The two premier Pac-12 basketball programs met on Thursday night in Pauley Pavilion where the Arizona Wildcats fell to the UCLA Bruins, 87-84, on a Bryce Alford step-back three with 1.8 seconds remaining.
Both teams engaged in a first half full of intensity. UCLA repeatedly worked to find the open man, leading to easy buckets and good looks from beyond the arc, as they led throughout the first half. At the other end of the floor though, UCLA was making Arizona work for every point. Arizona's offensive rebounding, especially from Ryan Anderson and Kaleb Tarczewski, kept the Wildcats in the game, with 13 second chance points in the first half. It was 37-36, UCLA, and Bryce Alford had been kept quiet to that point. But in the final 45 seconds of the first half, UCLA's leading scorer came alive, hitting two consecutive three-pointers to send the Bruins to the locker room with a 7 point lead.
In the second half, UCLA came out firing, extending their lead to 14 behind good shot selection and stifling defense. UCLA led 81-68 after an Alford three-pointer, and the game looked all but over.
But Arizona was far from done.
Kadeem Allen led the charge and the Wildcats went on a 16-3 run to tie the game up at 84. Ryan Anderson missed a crucial free throw that could have given Arizona their first lead since 34-33 at the 2:50 mark of the first half.
All tied at 84, UCLA played for the final shot and that's what they got. Bryce Alford hit his 5th three of the night with 1.8 seconds left, to send the Bruin faithful home happy.
Alford led all scorers, finishing with 25 points. Ryan Anderson led Arizona with 15 points and 15 rebounds, his 8th double-double of the season. And Kaleb Tarczewski appears to be back and better than ever as he finished with 12 points and 12 rebounds off the bench, eight of those rebounds were offensive.
A few notes from the game...
- Arizona was absolutely crushed in the assist department Thursday, 21-11, and that's the main reason the Wildcats were in the hole they were. UCLA consistently found the open man with a combination of precision passing and Arizona having slow help defense throughout the night. Arizona played a lot of 1-on-1 basketball on the offensive end, including their comeback at the end which featured a lot of high screens that they were able to capitalize on.
- Kadeem Allen didn't have the best first half. Or even the best first 35 minutes for that matter. But he showed that he will put the team on his back when needed. Arizona followed his lead late and nearly stole a game that was considered over. It showed a ton of guts on the part of Kadeem Allen and the entire Wildcats squad. This may not be the most talented Arizona team that Tucson has seen in the last few years. But it just might be the gutsiest.
- As good as Arizona's offense has been of late, one has to wonder if the defense is an issue. UCLA made a lot of difficult shots, but they also were handed a lot of easy ones, especially from three point land. The Bruins shot 50% from three (11-22) and Arizona, who's been identified as a team that struggles from three, shot 35% (6-17).
The Wildcats fall to 1-1 in conference play and will look forward to a rematch with UCLA on February 12th in McKale Center. But next up is another road game at USC on Saturday evening.