In SMU, UCLA sees a familiar opponent: Arizona

In SMU, UCLA sees a familiar opponent: Arizona
Southern Methodist's Ryan Manuel, from left, Nic Moore and Sterling Brown celebrate near the end of a 69-56 win over Temple in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament semifinals on Saturday. (Brad Horrigan / Hartford Courant)

The last time UCLA played Southern Methodist, its opponent in the second round of the NCAA tournament in Louisville on Thursday, Gerald Ford was president and current SMU Coach Larry Brown was three years away from becoming the UCLA coach.

But the Bruins feel like they've seen the Mustangs before more recently, or at least a team very similar.


“They’re very long, they’re big, they’re strong, they’re physical,” UCLA Coach Steve Alford said. “We’re really comparing them to Arizona, to be honest with you.”

That’s not great news for UCLA. Arizona beat the Bruins by 10 in Tucson in February and by six in the Pac-12 tournament semifinals on Friday.

Despite the results, though, those two games were two of UCLA's best performances this season. In the first game against Arizona, UCLA went on a 17-0 run in the second half to recapture the lead.

In the Pac-12 tournament, the Bruins hung with the Wildcats for the entire game. Arizona needed big shots late from freshman Stanley Johnson to survive.

Both teams have built their programs around defense. Arizona held UCLA to 47 points in the first meeting. SMU allows 59.8 points per game.

"They really guard," Alford said. "They hang their hat on the defensive end, and that's probably the most concerning. We've got to find ways of scoring."

The good new for UCLA is that even though the Mustangs offer a similar look to Arizona, they haven't been quite as effective and lack some of the Wildcats' NBA-level talent.

SMU allows 8.6 more points per 100 possessions than Arizona, when adjusted for competition level, according to the basketball statistics website Arizona is third in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency. SMU is 42nd.

And while Arizona has two potential first-round picks should Johnson and sophomore Rondae Hollis-Jefferson enter the NBA draft, SMU probably doesn't have any. Its most talented commit this season, Emmanuel Mudiay, chose to play his post-high-school year in China.

But there are enough similarities to help the Bruins prepare. And keep them wary.

"How they play, how they look, it's Arizona," Alford said. "They only average making four threes per game, but they shoot 48-49% from the field. They get a lot of paint scorers. That's Arizona. They run in transition. That's Arizona. They are a tremendous rebounding team. That's Arizona."

Twitter: @zhelfand