AP – Coach Sean Miller vowed to Kaleb Tarczewski that the junior center’s work ethic eventually would pay off after his confidence was shaken two weeks ago during an Arizona defeat.
It appears Miller was correct.
Tarczewski and the seventh-ranked Wildcats look to keep rolling as they host UCLA on Saturday night.
Miller believes Tarczewski began getting down on himself even before Arizona (23-3, 11-2 Pac-12) lost 81-78 at Arizona State on Feb. 7, a game in which he finished with more fouls (four) than points and field goals made combined (three).
Tarczewski is regarded as one of the Wildcats’ hardest workers, and he dedicated himself even more to watching film to fix his issues. After scoring eight points in a win over Washington on Feb. 13, he netted 17 to help beat Washington State two days later before a 15-point, nine-rebound effort in Thursday’s 87-57 rout of USC.
Arizona has won by an average of 23.6 points during its three-game run.
“Kaleb is very self-critical,” Miller said. “There are so many things that he does that are valuable that don’t show up in the box score. I think he’s in a good place right now.”
T.J. McConnell, who finished with 10 points and seven assists in 19 minutes, has been happy to see his teammate bounce back.
“I don’t think Kaleb’s confidence was all there in the middle of the Pac-12 season,” McConnell said. “He’s always been a good defender, shot blocking and does everything for us, but when his confidence (on offense) is up like that, he’s really tough to stop.”
Tarczewski’s work on the glass has helped Arizona rank among the national leaders with a plus-8.2 rebound differential. The Wildcats had 22 offensive boards Thursday — five from Tarczewski — for their highest total since grabbing 25 in a win at Houston on Dec. 3, 2005.
“Rebounding is one of our strengths and it’s something we have to continue to do well,” Miller said. “It will be tested like it never has on Saturday. UCLA in my opinion is the best rebounding team we’ve played other than Gonzaga.”
Miller must not have seen what happened to the Bruins (16-11, 8-6) on Wednesday. UCLA, third in the conference with a plus-4.8 rebound differential, was beaten 39-27 on the boards in a 68-66 loss to Arizona State as it set a season low for rebounds.
“It has been a long time since we have been hammered on the glass like that,” coach Steve Alford said.
The Bruins had won five of six.
“We have to go into Tucson and try and steal one,” guard Norman Powell said. “We have to get focused. I feel like this is a really big game for us. It’s not the first time that we’ve faced adversity, so I think we need to bounce back.”
UCLA’s chances for an NCAA tournament berth are slipping away, but a win over Arizona sure would be nice to have on its resume. The Bruins have won four of the last five meetings — with the Wildcats ranked in all of those games — after Powell’s 15 points helped UCLA beat No. 4 Arizona 75-71 in the Pac-12 championship game March 15.
“Late in February, this is a golden opportunity for UCLA to come on the road and make a big statement,” Miller said. “They’re playing their best basketball of the season right now and we have to get ready.”