To get some inside information on the Arizona men’s basketball team, Daily Bruin Sports reached out to the Daily Wildcat – the University of Arizona’s student news publication – and asked its Sports editor Alec White a few questions about the Wildcats before their upcoming game against the Bruins on Saturday.
Daily Bruin: Given the events that have occurred involving the Arizona men’s basketball program in recent months, are you surprised at all by the team’s 5-1 start to Pac-12 play?
Alec White: Right now, I think they’re right around where expectations were, at least locally. I think anywhere from one to four in the Pac-12 is where we thought Arizona would be.
Last weekend, they were undefeated in the Pac-12 and tied with Washington for first (place). So I don’t think people quite expected them to be up there at the top so soon, but I think the first couple (of) weeks of conference play – Utah, Colorado at home, and then on the road against (California) and Stanford – I think most people thought Arizona would win three or four of those games and they ended up winning four.
So it wasn’t necessarily surprising to see them get out to a quick start, but right now, I think they’re right around where everybody thought they would be – making a push for the top of the Pac-12.
DB: What is Arizona doing so well to keep itself near the top of the conference?
AW: Their defense right now is what I think is allowing them to be up there. KenPom has them ranked as the 22nd defense after this weekend. Last year they were, like, the 100th ranked defense (on) KenPom, and so that really was a detriment to that team.
But they play with a lot of effort on defense. There’s not one lockdown defender that you can point to but I think they do a good job of limiting good shots from the opponents.
(Center/forward) Chase Jeter, he’ll draw a charge pretty much every single game that he’s out on the court. Same with guys like (guards) Dylan Smith, Justin Coleman. They’re not afraid to take charges and they’re not afraid to get in the hands of the opponents.
DB: From an outsider’s perspective, what has UCLA’s season looked like?
AW: I think the outsider’s view is that UCLA has got a lot of young, talented players but they just haven’t been able to put it together.
There’s been a lot of drama surrounding Steve Alford and his firing and I think people from the outside were really thinking that with (freshman center) Moses Brown, (sophomore guard) Jaylen Hands and (sophomore guard) Kris Wilkes, they could put something together. And I just don’t think offensively that they’ve been able to match the firepower or the expectations that have been placed upon them.
DB: The easy choice for most exciting matchup Saturday is Brown vs. Jeter, but are there any other matchups you are looking forward to seeing?
AW: I want to see how Arizona handles Wilkes and Hands. They’ve had a problem with some of those guys in the past. I know Hands, when he came to (McKale Memorial Center) last year, he put on quite a show. Same with Wilkes in the Pac-12 tournament.
But Arizona right now, their guards, Brandon Randolph and (Brandon) Williams, are struggling offensively – they’re doing pretty well defensively. But I think the guard matchup, it’s going to be 3-point shooting.
Arizona I think took almost 50 3s in the two games this (past) weekend and I know UCLA likes to test the waters on the 3-point line as well. So I think the matchup of the guards is going to be where the game is determined.
DB: What is your score prediction for Saturday’s game?
AW: Right now, I think Arizona is going to lose one of the two of the games that they play on the road, whether it’s at USC or at UCLA. If they were to beat USC on Thursday, I’d say that UCLA gets them, so I’ll go with that. I think Arizona beats USC Thursday and then they’ll lose at UCLA on Saturday. I’ll go with a score of 77-70 in favor of UCLA.