MORALES: Bring on the Bruins

MORALES: Bring on the Bruins

By Javier Morales
Special from

LAS VEGAS, Nev. -- Arizona junior guard Gabe York mentioned his coaches told the Wildcats that Cal "hates us" before they outlasted the Golden Bears 73-51 Thursday afternoon at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

Cal was coming off a loss by 39 points at McKale Center last week, its worst defeat of the season. The Golden Bears came out with an edge just as Sean Miller and his staff suspected.

"That sort of hyped up Rondae (Hollis-Jefferson) even more to make some big plays," said York, referring to Hollis-Jefferson's unrelenting, furious style of play from the start.

Hollis-Jefferson admitted to his snub as the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year earlier this week for the reason of his fury. Oregon State's Gary Payton II was voted by the coaches instead for that honor.

"I'm sure you guys all know I didn't get the defensive player of the year," Hollis-Jefferson told reporters with a half-smile.  "I was kind of shocked when I heard about it. I didn't believe it.

"I wanted to show that I am a great defender, and I take great pride in that to the fullest more than anything."

After overcoming Cal's "hatred" and scrappy play, Arizona must acquire a reverse psychology against UCLA. The fifth-ranked Wildcats (29-3) go from being the hated in a game that got chippy a few times to placing a target on the Bruins (20-12).

UCLA owns a 5-1 record against Arizona in the Pac-12 tournament dating to 2003.

The rivals will meet for the fourth consecutive season in the tournament, the third straight since the league changed the venue to Las Vegas.

"We'll be ready for them," Hollis-Jefferson said when asked about the prospects of facing UCLA in the semifinal round.

Miller is 7-8 against UCLA in his six-year tenure in Tucson, with two of the losses coming against the Bruins in Las Vegas the last two seasons. 

They are the most disappointing setbacks of the Miller era other than the Elite Eight losses in 2011 and last year.

UCLA beat the Wildcats 68-66 in the 2013 semifinals in the infamous "He touched the ball" game in which Miller was assessed a technical foul for challenging a double-dribble call late in the game. Miller claimed UCLA's Jordan Adams touched the ball when Mark Lyons attempted to penetrate the lane.

The Bruins upset Arizona 75-71 in the title game last season, handing the Wildcats only their fourth loss of the season.

"Obviously, there is a little history in the tournament with UCLA and us, but we're not going to focus on that," Arizona center Kaleb Tarczewski said. "We're just going to try to do our best and see what happens."

UCLA is aware of the recent history and the Bruins are confident they can upset the Wildcats again at the Grand Garden Arena.

"We know can beat them," UCLA guard Bryce Alford said. "We beat them last year. We can beat them again this year. That's our mindset."

Arizona was challenged for more than 30 minutes in the game against UCLA in Tucson last month. The Bruins' 57-47 loss occurred in Arizona's current nine-game winning streak, a stretch in which the Wildcats' average margin of victory is 23.1 points.

UCLA scored the first 17 points of the second half to take the lead but could not hold on because of foul trouble to their frontcourt players Tony Parker, Kevon Looney and Thomas Welsh, all of whom fouled out.

Looney is questionable for Friday's game with Arizona with a facial injury suffered against USC. He sported a bruised left eye when he left the game. Despite the uncertainty of Looney's availability, UCLA's postgame locker room was very confident.

"I feel like the guys are really confident," UCLA senior guard Norman Powell said. "We gave them a great game down in Tucson. It's just came down to one or two possessions that didn't go our way.

"I think the guys will be hungry to get another rematch. We will play aggressive and play our kind of basketball."

Alford said the key for UCLA to beat Arizona will be to control the paint, a daunting task with Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley near the basket and Hollis-Jefferson, Stanley Johnson and T.J. McConnell able to penetrate and create havoc.

"We have to pack it in," Alford said. "We will try to make them take tough shots and try to control the paint. When they did get into the paint (in Tucson), our bigs got in foul trouble.

"If we can keep them out of the paint it will help us a lot."

Judging from Ashley's aggressive play against Cal, which included a near-brawl with David Kravish, Arizona will put up a fight in the rematch with the Bruins.

"These physical type of games are the games we relish and look forward to," Ashley said.

"When we're in practice, I try to get physical with the other guys and vice-versa," Hollis-Jefferson said. "We are made for that. When the other team tries to play us physical, it's like, ok, let's play. Let's go."

Javier Morales, a former Arizona Press Club award winner from Tucson, is a veteran sportswriter based out of the Las Vegas area. He covered Arizona's 1996-97 national championship team as the beat reporter for The Arizona Daily Star. He currently operates the Web site

Pic Courtesy: Arizona Athletics