Two of the nation’s five unbeaten teams went head-to-head Sunday in Westwood, meaning a long winning streak was going to end one way or another.
Unfortunately for the Arizona Wildcats, it had to be them.
The No. 10 UCLA Bruins used a strong third quarter to pull away for a 70-58 victory over the 18th-ranked Wildcats. It snaps Arizona’s 19-game winning streak dating back to last season, which was the longest in the country and included a WNIT championship and UA’s first victory at Arizona State in two decades.
UCLA (14-0, 3-0 Pac-12) outscored the Wildcats 28-13 in the third quarter, thanks to some hot 3-point shooting. The Bruins went 6 for 9 from behind the arc in the period, with five different players burying at least one deep ball.
Arizona (13-1, 2-1 Pac-12) battled back from some sizable deficits in the first half but ran out of gas in the second half.
“This was a game we weren’t expected to win,” Arizona coach Adia Barnes said on her postgame radio show. “They have to win this game. They’re No. 10 in the country at home. It’s so early, but if you can go on the road and get splits, and then take care of (business at) home, I think you’re in a good situation. Yeah, I wish we would have played a little bit better. I thought in the first half, even though our offense wasn’t good, our defense was good. But then second half, I feel like they were nailing 3s and we didn’t really have an answer.”
Aari McDonald led Arizona with 19 points, seven rebounds, and six assists, but needed 20 shots to do it and had five of UA’s 15 turnovers plus four fouls. Cate Reese battled foul trouble all game, finishing with 12 points and seven boards. Sam Thomas had 10 points, five rebounds, and three assists before fouling out in the final minutes. Semaj Smith fouled out too.
The Bruins only went 11 for 23 from the free-throw line, but shot 50 percent in the second half as the Wildcats did their best to defend without fouling.
“I thought that after our fouls we were very hesitant,” Barnes said. “I mean, Sam never fouls out. We don’t ever usually foul out like this. I think it was a physical game and our offense was very stagnant. I think that their pressure got to us and we weren’t able to run our offense. We have to be able to execute when things are tough.”
The Wildcats, who were playing without starting forward Dominique McBryde (ankle) for the sixth straight game, only got three points from their bench. Freshman Tara Manumaleuga sank a 3 to pull the Wildcats within 66-53 with 2:32 left in the fourth.
The shots, otherwise, weren’t dropping. Arizona shot 33 percent from the field and 29 percent from 3. They were dominated on the boards, 47-33.
“We were taking very fast shots, which leads to tough transition buckets and we’re not organized defensively,” Barnes said.
Still, Arizona and UCLA were tied at the half, as the Wildcats used a pair of late-quarter runs to erase some Bruin leads. The Wildcats closed the first quarter on an 8-0 run to take a 17-14 advantage. Thomas capped it by draining an NBA-range 3.
Arizona missed its first eight shots of the second quarter, allowing the Bruins to rebuild a seven-point lead. But the Wildcats went on a 9-2 run to knot it at 31-all heading into the half.
Amari Carter had eight of Arizona’s 14 second-quarter points. She banked in two 3s and sank two free throws. She also swiped an inbounds pass that led to a layup for McDonald to tie it at 14-all in the first.
UCLA went 4 for 13 at the free throw line in the first half and committed 10 turnovers, which Arizona turned into 11 points. The Bruins scored the first 10 points of the third quarter and the rout was on.
UCLA post Michaela Onyenwere had a game-high 18 points and 13 rebounds on 8-of-13 shooting.
“We were trying to pack it in because we have to because their post is so good, and I felt like we were late and we weren’t communicating in transition,” Barnes said. “And then we had to go zone because we were in foul trouble. And then we were just letting them, in zone, have a transition bucket from the 3. Those are things we can’t do.”
Especially not next week, when Arizona will host No. 3 Oregon State on Friday before another heavyweight matchup against No. 2 Oregon on Sunday.
“We just have to get better, but I’m proud of our fight,” Barnes said. “We didn’t give up. I think we were a little defeated because we haven’t been in this situation in a while, but we’re gonna get better and we’ll be even better when Dominique comes back.”