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What we learned from Arizona’s loss at UCLA

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Another late-game collapse

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 29 Arizona at UCLA

The Arizona Wildcats lost another close game Saturday, falling to the UCLA Bruins 69-64 in Los Angeles.

Arizona drops to 19-10 overall and 9-7 in the Pac-12 heading into a regular-season-ending homestand vs. the Washington schools.

Our full recap can be found here, associate head coach Jack Murphy’s postgame comments can be found here, and below are some additional thoughts.

Yet another late-game collapse, and this might be the worst one

The Wildcats dropped to 3-7 in games decided by six points or less, and this might have been the worst one yet.

Say what you want about the officiating and UCLA taking 22 more free throws than Arizona, but the Wildcats were up 62-58 with under three minutes left and proceeded to rattle off this comical string of self-inflicted errors:

  • missed 3 (Dylan Smith, late in shot clock)
  • turnover (Stone Gettings, errant pass)
  • turnover (Smith, dribbled out of bounds)
  • turnover (Max Hazzard, dribbled off his own foot)
  • missed 3 (Gettings)
  • missed 3 (Nico Mannion)
  • missed front end of one-and-one (Zeke Nnaji)
  • missed putback (Christian Koloko)

As you can see, it was a total team effort.

For most teams this kind of collapse would be a shocking turn of events. For this team, it was just your typical Saturday. The offense got stagnant, the shots stopped falling, and the turnovers (most of them easily avoidable) started piling up.

Some other damning stats:

  • Arizona scored seven points in the final 9:32
  • Arizona had six turnovers in the final 7:43

Unless this team can stop devolving into a total train wreck in crunch time, you should expect an early exit in both the Pac-12 and NCAA Tournaments.

(By the way, if you want to watch the collapse unfold, I posted videos at the bottom. In the meantime, let’s get to some other stuff.)

No senior leadership

One of Arizona’s biggest problems this season is a lack of leadership. Normally that comes from upperclassmen, but Arizona’s seniors just don’t have it. In the moments they are supposed to be calm, they get frantic.

Smith, Hazzard and Gettings all committed key turnovers down the stretch. Smith dribbled baseline and stepped out of bounds, Hazzard dribbled off his foot, and Gettings tried to drive and fit a bounce pass to Nnaji with the shot clock winding down instead of taking a 3 or mid-range jumper.

Nico Mannion had his best game in conference play

What a shame Arizona lost this game, because Mannion (finally) played like the first-round pick he is projected to be.

He had 19 points on 13 shots and posted six assists to one turnover. He played within himself and hit many of those jumpers, floaters and contested layups that he has been missing for months. For the first time in Pac-12 play, Mannion was the most valuable player in a game, according to KenPom.

If there is anything to be critical of, it’s that he was too passive in crunch time. All three of those late turnovers came after he gave the ball up.

Allonzo Trier, who certainly knows a thing or two about not passing, questioned why Mannion was so willing to dish to Gettings when UCLA went with a full-court press:

Arizona was the more physical team, but didn’t adjust to the officiating

Yet another reason it’s a shame Arizona lost this game is because they actually out-toughed the same UCLA team that embarrassed them in McKale earlier in the month. The Wildcats outrebounded the Bruins 36-35, held them to 33 percent shooting, and had a dominant 32-14 edge in points in the paint.

Nnaji was a beast when he wasn’t in foul trouble, scoring 16 points on nice 6-of-9 shooting.

If anything, the Wildcats were too physical, getting called for 27 fouls to UCLA’s 17, with Nnaji, Gettings and Koloko all finding themselves in foul trouble in the second half.

UCLA took 38 free throws in the game, including 20 in the second half.

“There wasn’t an opportunity for our defense to get a stop,” Murphy said.

In fairness, the officials were whistling the Wildcats for the slightest bumps. That, plus Sean Miller mistakenly thinking Mannion was fouled on a drive (replays showed it was a clean block), ultimately led to his first ejection as Arizona’s head coach.

He wasn’t exactly upset about being sent off, mouthing “good!” to the official after earning his second technical foul.

You could argue that maybe Arizona wouldn’t have fallen apart at the end if their head coach wasn’t watching the game on TV like the rest of us, but recent history shows it probably wouldn’t have mattered.

Arizona needs Colorado to lose a game to get a bye

At this point, the Wildcats need Stanford (Sunday) or Utah (next Saturday) to beat Colorado to clinch the No. 4 seed and a first-round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament. Arizona is a game behind the Buffaloes in the loss column but own the tiebreaker.

The Wildcats obviously need to take care of business too, but with the Washington schools coming to McKale next weekend, even this team should be able to close the season with two wins.

As far as NCAA Tournament seeding goes, ESPN’s latest bracketology has Arizona as a 6-seed, but that was before Saturday’s loss.

Re-live Arizona’s collapse

As promised, here is a look at five straight failed offensive possessions that led to Arizona’s demise. Watch them at your own risk: