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Arizona men’s basketball hangs on to beat No. 5 UCLA, tightening up Pac-12 race

arizona-wildcats-ucla-bruins-recap-highlights-stats-mens-college-basketball-pac12-2023 Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Until its mathematically eliminated, Arizona is the reigning Pac-12 champion. A loss to UCLA on Saturday could have brought that close to happening, but instead it helped tighten up the race.

No. 11 Arizona led for the entire second half, by as many as 13, before nearly collapsing down the stretch before holding on for a 58-52 win over the fifth-ranked Bruins on Saturday afternoon at McKale Center.

It was the third consecutive win for the UA (17-3, 6-3 Pac-12) over UCLA (17-3, 8-1), which it hadn’t done since 2009-10, and ended the Bruins’ 14-game win streak while bringing them closer to the rest of the pack in the conference.

Arizona won despite shooting 38.8 percent, turning it over 17 times—including several in the final minutes, as UCLA cut a 12-point deficit to four—and allowed 18 offensive rebounds while getting outrebounded 44-37 overall. It made up for it by holding the Bruins to a season-low 31.3 percent shooting and 4 of 20 3s, while UCLA also went just 6 of 11 from the line compared to Arizona’s 15 of 20 with Oumar Ballo going 8 of 11 himself.

Ballo led Arizona with 16 points and eight rebounds, while Azuolas Tubelis had 14 (on 5-of-15 shooting) with 11 rebounds and Courtney Ramey hit three 3s and finished with 11 points.

UCLA’s top players Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Tyger Campbell, combined to go 10 of 35 from the field.

Arizona led 26-23 at the half, its second-fewest points allowed in a half all season. UCLA tied it on a Campbell 3, but then the Wildcats ran off nine in a row beginning with back-to-back 3s from Ramey and Kerr Kriisa—prompting Mick Cronin to call timeout—and ending with a 3-point play from Tubelis that drew a 3rd foul on Bruins center Adem Bona to make it 35-26.

Bona only played seven minutes in the first half because of foul trouble, while backup Kenneth Nwuba got four fouls in 10 minutes before halftime, resulting in the infamous Mac Etienne having to play a few minutes.

Arizona extended the lead to 45-33 with 10:29 left, keeping the margin at nine or higher for the next nine. The Wildcats looked like they were going to put it away before the final media timeout, when Ramey hit a deep 3 and then Tubelis was out ahead of the defense for a transition dunk, but Tubelis missed as Jaquez chased him down to alter the shot, and Campbell hit a quick 3 on the other end to get the Bruins within 54-44 with 4:04 to go.

Instead, the kill shot came with 2:06 left when, with the shot clock running down, Tubelis drove the lane and then lobbed to Ballo for a dunk that made brought the crowd to its feet.

The lead was 12 at that point, but four turnovers in a 65-second span allowed UCLA to cut it to 56-52 on a Bona layup with 26.9 seconds remaining. After a timeout, Arizona broke the press and Tubelis was blocked from behind on a dunk attempt, then Pelle Larsson appeared to have been goaltended on a putback attempt but a review waived that off and gave the Bruins the ball back with 12.8 seconds left.

UCLA had two layup tries that didn’t fall, then Larsson grabbed one last rebound and made two free throws to end it.

Unlike Thursday’s 15-point win over USC, when Arizona came out hot and stayed that way, the Wildcats were sloppy to open this one. Turnovers on three of their first five possessions allowed UCLA to take a 7-2 lead and hold the edge most of the half.

Arizona’s first field goal didn’t come until almost three minutes in on a 3-point play from Tubelis, but after getting within two the UA went more than five minutes without a field goal. Another 4-minute shooting drought ended with a Larsson layup, then a Ramey 3 gave the Wildcats their first lead at 21-20 with 3:39 left in the first half.

While Arizona wasn’t connecting from the field, it was from the line, going 10 of 12 in the first half while piling up fouls on UCLA’s bigs. The Bruins also went without a basket the final three minutes in the first half, missing eight of their last nine shots.

Arizona is back in action Thursday night at Washington State, which beat the Wildcats by 13 at McKale Center on Jan. 7. The UA hasn’t been swept by the Cougars since the 2009-10 season.