLA looming.

ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.

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