Jalen Hill ripped the ball away from a defender underneath the basket, rising in one fluid motion for a putback in which he was fouled.
The sophomore forward turned toward the UCLA bench and roared in celebration, another play having gone his team’s way in a game heavily tilting in the Bruins’ favor.
It was part of a run that prompted some Arizona fans to leave McKale Center with five minutes to play and the Wildcats down by 15 points.
UCLA persevered for a most unlikely 65-52 victory over the No. 23 Wildcats on Saturday night, the Bruins’ third consecutive triumph on the home court of their biggest Pac-12 Conference rival dating to 2017.
“You can’t play much better than that,” coach Mick Cronin said after his team’s most complete showing of the season.
As he walked off the court, Cronin pointed at UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero, a Tucson native watching his last game here before his retirement at the end of June. Several Bruins players slapped hands with fans who leaned over a railing as they gleefully raced toward the locker room, having quieted a sellout crowd of 14,644.
“There’s nothing better than when there’s time on the clock and the home fans are leaving, the same fans that were going crazy, talking crazy to you,” said junior guard Chris Smith, whose turnaround jumper midway through the second half sparked his team’s 14-0 run that transformed a one-point UCLA lead into a runaway.
The Bruins (13-11, 6-5 Pac-12) won with tenacious defense and heady play in their half-court offense, countering every Wildcats surge with a bigger one. They also held Arizona to 25.4% shooting, the Wildcats’ worst percentage in McKale Center since they started playing here in February 1973.
“Thank God it was against us,” Cronin said after Arizona missed all 12 of its three-point shots in the second half. “You know, some of that’s our defense, some of that’s the ball didn’t go in.”
Cronin said he referenced his days coaching Cincinnati for the first time with his players going into the game because he wanted them to know the importance of turning a game against a nationally ranked team into a half-court slog and taking away easy transition points. Two days after giving up 27 fastbreak points against Arizona State, the Bruins gave up only four against the Wildcats.
“You have to make the other team play five on five,” Cronin said.
Tyger Campbell steadied the Bruins after Arizona (16-7, 6-4) went on an 8-0 run to pull within 45-44 with 9:47 left, the freshman point guard telling teammates that the Wildcats had made their run and now it was their turn.
Smith’s turnaround jumper started a push that continued with sophomore guard Jules Bernard making a steal and two free throws after getting fouled on a breakaway layup. Campbell banked in a tough floater and Hill powered in for a layup off the glass before snatching the offensive rebound that triggered his emphatic celebration as part of a three-point play.
“Every time we scored, we were huddling up, talking about, ‘When we go back down, let’s try to get a stop,’ ” Campbell said, “and we just kept doing it.”
Sophomore guard David Singleton made a three-pointer from the corner, giving UCLA a 59-44 lead and sending a trickle of fans toward the exits.
Those who remained took out their frustrations on the Wildcats, who shot only 20.7% in the second half. After one point-blank miss in the final minutes, a fan yelled, “My grandma could have made that.”
Arizona even started missing free throws, including two in a row after having made its first 16.
Smith had 15 points and Campbell had 12 for the Bruins, who shot 59.1% in the second half and 51.1% overall. There was toughness to go with the precision, exhibited by Hill’s nine points and nine rebounds that didn’t begin to demonstrate his value to the team after having sat out against Arizona State because of a sprained right knee.
His celebration underneath the basket was the exclamation point on a triumphant return.
“I just had a lot of pent-up energy out there, and I let it go,” Hill said. “I wanted to hype the bench up because we were all talking, we were all together, and that’s what you have to do on the road, especially here.”