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Arizona falls to UCLA for fourth straight time

Simon Asher / Arizona Athletics

The goal of winning a Pac-12 regular season title may already be over for the Arizona Wildcats.

The UA was beaten by its own game on Saturday night, as the UCLA Bruins dominated at the foul line and on the offensive boards en route to an 81-76 victory at McKale Center.

It was the second consecutive loss for Arizona (9-4, 3-3 Pac-12), which is now three games back of UCLA (9-3, 5-0) in the loss column. The Bruins have beaten the Wildcats four straight times, their longest streak in the series since taking eight in a row from 2006-09, and its their fourth consecutive victory at McKale.

UCLA last one four in a row in Tucson in the early 1980s, taking five straight meetings from 1980-84.

Arizona outrebounded UCLA 33-32 but allowed 10 offensive rebounds, the most in any regulation game this season. The Bruins turned that into 17 second-chance points while also making 27 of 32 free throws, compared to Arizona going 12 of 16 from the line.

James Akinjo had a UA career-high 25 points, bouncing back from his scoreless game against USC in a big way. He hit 4 of 7 3-pointers and dished out eight assists, while Azuolas Tubelis followed up his 31-point performance on Thursday with 15 points and eight rebounds.

But the rest of the Wildcats were a combined 14 of 37 overall and 3 for 14 from 3-point range as Arizona shot 43.1 percent from the night.

The game was tied at 41 at the halftime after Arizona rallied from down seven in the final four minutes. UCLA quickly retook the lead and held it for nearly all of the second half despite its three big men combining for 11 total fouls.

Arizona couldn’t take advantage of what had already been a size advantage inside, instead going more than five minutes without a field goal.

UCLA went up 62-54 with 10:34 left on 3-pointers by Jaime Jaquez and Johnny Juzang, but Arizona clawed back to trail 67-65 with 5:59 left on an Akinjo 3. Helping the Wildcats’ cause was eight straight points from Bennedict Mathurin, who was scoreless before.

The Bruins built the lead back to six, mostly at the foul line, before Christian Koloko made it 75-71 with 2:01 left on a dunk and foul. He missed the freebie, though, and Arizona failed to score on its next four possessions.

Akinjo made three free throws with 6.1 seconds left to get the UA within 79-76 but UCLA’s Tyger Campbell hit two fouls shots with 4.9 seconds remaining to ice it. Campbell finished with a team-high 22 on 7-of-10 shooting while Juzang had 16 and Jaquez added 13 in helping UCLA shoot 49 percent.

Arizona was incredibly streaky in the first half, starting 6 of 8 from the field and then missing seven in a row, only to follow that up with five straight makes to build a 28-21 lead with 8:21 left.

But a 3-minute scoreless streak, in which the Wildcats missed six straight shots and turned it over three times, allowed UCLA to go on a 16-2 run to lead 37-30 with 4 minutes left before halftime. Campbell had the first 12 during that run.

Keeping with the first-half pattern, Arizona made its final five shots of the opening period including a 3-pointer by Akinjo with six seconds left to tie it at 41.

Arizona is scheduled to return to action Thursday at Oregon State, though the Beavers have been on a COVID-induced pause since Monday.