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Arizona unravels in second half, falls to UCLA for fifth straight time

arizona-ucla-basketball-final-score-recap-wildcats-reaction-bruins-pac12-2021 Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

At halftime of Thursday’s game, ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi said that Arizona would currently be one of the last few teams in the NCAA Tournament field if it were eligible, adding that a win at UCLA would theoretically go a long way toward ensuring the Wildcats made it.

In reality, though, the UA’s season is nearly over, and this latest result is a strong indication the team is ready to be done.

Arizona (14-8, 8-8 Pac-12) was outscored 44-29 in the second half, allowing UCLA to shoot 73 percent after halftime in a 74-60 win at Pauley Pavilion in Westwood, Calif.

It was the fifth consecutive loss against the Bruins (15-5, 11-3) for the UA, which has dropped two in a row and five of seven overall.

James Akinjo had 21 points and Azuolas Tubelis added 18, that duo making 14 of 26 shots. The rest of the Wildcats were 7 of 24, and three of those makes were from Terrell Brown Jr., as starters Bennedict Mathurin, Kerr Kriisa and Christian Koloko only took seven total shots (making three).

Arizona shot 42 percent, was 4 of 16 from 3 and turned it over 16 times, a game after having just five turnovers in the home loss to Oregon. The Wildcats had a 20-9 edge in free throw attempts but missed six, unable to use their propensity to get to the line to their advantage.

Up a point at halftime, Arizona turned it over three times in the first four minutes after giving it away eight times in the first half. That, combined with UCLA making nine of its first 10 shots and going on a 9-0 run, enabled the Bruins to lead 49-39 with 12:04 to go.

Arizona missed seven straight shots before Jordan Brown hit a hook shot with 10:08 to go, and after Akinjo hit a 3 with 6:58 left the Wildcats were only down 55-49.

The Wildcats were within five when Kriisa was called for a travel at midcourt, one of a seemingly endless supply of walks called in the game, and UCLA responded with a Tyger Campbell 3-pointer to make it 58-50 with 5:54 remaining.

Arizona got as close as 58-52 when Akinjo was fouled on a 3 and made 2 of 3 free throws with 5:46 left, but made its next five shots to pull away.

Arizona jumped out to a 10-2 start, a reversal of recent slow starts against Oregon and Colorado, and trailed for only a minute in the first half. The Wildcats started 11 of 19 from the field, with back-to-back 3s by Akinjo and Kriisa gave them a 27-20 edge with 6:59 left.

The UA then went more than five minutes without scoring, allowing UCLA to take a 28-27 lead on a Jaime Jaquez jumper with 2:12 left. Jacquez finished with 25, making 10 of 12 shots.

Tubelis’ tip-in with a minute left, Arizona’s only field goal in the final 6:58, gave it a 31-30 halftime edge.

Arizona will try to avoid another Los Angeles sweep when it visits first-place USC on Saturday. The Trojans won 87-73 in Tucson in January.