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January 25, 2013

Wildcats need more playmaking from point guard

Once upon a time, UCLA point guard Larry Drew II was an Arizona recruit. He was one of two point guards the former coaching staff pursued for UA's 2008 signing class. The other was Brandon Jennings, and as fate would have it, neither would ever play a game in Wildcat navy-and-red.

Fate is unpredictable. After an unremarkable tenure at North Carolina, Drew landed at UCLA. The point guard wasn't the star of the Bruins' 84-73 win at McKale Center on Thursday -- that was freshman phenom Shabazz Muhammad -- but Drew did exactly what he needed to put his team in the position.

UA experienced its own odd twist of fate. The coaching staff that recruited Drew went through turmoil that eventually led Sean Miller to the desert, which led to his former Xavier recruit Mark Lyons.

Any guesses how Drew would have fared as a Wildcat are pure conjecture, but one thing is certain: On Thursday, he was the better pure point guard.

The Drew-Lyons match-up was an exercise in differing philosophies, and a microcosm of Drew's recruitment to UA. Though the Wildcat coaches are different, one thing that has remained consistent is that the mold of players who built the legacy of Point Guard U.

Jennings has made his NBA bones as a scoring point. Nic Wise was a scorer while at UA. So were Jason Gardner, Jason Terry, Damon Stoudamire and Mike Bibby.

And indeed, Lyons outscored Drew, 16-7. But Drew's playmaking set the table for teammates. In the end, his nine assists made him responsible for more offense than his counterpart.

Coming off one of his best games in a Wildcat uniform, Lyons struggled through one of his worst.

Before fouling out, he shot 6 of 17 from the field, including 2 of 7 from 3-point range, and turned the ball over five times. Most glaring in Lyons' stat line was a goose egg under the assist column.

The argument that UA would be better off with Drew doesn't hold much water. He's only emerged as a reliable floor general this season, his fifth since leaving Woodland Hills (Calif.) Taft High School. Had he signed with UA, his eligibility would have elapsed last season.

Moreover, UA's formula with scoring guards has a proven successful track record -- including with Lyons, who has helped the Wildcats to a 16-2 mark despite Thursday's loss.

But the Wildcats are at their best offensively when points from the point are one prong of a multifaceted attack.

To wit, Lyons scored 20 points and dished four assists at Clemson. Against ASU: 24 and 3. In an increasingly impressive defeat of Miami, he went for 19 and 4. And at Oregon State, Lyons' 16 points and five assists were very close to Bibby's 1997-98 averages.

UA doesn't need its point guard to be a dime-dropping machine running the offense to be successful, but it could use a few quarters' worth.

Kyle KensingKyle Kensing
GOAZCATS.com Staff Writer

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