Sports Out West

Pac-12 Tournament 2013: UCLA defense, rebounding keys to success

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The UCLA Bruins took care of a hungry Arizona State squad on Thursday in the quarterfinals in the Pac-12 tournament by doing something they hadn’t done consistently all season long — making plays without the ball in their hands. 

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Those plays, otherwise known as the hustle stats, have made all the difference for head coach Ben Howland’s young team, and like most inexperienced teams, they’ve relied heavily on their raw talent and struggled to match the intensity of their opponents on defense and on the glass. 

But like many talented teams before them, they’ve managed to mitigate these deficiencies — if you can call them that — by scoring 75.0 points per game in 2012-13. Unfortunately for fans in Westwood, they’ve allowed a whopping 68.6 points per contest, which ranks 228th in Division 1 hoops. Not only has this narrow margin put them into close games they should have otherwise won, but it has also given them an early test they’ll have to pass before they have any chance in advancing through the NCAA Tournament. 

The Bruins rank 92nd in rebounding this season, but they pounded the glass and collected 36 boards to the Sun Devils’ 38. They’ll have to do more of the same, especially on the defensive end, in order to sniff postseason success. The Bruins have their hands full with an Arizona team capable of doing all the things that UCLA struggles with on Friday, namely score, as was the case on Thursday  behind the efforts of ASU freshman sensation Jahii Carson. The Co-Freshman of the year who joined Shabazz Muhammad, lit up the Bruins for 21 points, seven assists and six rebounds. 

Still, the Bruins prevailed by playing sound ball, and if they’ve fixed their biggest issues off the ball in preparation for the postseason, they’ll threaten any team they face.

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Michael C. Jones is the managing editor and founder of Sports Out West and a Southern California-based sports journalist. His work is also regularly featured on Yahoo! Sports and SB Nation. You can catch up with him on Twitter: @MikeJonesTweets.