LOS ANGELES - As if a loss on the final day of the regular season with NCAA tournament implications on the line wasn't enough of a blow to the team's momentum, Arizona will now be without its starting point guard Thursday afternoon in the Pac-12 Conference tournament.
Three days removed from a surprising 87-80 setback to Arizona State, the Wildcats suspended Josiah Turner indefinitely Wednesday for an unspecified violation of team rules and left him behind in Tucson, head coach Sean Miller said in a statement.
The fourth-seeded 'Cats (21-9) will face No. 5 UCLA, which defeated No. 12 USC, 55-40, Wednesday afternoon. Tipoff is scheduled for 2:40 p.m. PST at Staples Center.
"I am disappointed in Josiah for his actions," Miller said in the release. "Unfortunately this suspension comes at a time of great excitement and opportunity for our team. However, the standards of our program will not be compromised under any circumstances. Hopefully, Josiah will learn a valuable lesson from this experience."
The 6-3, 192-pound freshman is averaging 6.8 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game in 29 appearances - including starts in 16 of UA's last 17 games. This is not the first time Miller has had to discipline Turner - or leave him behind on a team trip.
After starting the team's season opener, the Sacramento, Calif., native came off the bench after he was late to the team's pregame shootaround Nov. 9 leading up to a home game against Duquesne. Miller elected to not play Turner at all in the following game against Ball State.
Turner was then suspended for another unspecified violation of team rules and left in Tucson before the Wildcats' Dec. 7 loss at Florida.
But as the season winded down, Miller praised Turner for his turnaround and called him "one of the reasons for our success."
Playing just an eight-man rotation, Miller's options are fairly thin.
In Turner's place, Miller will likely move freshman Nick Johnson over to point guard and start senior Brendon Lavender, who converted 6 of 8 3-point attempts in the loss to the Sun Devils. Sophomore Jordin Mayes, who is not far removed from a stress reaction to his left foot, will backup Johnson.
At his weekly press conference Tuesday, Miller said the freshmen would have to step up, particularly his two starting guards.
"We need Josiah and Nick in particular. They're the starting point guard and the starting [shooting guard] at Arizona," Miller said. "We need them to play well, we really do."
In contrast, the Bruins (19-13) appear to be headed in the opposite direction after a disappointing season. The media's preseason favorite to win the league, UCLA finished fifth in the standings and had its own disciplinary issues throughout the year.
Reeves Nelson, who was named to preseason Wooden Award Watch List, was kicked off the team Dec. 9 by Bruins head coach Ben Howland after two separate suspensions earlier in the season. Then, in a Sports Illustrated report published Feb. 29, Nelson, senior Jerime Anderson and other ex-Bruins reportedly displayed out-of-control behavior the past few seasons.
But since then, UCLA has won three in a row including a win over top-seeded Washington.
The teams split their two meetings this season, as the 'Cats posted a 65-63 win over the Bruins just 12 days ago at McKale Center. UCLA won the initial meeting, 65-58, at the Honda Center in Anaheim.
"We've played them twice and we've had two of our worst offensive performances of the year against them, numbers-wise," Miller said. "We were better at home, but not much better. We've struggled to make 3s, we've turned the ball over, their length around the basket bothers us.
"We have to be better on offense against them this third time."
Where the Bruins have a considerable advantage is in the frontcourt, where four regular contributors - Josh Smith, Anthony Stover, David Wear and Travis Wear - each stand 6-10.
Jesse Perry, an undersized starting center for the Wildcats, is listed at just 6-7. Freshman backup center Angelo Chol is the team's tallest regular at 6-9. Neither player weighs more than 217 pounds.
"You could make the argument that that's a tough matchup for us," Miller said, "but once you get into conference tournament play, a tough matchup that you look at maybe isn't as tough. And then there's always those teams that just play lights out and surprise you. This is so much about us being ready to go and playing our very best and doing the things that we know we're good at."
In the Feb. 25 victory, the Wildcats were able to take away some of the Bruins' size by getting the 300-plus-pound Smith in foul trouble.
"You have to look at trapping him, putting two players on him," Miller said about defending Smith. "You have to make it hard for him to get the ball. But you also have to be as smart and as efficient on offense when he's in the game as you possibly can.
"And I really think it's those three things - none which you can do just OK. To negate him is what every team in our conference tries to do. And when you don't negate him, UCLA takes on a whole new ability level."
Also a problem in the loss to UCLA was the Wear twins, who combined for 34 points on 13-of-16 shooting and pulled down 10 rebounds in a game Smith missed because of a concussion.
Miller said he was "shocked" and had "a hard time believing" that the Wear twins were not selected among the 15 top players in the Pac-12 when the all-conference teams were announced Monday.
"Maybe because they're twins it works against them in postseason voting," Miller said. "They are good on offense, they're good on defense, they're smart and they're two of the best players in our conference, for sure."
On top of UCLA's momentum, the game will be played less than 15 miles away from its campus. The Bruins have not had to travel since the Feb. 25 loss to the Wildcats.
In conference play, UCLA lost four games by three points or less - a statistic that Miller said makes the Bruins "a lot like us."
"You can probably pick four plays and say that if those four plays were different, they could've been right there to win the conference," he continued. "They were right there many times with the last possession and the ball hasn't bounced their way.
"No question, they're one of the five or six teams that probably can win the tournament."
Click Here to view this Link.Tracy McDannald
GOAZCATS.com Senior Editor