The Wildcats fell behind 32-13 in the first 12 minutes as it appeared the Bruins would coast to an easy victory. But after trailing for nearly the entire game, Arizona finally regained the lead with 4:14 left in regulation and never looked back against the stunned Bruins.
The Wildcats (14-4, 5-2 Pac-12) have been on a roller coaster of a stretch since rising to No. 1 in the AP Top 25 poll and knocking off Alabama on Dec. 20 to improve to 9-1. Arizona dropped games to FAU, Stanford and most recently, Washington State, before it needed to rally against the Bruins to survive a potential upset bid.
UCLA (8-11, 3-5) is in massive danger of missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time under coach Mick Cronin because of a series of losses in conference play. The Bruins dropped their fifth conference game of the season after losing six total games last year.
Coming into the weekend, UCLA had won back-to-back conference games over Washington and Arizona State to seemingly get back on track but the double-digit lead marked a new low point in the season just days after losing by 46 points on the road to Utah.
UCLA has lost nine of its last 12 games dating back to a road loss to Villanova on Dec. 9.
- Arizona do-it-all guard Pelle Larsson scored a season-high 22 points.
- UCLA guard Sebastian Mack continued his impressive freshman season by scoring 21 points. Mack added five rebounds and four assists in the loss.
- Larsson was one of four Arizona players to score in double figures. The others: Our Ballo (17), Caleb Love (14) and KJ Lewis (13).
Arizona needed this win
The Wildcats have been a mystery the last month of the season. I wrote about it earlier this week.
Arizona’s starting lineup is one of the best in the country because every player compliments one another. Still, the Wildcats have shown flashes of why they can be the No. 1 team in the country while also displaying a real possibility of another early exit in the NCAA Tournament. Nonetheless, this win can be used as a springboard to get back on track to the dominance they showed in the first month of the season.
Arizona’s depth was shown on Saturday in the comeback win over UCLA. Larsson is known more as a player that can do a little bit of everything and he had his best offensive outburst of the season. Arizona needed every single one of his 22 points. Is this the same UCLA team as last season? No. But, this is still a good win that should help the Wildcats climb back to the top of the Pac-12 standings.
UCLA’s tournament hopes are done
On the same day that USC dropped a game on the road to Arizona State after going up early, the Bruins blew a 19-point lead to put their hopes of getting into the NCAA Tournament in jeopardy. Coming into the season, UCLA was a team tabbed for a retool rather than a rebuild. The Bruins brought in eight newcomers to the roster and it seemed like the coaching pedagogy of Cronin would click with the new members of the roster.
That certainly hasn’t been the case.
The Bruins are three games under .500 and would need a massive turnaround – similar to USC – to make the tournament. At this point, the Bruins should focus on getting back to the .500 threshold this season.
The main takeaway is this: UCLA had a chance to record a signature win to inject some life into the team for the final seven-ish weeks of the regular season and they couldn’t.