Arizona basketball game notes: Parrom, freshmen ready for 'Whiteout'
UCLA's transition offense is UA head coach Sean Miller's biggest concern
Tyler Besh / Arizona Daily Wildcat
Men’s basketball vs ASU #3 Kevin Parrom and Mark Lyons #2
Kevin Parrom remembers his first “white-out” game.
He was a sophomore, and it was “nerve-wrecking.”
“I was nervous,” said Parrom, now a senior. “But I think after the first couple of minutes I let the game come to me and I played well. You go out there and see all these white shirts and it’s like, wow.”
He scored 11 points in that game.
Tonight at 7 p.m., Arizona will host UCLA in its third-annual whiteout game. The Wildcats “Big Three” of freshmen — Brandon Ashley, Grant Jerrett and Kaleb Tarczewski — will be experiencing this particular raucous environment at McKale Center for the very first time.
It will also be the first time Arizona won’t face Washington in the game, as Miller said the Huskies became “unfazed” by the environment so he “gave it to somebody else”.
Parrom didn’t even bother with advice for the freshmen, he wants them to experience it on their own.
They weren’t here for former Wildcat Derrick Williams’ game-saving, last second block against Washington in 2011, which spurred the Wildcats momentum into an Elite Eight berth in the NCAA tournament.
Or last year when, after trailing by 11 with six minutes to play, Solomon Hill hit a 3-pointer to knot it up with 6.9 seconds on the clock. Josiah Turner, the freshman no longer at the UA, committed a costly foul on the next play and Arizona lost 69-67, but it was a thriller nonetheless.
“I didn’t tell him anything,” said Parrom, pointing to Ashley, at Tuesday’s press conference. “I want it to be a surprise. I’m just gonna keep it at that. I think its gonna be the biggest game of the year so far. They’ve seen a crowd, I don’t think they’ve experienced that.”
With No. 6 Arizona (16-1, 4-1 Pac-12) and UCLA (15-4, 5-1) jockeying for position atop the Pac-12 conference, this game will help to dictate the balance of power. Although, Oregon (16-2, 5-0) has the edge in the conference race at the moment, as the Ducks beat both the Wildcats and Bruins, and don’t play either one of them again, unless they meet in the conference tournament.
Still, the Pac-12 is better when Arizona and UCLA are at or near the top of it.
Here are some storylines to keep an eye on in tonight’s game:
UCLA in transition
These aren’t the same Bruins that lost twice to Arizona last year (including once in the Pac-12 tournament) and once the year before.
Those teams had the low post presence of Reeves Nelson and a rotund Joshua Smith, while Arizona employed the undersized Jesse Perry and a talentless Kyryl Natyazhko down low.
UCLA routinely dominated the low post in those games, but now the tables have turned a bit.
Smith and Nelson are gone — the former transferred, the latter kicked off the team — and the Bruins have replaced them with an exceptional transition offense.
Larry Drew II, a UNC transfer point guard, leads the Pac-12 in assists (8.1 per game) and in assist-turnover ratio (4.67) and is the facilitator of the Bruins high-scoring attack.
“Larry Drew, if you look at his assists, then you look at his turnover ratio that’s an ungodly stat right there,” Miller said.
“I think it shows the players that he passes to, his teammates, all of them are capable of making plays and shots.”
“The faster the ball is pushed in transition the better they are. That’s my biggest concern, that and their offensive firepower in general.”
The key for Arizona will be capitalizing on its size advantage, in particular with the 7-foot Tarczewski in the low post.
Scouting the talent
That “offensive firepower” includes three freshmen – Shabazz Muhammad, Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson, along with twin juniors Travis and David Wear.
“Whether it’s the Wears, whether its Jordan Adams or Shabazz Muhammad, Kyle Anderson,” Miller said. “They have a variety of options.”
Miller is particularly impressed with the Wear twins.
“There aren’t many players in this country that are better than [Travis Wear],” Miller said. “What he does or their team and how skilled he is. How unselfish both of them are, they’re winners.”
Anderson is a do-it-all forward who can also play point guard — he’s 6-foot-9, and Adams scores 15.2 points per game.
Muhammad, who Miller calls a “warrior”, might be the best pure scorer in the Pac-12. He was a bit rusty at the start of the season, but he’s turned it on of late and has scored 20 or more points in six of UCLA’s last 10 games.
On the defensive
Ashley has struggled offensively recently, scoring 5.8 points per game in the last five, but he stepped up on the defensive side of the ball in Saturday’s 71-54 win against Arizona State.
After a Jan. 5 win against Utah, Miller admitted to benching Ashley for much of the second half due to poor defensive play.
He only played 17 minutes against the Sun Devils, but it wasn’t for a lack of defensive effort.
Miller, and Ashley’s teammates, credited the 6-foot-8 freshman with shutting down ASU’s Carrick Felix, who scored five points on 1-of-8 shooting and committed seven turnovers.
“Early in season I was focusing more on how many points and rebounds I was getting,” Ashley said. “Not necessarily if I was stopping the person I was guarding but changing my perspective and changing up on defense that definitely helped me a lot.”
Ashley is likeliest candidate to be tasked with guarding the 6-foot-6 Muhammad tonight because of his length and athleticism, at least when 6-foot-6 sixth man Kevin Parrom isn’t on the court.
At his position, Ashley has been assigned to defend both traditional low post big men, and athletic wings who are closer to being small forwards.
It’s a task he’s taken in stride.
“In this conference you face both,” Ashley said. “The physical four man, or basically centers. Then, guys that are face-up fours are basically three men. It’s definitely hard to adjust because [there are] guys you don’t have to step outside the key with then guys that you’re all over the perimeter, chasing screens, chasing off the dribble. So [he is] just adjusting that and finding the perfect place in between.”
If you go
No. 6 Arizona against UCLA
When: 7 p.m., tonight
Where: McKale Center