Sean Miller warned Monday that his team could surrender 100 points to the UCLA Bruins if its defensive woes continued.
The Bruins didn’t quite eclipse the century mark, but they still made a mockery of the Arizona Wildcats’ defense, shooting 52 percent in a 82-74 road win Thursday in McKale Center.
It is Arizona’s second straight loss, and just its third loss in its last 82 home games. The Bruins are responsible for the last two as they took down the Wildcats in McKale Center last year as well.
Only this time Arizona wasn’t nearly as competitive, trailing by as many as 15 points in the second half.
“That was probably the easiest (road) victory in McKale in seven or eight years,” a disappointed, but not angry, Miller said afterward. “We’re not used to losing at home, but especially not in a way that we lost control of the game.”
The Wildcats tried everything to regain control — man-to-man defense, zone, trapping, etc. — but to no avail.
The Bruins shot 11-of-24 from 3, and all five UCLA starters scored in double figures, with Aaron Holiday and Gyorgy Goloman leading the way with 17 and 16 points, respectively.
“Anything to spark a comeback,” Miller said, “but we didn’t have it.”
The Wildcats trailed by 10 at halftime, and there were times it looked like they were going to get back in the game, but they just couldn’t get the stops needed to mount a comeback.
For instance: Parker Jackson-Cartwright, who had 10 points and 4 assists, scored over UCLA center Thomas Welsh to cut UCLA’s lead to 48-44 with 15:51 left in the second half, but the Bruins answered with an 8-0 run.
Later, Rawle Alkins, who had 5 points on 2-of-9 shooting, hit a 3 to make it a 56-49 game, but UCLA answered with a 10-2 run to extend its lead to 66-51 with 9:17 left, its largest lead of the game.
Back-to-back 3s by PJC and Allonzo Trier trimmed UA’s deficit to 69-60 with seven minutes left, which gave Arizona one last glimmer of hope but, alas, the Bruins squashed it with another run.
Arizona had extreme difficulty defending off the dribble, which led to open layups and/or open 3s — and, on this night, the Wildcats’ offense couldn’t bail them out.
Arizona shot just 44 percent from the field, 36 percent from 3, and 8-of-10 from the line. Deandre Ayton and Trier weren’t their usual efficient selves.
Ayton had 16 points and 12 rebounds on 7-of-19 shooting, settling for a ton of jumpers. Trier had 17 points on 7-of-13 shooting but did not get to the line a single time.
Dusan Ristic had 11 points (5-8 FG) and 7 rebounds.
“We are a much better offensive team than we are on defense. The gap has never been bigger,” Miller said. “It is up to us to continue to work and improve. We worked very hard to address it, but some of it is personnel. Our guys have to be able to guard the ball, and move, think, and play together. We weren’t a great defensive team at the beginning of the season, however as the season progresses and we play teams that are as gifted as UCLA is on offense, it can really expose us. And they did.”
Arizona’s offense was ice cold early on, missing seven of its first eight shots of the game, and UCLA was able to jump out to a 10-3 lead and later 14-8.
But then the Wildcats broke off a 9-0 run to take a 17-14 lead with four different players scoring during that span.
Arizona would cling to a narrow lead until the Bruins sank their last six 3-point attempts of the half, propelling them to a 44-34 advantage at the break and foreshadowing the rest of the night.
UCLA freshman Jaylen Hands made three 3s in the last minute alone — a contested step-back, a pull-up in transition, and then a tough high-arcing shot from the wing as the buzzer sounded.
“We could not fully recover the 10-point cushion at halftime,” Miller said. “We struggled with our confidence from that point on, as we had to play catch up.”
Ristic, the lone Wildcat available to the media, agreed.
“We just have to play more aggressively, and even have more fun. Today we didn’t enjoy the game,” he said.
“We are playing not to lose instead of just trying to win. That’s the difference maker. I think everybody needs to understand that this is just a game, and you have to have fun paying it. If you worry about making mistakes, then you’re going to keep making mistakes. From this point on we just have to get better. Next game we have to show we’re on the right track and I think we are.
“We’re doing the exact same things we’ve been doing for the last four years, we just have to actually show it on the court.”
After struggling against UCLA, the Wildcats’ defense now ranks 110th in the country, which is the worst it has even been under Miller at Arizona.
And things won’t get easier from here as Arizona hosts the second-place USC Trojans on Saturday.
So when asked if he’s concerned about Arizona’s trajectory, Ristic said: “It all depends where we go from here. Obviously we have a tough stretch of games where we play USC — they’re a really good team — then ASU, and then the Oregon schools.
“I think we need to answer the bell right now. If we don’t do it, it’s going to get ugly. So it’s up to us to bounce back as soon as possible because the next game is on Saturday. We have to change something real quick.”
Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire.