The Arizona Wildcats believed they had all the ingredients to beat No. 10 UCLA, but not even they could have predicted it would happen like this.
Buoyed by a stingy defense and a host of jaw-dropping goals, the Wildcats dismantled the Bruins 3-0 on Thursday for just their second-ever win over the heavyweights from Westwood.
Arizona entered 1-23-1 all-time against the Bruins, the last Wildcat victory coming all the way back in 2004.
So forgive Jada Talley for doing a double take as she peered at the scoreboard in the final minute.
“I looked at the clock at 89 and I was like, ‘wow, we just beat UCLA,’” the UA forward said. “I was in shock. That’s not the score you expect. I’m so proud of our team. Three goals is a lot. (Coach) Tony (Amato) was talking about how one goal is not going to beat them, two goals is eh. We have to get in the three range, and everyone was kind of (unsure). We don’t really score three goals against teams that are UCLA, but everybody came in with the mindset that we can do it.”
It quickly became apparent that they could, history be damned.
Talley scored her first of two goals in the 28th minute to give the Wildcats an early lead. The long-legged forward forced a turnover deep in UCLA’s third, stepped over a defender, and deked the goalkeeper before rifling a shot inside the far post.
“I saw somebody from their team getting back in the net and I just kicked it as hard as I could,” she said. “And thank God it went in. ... It was a confidence booster for all of us.”
The Wildcats (7-2, 1-1) kept the pressure on in the second half, locking the Bruins into their side in the early moments. Brooke Wilson delivered the back-breaker in the 68th minute with a goal worthy of SportsCenter’s Top 10.
The sophomore collected a pass 40 yards from the goal, turned, and somehow snuck a streamer into the upper corner, combining the right amount of arc with just the right amount of pace.
“Honestly, all I remember was the shot and I saw it [zig-zagging] through the air and I was like following it with my head, like, ‘come on, come on,’” Wilson said. “It dipped in the far post and I was just as stunned as everyone else. ... It was the best goal ever. I’ve never been more excited in my life.”
Talley added another exclamation mark by converting a counter in the 85th minute after the Bruins unsuccessfully pushed numbers forward in desperation.
Arizona’s backline limited UCLA (6-3-1, 0-2) to 11 shots, only five of which made it on frame. The only dangerous chance was a shot off the post in the 14th minute.
Freshman goalkeeper Hope Hisey made five saves, picking up first her Pac-12 shutout.
“I only had to dive twice tonight and that’s just credit to (our backline),” she said. “Sabrina (Enciso), Morgan (McGarry), Ava (McCray), Hallie (Pearson), Sam (Falasco), they deserve all the credit in the world for shutting them out.”
Especially for what they had to endure. Enciso (leg), McGarry (leg), Pearson (leg), and McCray (face) all got banged up during the match. Yet, they stayed in, blocked shots, and made key tackles—the “tough stuff” the Wildcats knew they needed to do to have any shot at an upset.
“It was pretty amazing,” Wilson said. “Sabs went off in the first half literally with legs wobbling she was running so much. And I think that just seeing how much grit and how much fight we have sets us apart from a lot of people in the country.”
“I’ve been in the stands ever since I was in middle school...and to be able to be on the field when [Arizona] beat a storied program like UCLA is unreal,” said Hisey, a Tucson native. “It’s something you dream about.”
When it came true, the Wildcats poured onto the field, forming a massive group hug in front of UCLA’s bench. They screamed. They shouted. They shot water into the sky.
As the celebration roared on, Amato walked across the pitch and stopped near the sideline, taking a long look at the 1,005 people packed into the metal bleachers.
Eventually he cracked a smile and pumped his fist.
“Before the game I talked to some of them and they said anything can happen and we’re here to support you,” he said. “I was just kind of showing appreciation back.”
And maybe it was a rare moment of self-reflection for the always-in-the-moment head coach.
Because as much as the Wildcats have accomplished in his seven seasons, rising from a bottom-feeder in the Pac-12 to a perennial NCAA Tournament team, they were always a step behind conference powerhouses like USC, UCLA, and Stanford.
“We just proved when we’re committed to the process, trust the game plan, the coaches get the game plan right, the players have good training sessions, and then lay it all on the line that we can beat anyone on the day,” Amato said.
Tony Amato after @ArizonaSoccer’s big win over No. 10 UCLA: “When we’re committed to the process ...and then lay it all on the line (during the game), we can beat anyone on the day.” pic.twitter.com/9HfplE1tBq— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) October 4, 2019
.@brookiiew231 scored a SportsCenter worthy goal from distance to help @ArizonaSoccer beat UCLA for just the second time in program history.— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) October 4, 2019
“It dipped in the far post and I was just as stunned as everyone else. ...It was the best goal ever.” pic.twitter.com/yQj99i3RAG
Freshman and Tucson native @hopehisey31 on being the goalkeeper to shut out UCLA: “I’ve been in the stands ever since I was in middle school...and to be able to be on the field when [Arizona] beat a storied program like UCLA is unreal.” pic.twitter.com/CDFyYVoRe8— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) October 4, 2019