UCLA Coach Jim Harrick buried his head in his hands after the Bruins fell behind by 18 points in the first half of Sunday's Pacific 10 Conference tournament championship game against Arizona. Frustration was written all over his face.
Harrick had every reason to be disgusted because the Bruins played and shot poorly in a 94-78 loss to the No. 15 Wildcats.
"After we opened the game with five airballs, then they just beat us pretty good in almost every phase of the game," Harrick said.
Arizona took Don MacLean, UCLA's leading scorer, out of the game in the first half with a box-and-one defense.
Checked by Arizona forward Jud Buechler, MacLean touched the ball just four times and attempted only one shot in the first half.
Arizona Coach Lute Olson said stopping MacLean was the key to beating UCLA.
"MacLean is such a vital player that, if you can take him out of there, then some other people have to do more." Olson said. "And that's what we were trying to do--force other people to do more."
MacLean had played well against Arizona in the regular season, scoring 44 points and grabbing 26 rebounds as UCLA split two games against the Wildcats.
But he wasn't a factor Sunday.
"I was kind of upset," MacLean said. "Even though they were playing a box-and-one, I felt I could have gotten the ball anyway. Nobody else was hitting anything. I should have seen the ball earlier."
He finished with 12 points.
Now that Arizona has demonstrated how MacLean can be stopped, does MacLean think he'll face the same defensive scheme in the NCAA tournament?
"I think we'll do something differently," MacLean said. "They're not just going to let me sit down in the post and rot like I did today. We're going to have to make sure we set some screens for me or do something, because I'm not going to let that happen again."
With MacLean out of UCLA's offensive flow, forward Trevor Wilson took over for the Bruins (20-10).
Wilson had his best game since he injured his right wrist on Feb. 1 against USC, scoring 28 points and grabbing a career-high 17 rebounds.
"I knew it was going to take an outstanding effort on everyone's part," Wilson said. "I wasn't doing anything consciously, trying to step up my game."
MacLean, who missed seven of 10 shots, wasn't the only Bruin who struggled against Arizona's aggressive defense, which has held opponents to 30.8% shooting from the field.
Center Tracy Murray missed 13 of 18 shots--including three airballs--as UCLA shot a season-low 34.5%.
Why do teams shoot so poorly against Arizona?
"I think what they do best is that they cause you to rush your shots," said UCLA guard Darrick Martin, who missed five of nine shots. "Instead of taking your time and shooting it, you've got one of their guards or Buechler running at you."
Playing defense wasn't the only thing Buechler did well as Arizona (24-6) won its third consecutive Pac-10 tournament championship.
Voted the co-MVP of the tournament with teammate Matt Muehlebach, Buechler had a team-high 22 points, seven rebounds and three assists as Arizona won its 14th consecutive Pac-10 game.
How important is Buechler to Arizona?
"We had to find a replacement for (All-American forward Sean) Elliott and Jud's the only guy that could do it," Olson said. "We've said from the beginning that Jud is the heart and soul of this ballclub."
If Buechler is the Wildcats' heart and soul, then guards guards Matt Othick and Muehlebach might be their circulatory system.
Othick had 10 points and 12 assists and Muehlebach 14 points, four steals and three assists. Muehlebach hit three three-point shots and Othick also had a three-point shot.
"Our guards know how to get the ball to the big people and, because our guards were hitting outside, we forced UCLA to spread their defense," Olson said.
The Wildcats, seeded second in the West Regional, face South Florida in the first round of the NCAA tournament. They have overcome a poor start to develop into one of the top teams in the West.
"They're a very good basketball team, a very good team," Harrick said. "There's not probably anybody in the country as big as they are and as physical as they are. They've got a chance in this tournament. They're a very good basketball team."
UCLA tried to intimidate the Wildcats, running through Arizona's layup drill before the game.
But the Bruins looked intimidated at the start of the game.
The Bruins, who missed 14 of their first 19 shots, fell behind 41-23 after Arizona forward Sean Rooks, who had 18 points in a substitute's role, hit a shot with 3:17 left in the first half.
MacLean got into the flow in the second half, but the Bruins could get no closer than nine points before Arizona pulled away, building a 21-point lead.
UCLA forward Trevor Wilson was named to the all-tournament team. Also on the team were Stanford center Adam Keefe, Arizona State forward Alex Austin, Arizona forward Jud Buechler and guard Matt Muehlebach, who were voted the co-MVPs.