Elite defense can only take you so far.
Getting its usual lockdown effort was not enough for UCLA on Saturday afternoon against Arizona.
The fifth-ranked Bruins missed too many shots, both open and contested, in a 58-52 loss to the 11th-ranked Wildcats at an increasingly boisterous McKale Center.
Even a late flurry of steals as part of four consecutive Arizona turnovers could not save the Bruins. Center Adem Bona’s layup pulled UCLA within 56-52 with 26.9 seconds left before a crazy sequence got UCLA the ball back.
Arizona broke the Bruins’ full-court press, finding Pelle Larsson under the basket for what looked like a layup. But Larsson had his shot blocked by a fast-closing Jaime Jaquez Jr. before his putback was stuffed by Bona. Officials initially called goaltending with 12.8 seconds left before reversing the call after a lengthy review, giving the ball to the Bruins.
But point guard Tyger Campbell missed a spinning layup and a Jaquez tipin spun out in a fittingly frustrating finish.
The lack of shot-making eventually bled over to the defense, dooming UCLA during its first loss in two months while ending the Bruins’ 14-game winning streak that was the longest in the nation among major college teams. Along the way, UCLA (17-3 overall, 8-1 Pac-12) also lost the chance to take a commanding lead in the conference standings.
A chance to move into position for a possible No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, appearing before the Bruins like a desert mirage, vanished amid one brick after another.
Senior guard David Singleton, the team’s best shooter, missed all five of his shots. Junior guard Jaylen Clark made four of 13 on the way to 10 points. Campbell made five of 18 shots, two layups rolling off the rim, while finishing with 13 points and seven assists.
Frustratingly, there would be no repeat of the late success for Jaquez that nudged the Bruins past Arizona State two days earlier. Frigid from start to finish, Jaquez made five of 17 shots and scored 12 points for a team that shot 31.3% while making four of 20 three-point attempts (20%).
Meanwhile, Arizona’s offense briefly revved into redline territory during a second half in which it shot 46.2%, reviving its hopes for contending in the Pac-12 after a recent stretch during which it lost two of three games. Seven-footer Oumar Ballo shimmied under the basket in celebration of a layup and was fouled, once again pushing Arizona’s lead into double figures with just under nine minutes left.
The old building was rocking early in the second half after Arizona (17-3, 6-3) surged into a nine-point lead. It started with Ballo blocking a Jaquez shot before back-to-back three-pointers from Courtney Ramey and Kerr Kriisa. When Azuolas Tubelis completed an old-fashioned three-point play after driving for a layup on Bona in which he was fouled, the Wildcats held a 35-26 lead and the fans roared.
A foul-clogged, turnover-choked first half ended with two UCLA big men in foul trouble and Arizona holding a 26-23 lead.
In a sign of things to come, Bona picked up a foul only 36 seconds into the game and checked out in favor of Kenneth Nwuba. Things didn’t get any better as Nwuba eventually picked up four fouls. With Bona on the bench with two fouls, UCLA coach Mick Cronin finally went to Mac Etienne.
There was little offensive rhythm in the game’s early going with an abundance of traveling calls disrupting the flow. Neither team led by more than five points. Arizona led largely because of a discrepancy in free throws, the Wildcats making 10 of 12 attempts to the Bruins’ four of six.
Arizona students arrived more than two hours before tipoff, slapping beach balls to one another. The balls were part of an assemblage of water sports inflatables they had brought, presumably as a nod to the spitting incident involving Etienne a year ago. One fan wore an umbrella atop his head and several students sitting in the front row donned rain slickers.
Etienne was booed when he emerged from the tunnel below the student section, ignoring the noise as he skipped toward warmups with his teammates. The beach balls were deflated and the water sports inflatables removed before tipoff.
But good sportsmanship was not in abundance. Students broke out a “F— you, Tyger!” chant at the first dead ball. The game was 15 seconds old.
It never got any better for the Bruins.
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