UCLA earned itself a solid 74-69 victory against Arizona Saturday night, a convincing win that keeps the Bruins controlling a share of the Pac-12 lead (game story here). The Bruins also clinched a first-round bye in the conference tournament, and will finish no lower than a third seed. Look for them to finally be ranked again for the first time since January.
– Is it concerning that the Bruins couldn’t shut the door when they had a 14-point lead midway through the second half? A little. For most of the season, I’d regarded Arizona as a team that belonged in the teens — even as it soared into the top-10 nationally. I still thought even so after the Wildcats showed some flaws recently.
That’s no longer the case after their losses at both USC and UCLA. They can’t make up for its lack of a stable distributor, and consequently can’t stop coughing the ball up. Sean Miller’s team logged 19 turnovers against 13 assists at Pauley Pavilion. It had 13 turnovers to 13 assists against the Trojans, who rank last in the conference in forced turnover percentage.
Ranked No. 11 heading into the week, Arizona will likely drop into the 20s on Monday morning.
– As detailed last night, Ben Howland said he’s certain Shabazz Muhammad is leaving for the NBA. Muhammad and his father were both diplomatically indecisive, but the freshman — projected as a top-five or top-10 pick — may risk slipping out of the lottery if he returns. Pundits regard this as one of the weakest NBA drafts in recent memory.
– Kyle Anderson might also leave for the NBA, although he demurred after the win as well. He has plenty of flaws to his game, with his lack of an outside or even mid-range shot being the most glaring. Still, his offense has made strides over the past month, perhaps enough for him to sneak into the first round should he elect to leave.
The 6-foot-9 point forward scored 15 of his 17 points in the first half, filling out his line with seven rebounds, three assists, a block and a steal. One of the most frustrating Bruins to watch in November, he’s now the most fun. He’s shooting 45 percent from the field since January, and his eight field goals made on Saturday was a season-high.
– Larry Drew II’s redemption season is almost complete. After his controversial exit from North Carolina, the senior point guard has put himself on the cusp of UCLA’s single-season assists record. He only needs nine more to tie Pooh Richardson’s record 236, set in 1989.
Drew also had most of his family in attendance Saturday night, including his father, Atlanta Hawks head coach Larry Drew — coincidentally in town as his team prepared to face the Lakers. Not a bad way to go out.
– The sellout crowd of 13,727 was a record for the renovated arena, breaking the 13,513 crowd in the season opener against Indiana State. It was also the second time that Pauley Pavilion has topped 13,000 twice in one season (also in 1997). Pauley had seven announced crowds of over 10,000 in 2012-13.
– One game after an appearance by Pau Gasol and Ricky Rubio, a number of Clippers made it to UCLA’s final game of the season. Blake Griffin, Deandre Jordan, Chauncey Billups and former Bruin Matt Barnes were all seated on the baseline for a nice view of this Norman Powell dunk. Baron Davis was seated near the scorer’s table, and received the loudest welcome when his face flashed on the big screen.
– Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott was in attendance and spoke to the media at halftime. A quick summary of some topics he touched on: There’s been no traction with DirecTV, which Scott said he anticipated given negotiation precedents in other conferences. He’s confident that the quality of play in both the football and basketball seasons have proven the value of the Pac-12 Networks. He’s not concerned about having the conference tourney in Las Vegas, particularly since the city has hosted bowl games.