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Arizona basketball: Three takeaways from the Wildcats' win over the UCLA Bruins

The seniors accepted Sean Miller's challenge after a nightmare first half

Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Thanks to a strong second half performance, the Arizona Wildcats were able to overcome a 10-point halftime deficit in route to an 81-75 win over the UCLA Bruins.

Here were three major takeaways from the game:

The McKale Center crowd might've been the difference

I thought the atmosphere at McKale Center against UCLA was as good as it's been all season. The fans were into the game right from tipoff and never really lost their intensity. And in a game where Arizona struggled for long stretches, the crowd's energy might've been what turned its performance around.

That's why Sean Miller wasted no time showing his appreciation for the fans after the game.

"I’m going to start this press conference with a huge thank you to the people who attended tonight’s game," Sean Miller said. "The crowd in McKale tonight was worth five or six points, maybe more. Our crowd always stays with us when we struggle and we certainly did in the first half. But in the second half it was just an environment that’s almost too much for the opponent."

"To have that as part of what we do means the world and with parity the way it is, not only in college basketball, but in our conference, man the home crowd atmosphere is a significant factor that can sway things, and I don’t know if there’s one better, certainly than the one we had tonight. That’s a big thank you."

Sure the lengthy home-winning streak is over, but even on one of Arizona's worst nights, opponents are still going to have to play a full 40 minutes of high-quality basketball if they're going to knock off the Wildcats on their home court. So far, only one team in the last three years has proven it can do that.

"Every game is a huge game but especially playing at McKale and defending our court is really important for us," Kaleb Tarczewski said.

Has Parker Jackson-Cartwright become more consistent?

With Kadeem Allen being sick for the last 12 days, as Miller said, Parker Jackson-Cartwright's role has continued to expand. He played a career-high 35 minutes as a starter against Washington State, then played 24 minutes off the bench versus Washington. Then against UCLA, Allen's illness -- he threw up three times on Friday -- prompted Miller to shift Jackson-Cartwright back into the starting five and PJC had one of the best games of his career. He scored a career-high 16 points while hitting three 3-pointers and dishing out four assists in 28 minutes.

"He played well the entire game," Miller said. "It started with his ability to start at Washington State. Kadeem was sick. He had four assists to no turnovers, he did a really good job. He did an excellent job against great talent at Washington and now he’s come back and done it again."

Miller continued, "His shooting, which I’ve been on record [saying] from day one, he is one of our team’s best shooters If you leave him alone, you’re not smart. He’s very good, and our big guys did an excellent job of finding him and if he gets an open look that’s as good of a shot as we have for our team. He made a big one in the second half, but to see three 3s go down for him, it is nice for our team."

So what's caused Parker's resurgence? Was it being inserted into the starting lineup that made the difference?

"No," Jackson-Cartwright said. "Whether it’s starting or coming off the bench, it’s the same mindset. I just try to be solid and contribute in anyway I can."

Both Miller and Jackson-Cartwright think it has more to do with him becoming a more experienced player and remaining confident.

"Players hit their strides at different points in their career," Miller said. "Parker’s still a very young player, only been at Arizona for a season and a half, and it’s nice to see him play with confidence."

"My teammates are doing a great job of keeping my confidence up," Jackson-Cartwright said. "They believe in me and the coaches believe in me and I just want to go out every day and do what I have to do to help the team win and it’s a good feeling."

If Jackson-Cartwright coming into his own sounds familiar, it's because I wrote about this exact thing a few weeks ago. After a stellar home stand against the Washington schools in mid-to-late January, it looked as if Jackson-Cartwright was taking the patented "freshman to sophomore leap". Unfortunately, after those two Washington games, PJC struggled against Cal and Stanford.

Because of that, I'll proceed with caution before deeming Jackson-Cartwright as a consistent player. His success in the last three games is encouraging, and he's shown he can be an extremely effective player, but based on how his season has transpired so far and the ups and downs he's had, I'm just not sure we can expect these types of performances on a regular basis just yet.

The seniors stepped up to the challenge

It was a nightmare first half for the Wildcats. They trailed by 10 points and shot just 29.6 percent from the field, while UCLA shot over 50 percent. As we know, the second half was the complete opposite. The Wildcats outscored the Bruins 47-31, while shooting 51.7 percent from the field and holding the Bruins to a 38.7 field-goal percentage.

"In the second half, we really put the clamps on their guards," Miller said. "We pressured the ball, played more cohesively. It was the same players, it was the same scheme, we just executed at a much better level."

As Miller noted, it wasn't a major schematic adjustment that caused the dramatic change, it was the result of Miller challenging his seniors to step up.

"Coach (Miller) asked myself, Ryan [Anderson], and Gabe [York] at halftime, 'what do you want your legacy at Arizona to be?'," Kaleb Tarczewski said. "That set in and we knew we weren't doing what we needed to do on defense in the first half. The entire team came out in the second half with more energy and really locked into the details, and I think that's why we got the win."

"I think about Kaleb and the way he rebounded and defended in the second half," Miller said. "Gabe York was phenomenal on defense in the second half. He chased the cutter, did a really good job on Bryce Alford, and it could have been Gabe’s best defensive performance of his career maybe, and we needed him to do it."

Tarczewski finished with nine points and 14 rebounds, while Anderson had 11 points and 13 rebounds, and Gabe York added 15 points on 5-10 shooting.

"It’s second halves like tonight’s game that define their legacy," Miller said. "And when you think of Kaleb Tarczewski, you’re going to think about how he did rebounding the ball in the second half. Gabe York doing an outstanding job defensively, Ryan Anderson playing through some bad moments and being great at the end. Those three guys and Mark Tollefsen did a good job."

"We were led by our seniors and I give them a lot of credit."