UCLA rallies to beat Arizona and claim first place in Pac-12
One of the largest crowds of the season jammed into Pauley Pavilion and waited for the fun to begin.
The video board showed one UCLA luminary after another, Sidney Wicks waving and Baron Davis smiling and Gail Goodrich holding a basketball as the honorary captain.
A student won a year’s worth of tuition, fake money floating into the air after he discovered he had the winning box.
For about 38 minutes Saturday night, it seemed like that might be the extent of the entertainment.
The Bruins bricked their way to a considerable deficit against Arizona, dropping themselves into a hole from which even their steady defense couldn’t fully extract them after they followed one empty possession with another.
Point guard Tyger Campbell had missed his first 10 shots when he rose for a jumper with the score tied and less than a minute to play. He banked it in while falling down.
The crowd could finally unleash its frenzy, the Bruins on their way to an improbable 69-64 victory that they pulled out despite one of their worst offensive performances of the season.
“Just like we drew it up,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin cracked afterward.
UCLA shot 33.3% but made the ones it needed to, closing the game on a 13-4 run to move into sole possession of first place in the Pac-12 Conference. The Bruins (19-11 overall, 12-5 Pac-12) also made stop after stop, holding Arizona scoreless on six consecutive possessions spanning more than 3½ minutes.
UCLA players ran over to celebrate their seventh consecutive victory with students seated behind one basket after the game, leaping joyously in unison.
“We were feeding off of them, they were screaming the whole time for us, so it was only right that we went and celebrated with them,” Bruins junior guard Chris Smith said after making two late shots to wipe out a four-point deficit. “It was a great feeling for sure.”
The victory before a crowd of 11,567 clinched a bye in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament for the Bruins and gave them their first regular-season sweep of Arizona since the 2012-13 season, which was also the last time they won the conference’s regular-season title. They are in position to do it again after having been tied for last place in the standings as recently as Jan. 17.
Jay Huff had 15 points, nine rebounds and 10 blocks to help host Virginia topple No. 7 Duke, handing the Blue Devils their third loss in four games.
Campbell and Smith combined to make only six of 26 shots but closed the game on a tear. With the Bruins trailing by four, Smith made a jump hook and swished a turnaround jumper to tie it at 62-62 with 1:21 left.
Arizona’s Dylan Smith then dribbled out of bounds along the baseline, giving the ball back to the Bruins. Campbell made the most of the opportunity when he banked in his jumper with 49 seconds left.
“I’m yelling at him to attack the guy, use his speed,” Cronin said. “The game was being officiated a certain way, you’ve got to attack. The last thing I wanted there was another kick-out shot and obviously we weren’t lighting it up from the perimeter.”
Arizona guard Max Hazzard then committed another turnover when he lost the ball out of bounds along the sideline and the Bruins made enough free throws to secure the triumph.
Cronin said his team was able to make the needed stops because it had so few fouls, allowing it to turn up the pressure without fear of sending the Wildcats to the free-throw line.
UCLA also took care of the ball after some early sloppiness, committing only one turnover in the second half.
Bruins coach Mick Cronin discusses the 69-64 victory over the Wildcats on Feb. 29, 2020, at Pauley Pavilion.
Arizona coach Sean Miller did not see the end, having been ejected with 12:28 left when he picked up a second technical foul after officials reviewed a play and allowed UCLA to keep possession. Arizona guard Nico Mannion scored 19 points but missed a dunk in the final seconds, a fitting end for the Wildcats (19-10, 9-7).
UCLA’s Prince Ali and Alex Olesinski returned to the starting lineup in a nod to senior night in their final home game. Their stay was short. Ali traveled less than a minute into the game and came out shortly thereafter. Olesinski grabbed a defensive rebound but was replaced after less than two minutes of playing time.
It ended up being the kind of sendoff they wanted.
“First place!” a fan yelled in the upper deck. “First place!”
Go beyond the scoreboard
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