UCLA falls to Arizona in Pac-12 title game, hurting chances for a No. 1 NCAA seed

UCLA's Jaime Jaquez Jr. handles the ball against Arizona's Azuolas Tubelis during the first half.
UCLA’s Jaime Jaquez Jr. handles the ball against Arizona’s Azuolas Tubelis (10) during the Pac-12 championship game. Jaquez had 13 points but shot five for 18 from the field in the Bruins’ 61-59 loss.
(Chase Stevens / Associated Press)

UCLA did not come here to just give it a good try.

Their best defender back home, their top big man watching in a sweatsuit, the Bruins did not back down Saturday night at T-Mobile Arena while severely undermanned in the Pac-12 tournament championship.

They just finally ran out of counterpunches.

A wild game came down to a mad scramble of a finish. Arizona’s Azuolas Tubelis pushed his team into a two-point lead by making the first of two free throws with 5.8 seconds left before missing the second.


UCLA’s Jaime Jaquez Jr. grabbed the rebound and dribbled frantically downcourt before passing to freshman guard Dylan Andrews on the wing. Andrews rose for a three-pointer and a chance at the shot of a lifetime.

The ball caromed off the side of the rim, preserving the second-seeded Wildcats’ 61-59 victory over the top-seeded Bruins.

UCLA guard Amari Bailey controls the ball under pressure from Arizona forward Azuolas Tubelis and guard Kerr Kriisa.
UCLA’s Amari Bailey controls the ball under pressure from Arizona’s Azuolas Tubelis, second from right, and Kerr Kriisa (25) on Saturday night.
(Chase Stevens / Associated Press)

“Wide-open shot to win the game,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said afterward. “We’ll take it. It is what it is. Get some rest, get ready for the real tournament.”

Arizona players lingered to celebrate their second consecutive title-game triumph over UCLA (29-5) while the Bruins pondered where they might be seeded in the NCAA tournament.

Even shorthanded, the Bruins had every opportunity to pull off this one.

Given a chance to tie the score with 6.8 seconds left, Bruins point guard Tyger Campbell, an 84.9% free-throw shooter who had been so clutch all week, missed the second of two free throws, the ball rolling around the rim before coming off. Cronin said Campbell was unnecessarily mad at himself afterward.


“I would put my career on the line,” Cronin said, “with Tyger at the line.”

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March 12, 2023

Tubelis grabbed the rebound and was immediately fouled to start the game-ending sequence.

Another opportunity had been lost for UCLA after Jaquez knocked the ball away from Tubelis with 1:10 left for a steal and the Bruins holding a one-point lead. But after the Bruins called a timeout, Jaquez missed a short jumper.

“I thought I had a lot of great looks,” said Jaquez, who scored 13 points on five-for-18 shooting, “I just missed.”

The Wildcats missed their next shot, but Tubelis snagged an offensive rebound and found Courtney Ramey for a three-pointer that pushed Arizona into a 60-58 lead with 18 seconds left. Cronin suggested that Ramey had pushed off on Will McClendon before the shot, one of two calls that irritated the coach.

“My takeaway is an offensive foul not called, they hit a three,” said Cronin, who also lamented his team’s defensive mistakes and giving up seven offensive rebounds in the second half.

The other call that bothered Cronin came in the first half when Jaquez passed to a cutting Amari Bailey, who threw down a vicious one-handed dunk over Arizona’s Pelle Larsson. The whistle blew. Bruins fans roared, presuming it was a chance for a three-point play.

Nope. The official motioned with his arm to signal that Bailey (19 points) had pushed off. Offensive foul. Cronin and the Bruins fans were livid.


“An offensive foul called on a guy who had the best dunk of the season,” Cronin said incredulously.

Tyger Campbell had 28 points to lift UCLA over Oregon 75-56 in the Pac-12 tournament semifinals Friday, but Adem Bona left because of a shoulder injury.

March 10, 2023

It somehow got worse. On the Wildcats’ next possession, Larsson threw down his own one-handed dunk, prompting an Arizona fan sitting courtside to yell, “That’s how you do it!”

Bruised but not broken, the Bruins fought back. They took a nine-point lead early in the second half before it looked like they might run out of magic. Shots stopped falling. Fouls piled up.

With freshman center Adem Bona sidelined after injuring his left shoulder Friday, the Bruins ran out of bigs in the final minutes. Backup Mac Etienne fouled out with 9:35 left and Kenneth Nwuba followed with four minutes to go.

Tubelis scored 19 points and grabbed 14 rebounds for the Wildcats (28-6), who ended the Bruins’ 12-game winning streak. Afterward, an Associated Press reporter told Cronin that an Arizona fan had gotten in his 81-year-old father Hep’s face after the game. Mick Cronin and his players immediately got up and left the postgame news conference.

UCLA’s radio broadcasters reported on the air that a family of Arizona fans caused a disturbance and security was called to de-escalate the situation and ask the fans to leave the area. Bruins athletic director Martin Jarmond told The Times that he was in touch with Pac-12 officials about the incident.

This was supposed to be a chance to solve the debates, answer the questions, end any lingering doubts.


These two teams had met twice before this season, each winning once. The respective fan bases had made their cases for superiority. UCLA was the tougher, more complete team. Arizona possessed the bigger front line and a mightier offense.

The Bruins had won the Pac-12’s regular-season title in a four-game runaway, thumping the Wildcats just last week, and now the teams were meeting again.

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March 11, 2023

Any reasonable calculus of the Bruins had changed considerably over the last week. Images of the Bruins running over to celebrate with their fellow students inside Pauley Pavilion were replaced by ones of UCLA fans crossing their fingers and holding their breath over the two asterisks that hovered like a dark cloud over the latest Arizona showdown.

Junior guard Jaylen Clark was out with a lower-leg injury. Bona, a shot-blocking menace, was transformed into a cheerleader by the shoulder soreness that’s not expected to keep him out past Saturday.

The Bruins withstood it all as part of a stirring run this week that was the stuff of Disney, pulling away from Colorado before blitzing Oregon behind a barrage of Campbell buckets. But this challenge was on another level entirely, like going from scaling the Santa Monica Mountains to Mount Everest.

UCLA made it most of the way. It just couldn’t reach the summit.