After watching his team nearly blow a 20-point lead on Thursday night, but ultimately still win, Arizona Wildcats coach Sean Miller said he thought it might have been better for them to lose in order to better learn from the experience.
He unfortunately got his wish two nights later.
Arizona shot 25.4 percent, the worst rate in McKale Center history, making only six field goals in the second half in a 65-52 loss to the UCLA Bruins on Saturday night.
The loss snapped a 3-game win streak for the 23rd-ranked Wildcats, who drop to 16-7 overall and 6-4 in Pac-12 play and fall out of a tie in the loss column for first place. Colorado (19-5, 8-3) is alone at the top after beating Cal, while Oregon (18-6, 7-4) fell at Oregon State.
The Wildcats shot 20.7 percent in the second half, missing all 12 3-point attempts, for their lowest point total since a 58-49 home loss to Baylor in December 2018. Making matters worse: UCLA (13-11, 6-5) shot 59.1 percent in the second half and 51.1 percent for the game, making 9 of 17 from beyond the arc for its third straight win in Tucson.
Zeke Nnaji had 14 points and 10 rebounds but was just 2 of 8 from the field, while Nico Mannion was 2 for 14 with zero assists, Josh Green was 3 for 11 and Dylan Smith went 0 for 7.
Two nights after going the final 8:20 without a field goal in an 85-80 win over USC, Arizona had two more massive shooting droughts against UCLA (12-12, 6-5). They went almost eight minutes without making a basket during the first half and then failed to score from anywhere other than the line during a 9:25 spell in the second half.
The Wildcats trailed 29-28 at the half, their first halftime deficit since trailing St. John’s by 14 in San Francisco just before Christmas.
And unlike the last few games, where it came out of the locker room hot, Arizona’s deficit swelled to as much as nine at 45-36 with 13:32 to go. UCLA made six of its first nine shots in the second half while the Wildcats started 3 of 14 from the field.
They made up for it by getting to the line, reaching the bonus at 14:14 and the double bonus with 9:47 remaining. An 8-0 run that came entirely at the line got the Wildcats within 45-44, only to see UCLA rattle off 14 in a row.
A 3-point play by Jalen Hill and a Chris Singleton 3-pointer put the Bruins up 59-44 with 5:19 to go before Ira Lee hit a pair of foul shots.
The Wildcats missed 10 straight field goals before Lee scored on a layup with 2:58 left but by that time the Bruins had built a 63-48 advantage.
The cold shooting that plagued Arizona late against USC was still there at the beginning against UCLA, at least from inside the perimeter. The Wildcats were 6 of 11 from 3-point range in the first half while going 3 for 19 from inside the arc, including 3 of 13 on layups.
Arizona didn’t make its first 2-pointer until the 11:12 mark of the first half, off a Stone Gettings layup. Gettings had the last such make against USC, and the latter one was part of a 7-0 run to put the Wildcats up 21-17 with 9:05 to go.
But Arizona only made one more field goal before halftime, a Green 3-pointer with 1:15 left, which snapped a 7:50 shooting drought, to lead 28-27. UCLA’s Jules Bernard scored inside on the other end 27 seconds later to give the Bruins a one-point at the break.
The Wildcats return to action Thursday at California.