Leap Day only happens once every four years, so it’s fair to say things that happen on Feb. 29 are rarities.
Yet on the night of Sean Miller’s first career ejection, most of the other things the Arizona Wildcats did were far too familiar.
The Wildcats scored two points in the final 3:44, turning it over on three straight possessions at one point, as the UCLA Bruins used a late 10-0 run to win 69-64 on Saturday night in Los Angeles.
Arizona (19-10, 9-7 Pac-12) lost its third straight game and got swept on the LA trip for the fifth time in the Miller era, more than on any other trip, and now is in serious jeopardy of missing out on a first-round bye in the Pac-12 tournament. The Wildcats are currently tied for fifth place in the loss column with USC and Stanford, with only the top four finishers avoiding having to play in the opening round in Las Vegas.
Up by six at the break and by as many as nine after that, the Wildcats managed to weather multiple storms during the first 12 minutes of the second half. UCLA (19-11, 12-5) pulled within one on four different occasions, including after Miller was ejected with 12:28 to go following his second technical foul.
The Wildcats even overcame a 4:44 scoring drought to go up 60-56 on a Max Hazzard 3-pointer with 4:49 left, and Zeke Nnaji’s dunk off a pass from Nico Mannion with 3:44 to go gave them a 62-58 lead.
Mannion finished with 19 points, including eight in the first 3:35 of the second half, and six assists, while Nnaji has 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting.
But Nnaji picked up his fourth foul with 9:52 left and took only two shots after that, going in and out of the lineup to avoid fouling out, while Mannion didn’t score in the final 11:22.
Their disappearances only partially contributed to Arizona’s latest collapse. A massive free throw discrepancy—UCLA was 29 of 38 while Arizona was 10 of 16, with the Bruins having a 20-4 edge in the second half—and nine second-half turnovers were far more liable.
UCLA, which only shot 33.3 percent, went more than seven minutes without a field goal before Chris Smith scored on back-to-back possessions to tie it with 1:21 to go. Smith’s second basket came after Stone Gettings made a bad pass, then after Dylan Smith stepped on the end line Tyger Campbell gave the Bruins a 64-62 lead with 50.3 seconds to go.
Hazzard then dribbled out of bounds with 32.7 left, and UCLA made 5 of 8 free throws after that while Arizona missed three shots and a free throw before Christian Koloko scored a meaningless basket with two seconds remaining.
Arizona took a 33-27 lead into the locker room after ending the first half on a 9-0 run capped by Hazzard’s fallaway baseline jumper at the buzzer. That came following a 10-0 UCLA run sparked by Miller getting a technical foul for yelling after official John Higgins, no doubt creating a new GIF in the process.
Miller had taken umbrage with a no-call after Mannion stole an inbounds pass and had his shot rejected under the basket by UCLA’s Cody Riley, the coach so worked up he had spit on his chin for more than a minute as Arizona’s coaching staff tried to corral him near the bench.
Arizona held UCLA to 23.1 percent shooting in the first half, holding the Bruins scoreless for the first 4:50 and scoring nine points off seven turnovers. That included five straight points off steals after Hazzard went coast-to-coast after a swipe and then Smith drained a 3 not long after grabbing an errant pass for a 15-7 lead, then a Nnaji 3-pointer gave the Wildcats their biggest lead at 18-9 before UCLA scored 18 of the next 24 points to lead 27-24.
The Wildcats return home for the final weekend of the regular season, hosting the Washington State Cougars on Thursday night at McKale Center.