Advertisement

No. 3 UCLA cannot complete comeback in 76-66 loss to No. 7 Arizona

UCLA guard Jules Bernard drives past Arizona guard Justin Kier.
UCLA guard Jules Bernard drives past Arizona guard Justin Kier during the first half Thursday in Tucson, Ariz.
(Rick Scuteri / Associated Press)
Share

A week after looking practically unbeatable, winning three games comfortably with lockdown defense and sustained intensity to move near the top of the national rankings, UCLA was back in a spot where players had said they were more comfortable.

The Bruins were once again underdogs.

It didn’t matter that they were playing the same Arizona team they had hammered nine days earlier. The Wildcats were playing at home and were favored by seven points. Basketball analyst Ken Pomeroy gave UCLA just a 33% chance to win.

Advertisement

The Bruins might have felt lost in the desert every time they jogged past the Arizona students lining the tunnel that led to their locker room, a cascade of boos washing over the players dressed in blue.

Even with a few spirited second-half runs shaving what had been a massive deficit to something more manageable Thursday evening, UCLA never could quiet those fans. The celebrating belonged to the seventh-ranked Wildcats after they emerged with a 76-66 triumph over the third-ranked Bruins at McKale Center.

“They’re a great team and playing hard is in their DNA,” Bruins guard Jules Bernard said after slogging his way to 15 points on six-for-15 shooting. “They came prepared today and unlike the game at Pauley, they were hitting some shots.”

Long-limbed freshman Peyton Watson has emerged as a key cog in UCLA’s defense, blocking shots and playing with infectious enthusiasm.

Feb. 2, 2022

It was Arizona’s first win over UCLA on its home court since 2016, ending a four-game losing streak here while moving the Wildcats (18-2 overall, 8-1 Pac-12) into sole possession of first place in the conference standings.

It wasn’t easy.

Just when it looked as if the Wildcats might win in a runaway that was a reversal of last week’s meeting, the Bruins tightened their defense, taking away the high-low action that allowed Arizona forward Azuolas Tubelis to repeatedly punish them in the first half while helping his team take a 17-point lead.

When Jaime Jaquez Jr. rattled in a layup to pull the Bruins to within 64-61 with 3:41 left, fans who had been wildly cheering only moments earlier produced murmurs of unease.

Advertisement

But a rough stretch for UCLA forward Cody Riley in which he had a shot blocked, missed another shot in the lane and then couldn’t make one of his nearly automatic midrange jumpers left the Bruins with too many empty possessions at a time when they needed production.

“They made a couple of really good plays on him from behind,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said. “He’s got to get it up and in quicker before their second shot-blocker gets there.”

UCLA guard Johnny Juzang drives past Arizona guards Justin Kier and Pelle Larsson.
UCLA guard Johnny Juzang drives past Arizona guards Justin Kier (5) and Pelle Larsson during the first half Thursday in Tucson, Ariz.
(Rick Scuteri / Associated Press)

The Bruins (16-3, 8-2) shot 38.9%, making just three of 14 three-pointers, while failing to replicate the defensive intensity that triggered their 15-point victory over Arizona last week. They took just 12 free throws to Arizona’s 30 while also coming out on the wrong end of a controversial charging call that went against Jaquez with 71/2 minutes left after he made contact with Arizona’s Kerr Kriisa.

“I didn’t see an offensive foul,” said Jaquez, who scored 13 points in his return from a sprained ankle that had forced him out of UCLA’s victory over Stanford last weekend. “I thought he flopped and he got the ref on that flop, so it is what it is.”

In his return from a two-game absence while sidelined with COVID-19, UCLA’s Johnny Juzang scored 12 points but missed all four of his three-pointers. Bruins point guard Tyger Campbell became a target of fans who booed him every time he touched the ball after getting tangled up with Arizona’s Pelle Larsson, leading to offsetting technical fouls. Those same fans cheered Campbell’s departure with 1:25 left after he fouled out with nine points, five assists and a turnover.

Advertisement

Kriisa, who missed all 12 of his shots against the Bruins last week, suffered no such indignity this time, leading his team with 16 points even if he did make only four of 14 shots. As the final seconds ran off the clock, Kriisa wiggled his fingers to entice fans to get louder before hurling the ball into the student section.

The Bruins’ record $62.5-million deficit for the 2021 fiscal year reflects the many ways in which COVID-19 has affected schools from coast to coast.

Jan. 29, 2022

The rivalry intensified after the game when Kriisa retweeted a video clip of Campbell appearing to say something profane about Arizona in a timeout huddle last week, captioning it “Mutual.” Video also surfaced after the game showing Bruins forward Mac Etienne, who accompanies the team on trips despite being sidelined by a season-ending knee injury, allegedly spitting on Arizona students while walking off the court before being ushered away. Etienne was cited by campus police but was not detained, according to one person close to the situation, traveling with the team to Phoenix for its game against Arizona State on Saturday.

If everyone has their way, the drama will resume when these teams face each other once more in March in Las Vegas.

“We’re looking forward to meeting them again,” Jaquez said, “hopefully seeing them in the Pac-12 tournament, and we’re ready to get this one back.”

Advertisement