No. 7 Arizona gets revenge on No. 3 UCLA with 76-66 win
The illustrative moment in Thursday night’s rematch between UCLA and Arizona came with about 11 minutes to play.
The Bruins were drawing close after getting rocked in the first half. UCLA guard Johnny Juzang drove, looking to potentially make it a two-possession game, but was called for a charge after throwing an elbow into UA’s Dalen Terry. On the ensuing Arizona possession, Christian Koloko drew a crowd in the paint, pivoted away from the bucket, and found Pelle Larsson on the right wing.
Wide open. Splash.
Arizona went back up 11. A jolt of momentum from UCLA was sapped. The third-ranked Bruins got close to the seventh-ranked Wildcats in the final 10 minutes, but never really felt threatening. Too much size inside, and Arizona walked away with a 76-66 win.
The Wildcats were never able to really pull away from the Bruins, but their size was undeniably the differentiating factor in the game. Larsson and the rest of UA’s perimeter players were the beneficiaries of a UCLA defense in constant fear of the bigs inside.
During the first meeting at Pauley Pavilion over a week ago—one UCLA took by 16—Azuolas Tubelis wasn’t in the starting lineup, relegated to a reserve role in limited minutes as he was looking to get back to full health after an injury.
He played only 15 minutes that day, and UCLA was able to effectively take Arizona away from what it wanted to do without the presence of that high-low game Tubelis and Koloko used so often to kill defenses.
Well, Tubelis was healthy for this one, and that interior game with Tubelis and Koloko was very much a problem for the Bruins. Two of Arizona’s first three buckets came from Tubelis posting up the smaller UCLA forward Jaime Jaquez Jr.
As the Cats built a 42-30 halftime lead, it was their free-flowing, quick-cutting, attack-the-mismatch offense that kept causing problems. As a team, they had 20 first-half paint points. Tubelis had 10 himself.
ESPN’s Molly McGrath reported during the game that Terry told her this one was about revenge, that Arizona wanted to come out and punch UCLA in the mouth. So often this season, it has been Arizona dictating things.
That wasn’t the case the first time around. It was Thursday night.
And that was even with Koloko dealing with foul trouble. Reserve center Oumar Ballo (eight boards, four blocks) was terrific when Koloko was limited.
In the second half, Arizona blocked five UCLA shots. It didn’t shoot particularly well from the field, but all that interior work early opened the floor up for the Cats to make timely triples, including that Larsson bucket. With 1:50 to play in a six-point game, Jaquez sagged a little too deep from UA guard Kerr Kriisa on the left wing, giving him enough space to fire away what was a knockout punch of a 3-ball.
Kriisa had 16 points to lead all scorers. He took 14 shots to get there (3-of-10 from 3), but pitched in five assists. Tubelis finished with 14, Larsson with 12.
Arizona scored a double-digit win over a top-five opponent with its leading scorer on the season, Benn Mathurin, having a somewhat quiet night. He had a first-half highlight block and sank a timely wing triple in the second half to finish with 11 points, but that was about it.
Terry was the MVP of the evening, finishing with 10 points, nine boards, and seven assists. He guarded Juzang for most of the evening, holding the 18 points-per-game scorer to 12 on 15 shots. Terry had his fingerprints all over the game.
UCLA got 15 from guard Jules Bernard, though it took him 15 shots to get there. But Bernard was the only Bruin with a pulse in the first half. Had it not been for his energy, UCLA might have found itself down 20 at halftime.
Jaquez added 13 points to go with six boards and five assists, and forward Cody Riley had 12.
The result ended a six-game losing streak for Arizona to UCLA. The two programs flip-flopped in the rankings after last week’s game, and with another ranked California opponent coming to town on Saturday, Arizona can surely jump back into the top-five with a follow-up win.
The Wildcats (18-2, 8-1 Pac-12) host No. 19 USC on Saturday at 2 p.m. PT.
The Bruins (16-3, 8-2 Pac-12) play Arizona State Saturday at Desert Financial Arena. That game is set for a 7 p.m. PT tip.