UCLA uses a hearty effort to gain measure of revenge with win at Arizona

The free throw dropped through the net and Bryce Alford pounded his chest with his hand, UCLA’s lead having grown to an insurmountable four points with only 1.2 seconds left.

It was all about heart for the Bruins on Saturday night.

The heart to continue the defensive improvement that has carried them to a perfect February. The heart to vanquish another team that had beaten it earlier in the season. The heart to show that despite the doubts of those projecting NCAA tournament brackets, they might just deserve one of the top seedings.

Fifth-ranked UCLA emerged upright from one of college basketball’s most raucous environments for a second time this season, a 77-72 victory over fourth-ranked Arizona at the McKale Center completing a rare double of sorts.


“We get a win at Arizona and at Kentucky in the same year,” Bruins Coach Steve Alford said, “that’s pretty special.”

Just as they were inside Rupp Arena in December, UCLA players remained mostly stoic after ending the Wildcats’ 21-game winning streak on their home court. Most walked off the floor without any visible emotion except for Bryce Alford, who pumped his fist and high-fived backup forward Gyorgy Goloman.

It was the final stop on UCLA’s revenge tour, the Bruins (26-3 overall, 13-3 Pac-12 Conference) having provided themselves with more pleasant memories of Arizona, Oregon and USC in the rematches.

“It’s a lot sweeter when you get to beat the team that beat you previously,” UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball said, “and it helps a lot when you get to come into their building and do it.”


The Bruins completed February with a 7-0 record, the first time they have gone perfect in the month since the 1995 team did it on the way to winning the national championship. They also put a spot in the West Regional and a No. 1 or No. 2 seeding back in play after having widely been projected as worthy of only a No. 4 seeding earlier in the week.

The Pac-12 title also remains up for grabs with Arizona (26-4, 15-2) now tied with Oregon atop the conference standings, 11/2 games ahead of the Bruins. The Wildcats have one game left, on the road against Arizona State, while UCLA will return home to play Washington and Washington State.

UCLA’s first victory here since January 2013 was not secured until Arizona senior guard Kadeem Allen airballed a three-pointer that could have tied the score in the final seconds, the wrong kind of sendoff in his final home game. Then Allen had to endure what must have been awkward postgame senior day festivities inside a quickly emptying arena.

The ending was fitting for the Bruins considering they had flummoxed the Wildcats for much of the game with a 3-2 zone defense that held them to only 29 points in the second half and well below the 96 points they dropped on UCLA last month at Pauley Pavilion.


“People have been killing us on our defense all year,” said Bryce Alford, who scored 15 points to lead five Bruins in double figures, “so any time you get killed on an area, we’ve been working on it.”

UCLA also reversed its luck in the rebounding department. The Bruins manhandled the Wildcats with a 14-4 edge in offensive rebounds. UCLA’s advantage was particularly acute in the second half, when it grabbed nine of the 10 offensive rebounds. Not surprisingly, the Bruins outscored Arizona, 20-4, in second-chance points for the game.

Ball had 11 points, eight assists and five rebounds after playing the entire second half on a right ankle that was heavily wrapped in ice following the game. He had worn a walking boot earlier in the day as he sauntered through the lobby of the team hotel to protect the ankle he had tweaked Thursday against Arizona State.

Ball looked perfectly fine Saturday.


“He dictated the flow of the game all night,” Steve Alford said. “He really moved the ball and when we got stagnant, he got us into some things and was tremendous in transition again. He’s a big-time playmaker for us.”

UCLA power forward TJ Leaf also had a bounce-back performance after a rare bad game in the first meeting between these teams, finishing with 12 points and seven rebounds, the final rebound sailing into his hands on Allen’s late airball.

The trajectory of the Bruins’ season continues to go to their liking after having completed a perfect month.

“The offense is still there and the defense is picking up,” Ball said, “so we feel like we’re getting better and better every day and that’s all you can do going into March.”


Twitter: @latbbolch