TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Arizona spent the first half banging bodies with UCLA and the closing seconds desperately trying to hang on against the Bruins’ press.
Even through that, the Wildcats kept their composure and came out with what may be their most impressive win of the season.
Oumar Ballo scored 16 points, Azuolas Tubelis had a double-double and No. 11 Arizona withstood a late rally to end No. 5 UCLA’s 14-game winning streak with a 58-52 victory on Saturday.
“You’ve got to you got to be able to win multiple ways,” Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said. “Other than that last minute while we were trying to ride out that lead, I think we were comfortable the whole time, which is a good sign.”
The Wildcats (17-3, 5-3 Pac-12) appeared to be cruising to victory, taking a 56-44 lead on Ballo’s alley-oop dunk with 2:07 left.
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The Bruins (17-3, 8-1) fought back, creating four straight turnovers to pull within 56-52. UCLA then blocked consecutive shots — one after a review waved off goaltending — but couldn’t convert on two shots of its own.
Arizona’s Pelle Larsson hit two free throws with 0.9 seconds to close it out. Tubelis triggered an 11-3 run to give Arizona a 10-point early in the second half, and finished with with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
“I think we proved today that we can win low-scoring,” said Arizona point guard Kerr Kriisa, who had seven points. “Everyone keeps talking about our offense, our offense, our offense, but nobody realizes how good our defense is.”
UCLA matched its longest winning streak since 2007-08 on Thursday by pulling away late to beat Arizona State 74-62. The Bruins had a lot more trouble with Arizona, particularly at the offensive end.
UCLA shot 31% and went 4 of 20 from 3-point range to lose as a top-5 team at McKale Center for the second straight season. Tyger Campbell led the Bruins with 13 points and Jaime Jaquez Jr. added 12 with 11 rebounds.
“When you struggle offensively, something with the other team’s defense caused it,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said. “Even if it’s open shots, they got you sped up just enough, rattled just enough, so you have to give the other team credit.”
Arizona beat then-No. 3 UCLA last season in a charged atmosphere that included an assault citation for UCLA forward Mac Etienne after he appeared to spit in the direction of Arizona fans while leaving the court.
On Saturday, the Bruins and Wildcats went toe to toe in the paint and perimeter, bodies bouncing off the floor in a physical, defensive afternoon. The Bruins banged on Ballo and Tubelis in the post on every touch, creating numerous close-range misses — and plenty of fouls.
UCLA backup big man Kenneth Nwuba had four fouls in the first half and Ballo made 8 of 10 free throws to score 12 first-half points.
Arizona hit 7 of 23 shots and was the better-shooting team, taking a 26-23 halftime lead.
The Wildcats quickly pushed the lead to 10 in the second half and kept their offensive flow going, the lead at least nine until the final two minutes.
The Bruins made a final push, flustering the Wildcats with their press while scoring eight straight points. Down 56-52, UCLA got the ball back after a review overturned a goaltending call, but Campbell and Jaquez both missed contested shots at the rim before Larsson’s closing free throws.
“At UCLA, we play with heart and intestinal fortitude, and I don’t think we played to win,” Cronin said. “I didn’t think we played hard until the game was over.”
UCLA: Pushed the Wildcats around early and created havoc with their defensive pressure late. In between, the Bruins didn’t hit enough shots to leave the desert with a win.
Arizona: Weathered UCLA’s bumping and banging in the first half, then withstood a furious rally to earn the type of win that should move it back into the top 10.
UCLA repeatedly beat Arizona on the offensive glass, earning several shots on multiple possessions.
The Bruins had trouble converting those chances into points.
UCLA had an 18-8 advantage in offensive rebounds, but was limited to nine second-chance points.
“We knew their bigs are really good players, but maybe not proficient finishers, so you’ve just got to stay in the play,” Lloyd said.
UCLA: At rival USC on Thursday.
Arizona: Plays at Washington State on Thursday.
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