UCLA upsets No. 6 Arizona; should we be concerned about the Wildcats?

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Shabazz Muhammad went for 23 points and Jordan Adams added 15 as UCLA went into the McKale Center and knocked off No. 6 Arizona 84-73 on Thursday night.

It was as impressive of a performance as we’ve seen out of this Bruin program since Ben Howland led them to their third straight Final Four in 2008. UCLA jumped out to a 19-3 lead before the second TV timeout and never let the Wildcats get closer than four points the rest of the way.

Thoroughly beating a team like that on the road is impressive on its own. But UCLA did it while Travis Wear, arguably their most important player since Howland turned UCLA into a running team, spent the end of the first half and the entire second half sitting on the bench with a concussion. It also deserves mention that Adams was dealing with what UCLA termed cramps during the second half.

And UCLA still didn’t buckle as Arizona made a second half run in front of a raucous home crowd.

That’s impressive.

Oregon has to be considered not only the favorite to win the Pac-12 this season, but also the best team in the league this year. Not only do they have a two game (or more) lead on everyone in the conference other than UCLA, they’ve already beaten Arizona and UCLA. This win over UCLA came on Saturday in Pauley Pavilion. And the Ducks won’t face either team again this season. It’s their title to lose.

But I don’t think the Bruins are all that far off their pace.

The bigger question mark is with Arizona.

The Wildcats have an impressive computer profile in both the RPI and Kenpom. They have an impressive record and some impressive wins this season. But there are issues when you look past the box score.

For starters, Arizona’s only dominant win over a relevant team came on Saturday at Arizona State. When they beat Long Beach State, the 49ers didn’t have their transfers eligible yet. Florida gave away a win when they decided to commit consecutive turnovers in the back court and miss a front-end in the final minute. Colorado blew a 10 point lead in the final four minutes and had what should have been a game-winning three waved off. Miami was playing just their second game without Reggie Johnson in the lineup. (Arizona made a comeback in the San Diego State game as well, but I thought they played well in that game, so I’m leaving it out of this discussion.)

Those four wins, as a result, are going to look much better on paper than they did to the naked eye.

And well the eye-test is far from a scientific method, it is enough for me to be concerned about the Wildcats.

For starters, Arizona has a number of solid pieces on the offensive end of the floor, but they don’t have that one guy that a coach is forced to game-plan around. There is no Mason Plumlee or Doug McDermott. They don’t have a Trey Burke or a Russ Smith. There isn’t even a guy like a Shabazz Muhammad or a Jordan Adams, someone that will scare opposing coaches.

That’s not a crippling issue, and neither is the fact that the Wildcats are playing this season without a true point guard. I like Mark Lyons. I think he’s a good player and a good scorer. But he’s not a point guard. He’s not a facilitator, creator or leader. He had 16 points tonight, but he also shot 6-17 from the floor and had five turnovers and no assists. On the season, he’s now averaging 15.2 points, 3.2 assists and 3.0 turnovers. Again, that would be fine if the Wildcats had a Draymond Green or a Grant Gibbs on their roster, but they don’t.

Arizona is not a bad basketball team.

They’re good. They have enough talent that finishing outside of the top three in the Pac-12 would be a major disappointment, and they’ve proven that a) they never give up on a game, and b) they have the moxie to fight back late and win a game in crunch.

But their record is deceiving.

Hypothetically speaking, if Kenny Boynton doesn’t choke, Sabatino Chen’s shot counted and Nick Johnson misses the block against Chase Tapley, how would you view the Wildcats?

Because it shouldn’t be all that much different than how you view them now.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Sunday’s NCAA Tournament Elite Eight schedule, tip times, and announcer pairings

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Regional Finals – Sunday, March 26

2:20 p.m.,CBS, New York
No. 7 South Carolina vs. No. 4 Florida (Verne Lundquist, Jim Spanarkel, Allie LaForce)

5:05 p.m., CBS, Memphis
No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 2 Kentucky (Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, Bill Raftery, Tracy Wolfson)

Steve Alford: ‘I’m very happy at UCLA’

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UCLA head coach Steve Alford was still processing an 86-75 season-ending loss to Kentucky in the Sweet 16 on Friday night when he had to answer questions about another blueblood program.

Sine the dismal of Tom Crean at Indiana, Alford has been one of the names rumored to be in the mix for the coaching vacancy. A reporter in the press conference in Memphis didn’t even get a chance to finish his question before Alford cut him off and a publicly state that he was happy in Westwood.

“I said it last week, and I’ll reiterate it again even more so, I guess, that I love Los Angeles,” Alford said. “To begin with, it’s a beautiful place, and our family has fallen in love with it. I’ve got two sons now, Kory first and now Bryce, that have graduated. Bryce is done, so he’s graduating from UCLA, so I’ve got two sons that are graduates from there, a daughter that loves the school she’s going to in Thousand Oaks. I’m very happy. I’m at UCLA. I don’t know of a lot of people that are out there wanting to leave UCLA.

“This is a pretty special place. We’ve worked awfully hard. Our staff has worked hard. We’ve got the No. 2 recruiting class coming in next year. We’re opening a brand-new, state-of-the-art, 60-plus million practice facility, Mo Ostin Center, that is going to be spectacular that we’ve worked awfully hard to be a part of that, and I want to see that through, and we’ve got some special kids that are coming to join us.

“I’m very, very happy where I’m at, and hopefully, that’ll continue.”

Alford won a national championship with the Hoosiers in 1987, scoring more than 2,400 points in his career under head coach Bob Knight. He has been with UCLA since 2013, reaching the Sweet 16 in three of his four seasons with the Bruins.

Crean was fired on March 16 after nine season in Bloomington.

Lonzo Ball has officially declared for the 2017 NBA Draft

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Following a season-ending loss in the Sweet 16 of the 2017 NCAA Tournament, UCLA freshman point guard unsurprisingly announced that he will enter the NBA Draft.

“That was my final game for UCLA. I appreciate the fans,” Ball told reporters.

The 6-foot-6 point guard has a strong case to be the No. 1 overall pick. It could be almost too enticing for the Los Angeles Lakers to pass on a Southern Cal product if the ping pong balls fall in their favor. New Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka were in Memphis for Friday night’s Sweet 16 matchup with Kentucky.

Ball, in an All-American freshman season with the Bruins, averaged 14.7 points, 6.1 rebounds and a nation’s best 7.6 assists per game, while shooting 56 percent from the field and 42 percent from three.

He ended his college career with an 86-75 loss to the Wildcats, scoring 10 points, off 4-of-10 shooting, with eight assists.

VIDEO: Florida’s Chris Chiozza beats Wisconsin at the buzzer

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NEW YORK — So you didn’t think the NCAA Tournament had enough excitement this year?

Wisconsin and Florida solved that problem for you.

The Badgers started things, as they erased a 12-point deficit in the final 4:15 to force overtime, a stretch that included an 8-0 run at the end of regulation that was capped by a Zak Showalter running three with 2.5 seconds left on the clock to tie the game at 72.

Wisconsin jumped out to a lead in overtime, but the combination of an inability to make free throws and and this epic chasedown block from Canyon Barry left the door open for the Gators, who eventually won the game on this running three from Chris Chiozza:

What.

A.

Game.

If we get a better one than this, I just hope I’m courtside for it.

KeVaughn Allen led the way for the Gators with 35 points, and no one else on the Gators scored more than eight points, but it didn’t matter. The Gators are still headed to the Elite 8, and Mike White will have a chance to play for the right to go to the Final Four in his first NCAA Tournaments.

Replacing a legend like Billy Donovan was never going to be easy, but White is doing an admirable job.

The other subplot here: With the win, Florida becomes the third member of the SEC in the Elite 8, and with a regional final against South Carolina on Sunday afternoon, it guarantees that there will be at least one SEC team in the Final Four.

While there were celebrations in the Florida locker room, Wisconsin’s was one of devastation.

The Badgers started four seniors, including tournament stalwarts Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes, who played in their 17th career NCAA Tournament games.

Hayes had 22 points, but he’s going to be haunted by the free throws he missed. He was 7-for-14 from the line on the night, including four missed freebies in overtime. The end was similarly heart-breaking for Koenig, as he was a non-factor in overtime due to an injury he suffered on the possession before Showalter’s game-tying three.

Both of them are going to spend years thinking ‘What if?’ That’s how the NCAA Tournament works.

Everyone leaves in tears, either because they’re cutting down the nets at the Final Four or because their season — their career — just came to an end.

Hayes and Koenig were no different.

VIDEO: Canyon Barry saves Florida with epic chase down block

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Florida’s Canyon Berry had the best chase down block since LeBron James in the 2016 NBA Finals.

It kept Wisconsin’s lead at two points and gave the Gators a chance to tie and, eventually, win the game.

Look at this: