No. 7 UCLA bullies No. 3 Arizona in 75-59 statement win
A little over 10 minutes to play in the second half and No. 3 Arizona has essentially a four-on-two break. Azuolas Tubelis has a teammate to his right and two trailers spotting up along the wings beyond the arc. He attempts to euro his way into a layup, misses, but Arizona’s Justin Kier is able to corral the loose ball after it pinballs off a few Bruins.
Kier drives the lane and tries to lay it off glass with his right. UCLA’s Peyton Watson then gave the highlight of the evening.
Peyton Watson SWATTED that ❌ pic.twitter.com/CmhQWA8iFZ
— ESPN (@espn) January 26, 2022
Watson shot Kier a look as the Wildcat was laying on his backside.
Not in UCLA’s house.
A statement play standing out in a statement win.
UCLA, ranked No. 7 entering the top-10 matchup between the top two sides in the Pac-12, completely dominated Arizona Tuesday night at Pauley Pavilion, 75-59.
The Wildcats had won back-to-back games by 25-plus points and entered the matchup with the Bruins with only one blemish on the record all season. Under first-year head coach Tommy Lloyd, Arizona had the 11th-best offense in college basketball (per KenPom’s adjusted efficiency metric). They led the country in assists. They were getting love from Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr. Arizona was viewed as the class of the conference.
And when this meeting between the Wildcats and Bruins had to be initially rescheduled due to COVID issues within the UCLA program, some viewed the delay as the Bruins ducking the Wildcats. Of course that wasn’t the case, but Arizona had every narrative working in its favor heading into the matchup.
Then it ran into a blue and gold buzzsaw.
Arizona opened the game with 16 points in the first four minutes and 10 seconds. The shooting was hot. Arizona hit six of its first seven shots. UCLA was matching points, but the Cats had a spark.
A 14-2 UCLA run snuffed it out.
After the hot start, Arizona missed 21 of its next 27 first-half shot attempts. Despite a serious size advantage, Arizona seemed content to hoist triples and jack jumpers (7-for-28 on 3s). The screen-and-roll game with Arizona big man Christian Koloko produced a handful of easy buckets when UA did look to force the issue inside, but UCLA did well to heat up the Arizona guards on the perimeter and create some frustration.
More than anything, it was UCLA’s defensive intensity that bothered everything, and they played without arguably one of the conference’s top individual defenders in Jaylen Clark. A key problem for Arizona: guard Kerr Kriisa. Kriisa entered the evening averaging 11.5 points and a Pac-12-leading 5.3 assists a game while making 36% of his triples on one of the highest volumes in the Pac-12.
Against the Bruins, he was 0-for-12 from the field, 0-for-9 from 3-point range, and turned the basketball over four times.
UCLA coach Mick Cronin said after the game that he told his team they had another gear, they just hadn’t gotten to it yet on the season. But they did against the Wildcats.
Guards Johnny Juzang and Tyger Campbell got UCLA off to a hot start offensively in the first half, combining for 20 points before the break. Juzang struggled with his shot in the second half (2-for-9) and Campbell only took one attempt, but the Bruins got answers from elsewhere.
Every time Arizona tried to claw back into the game, UCLA was there with a counter-punch.
An 11-point halftime lead grew to 16 over the course of the first five minutes of the second before Arizona’s Tubelis and Bennedict Mathurin spurred a 12-3 run to get the margin into single digits.
Seven point game with a little under 13 minutes to play? Eight unanswered points from UCLA to push it back to 15.
Another run from Arizona to get the margin back to eight as the clock ticked under eight minutes to go? An 8-0 response from UCLA. And that was that.
The Bruins got contributions from everyone in every way.
Jules Bernard had 15 points (7-of-11), seven boards, and three assists. Jaime Jaquez Jr. had 10 points, all of which came in the second half. Cody Riley had eight points in the first half, a consistent outlet in the mid-range which helped open up some breathing room inside the arc for the rest of the Bruins. Everyone who played scored. Jaquez, Watson, and Myles Johnson combined to block seven Arizona shots.
Arizona won the rebounding battle because of its size—and owned a 21-4 advantage on the offensive glass—but UCLA made the rebounding margin next to meaningless because of its attitude.
“Effort matters,” Cronin said. “Our effort was awesome.”
The Wildcats only had 14 second-chance points and shot 31% for the game. UCLA made Mathurin uncomfortable all night as Arizona’s leading scorer was just 5-for-22 from the field. (He still finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds.) It was the first time this season the Cats have been held under 40% from the field and the first time this season their opponent shot 50% from the field.
Perhaps the off-shooting night can be chalked up to scheduling. Arizona was, after all, playing its third game in six nights, all of them on the road. But that shouldn’t take away from the defensive performance the Bruins put in.
Arizona (16-2, 6-1 Pac-12) will have one game to try and get right before having to face this Bruins team again on Feb. 7. The Cats will host Arizona State on Saturday at 11:30 a.m. PT on CBS. Then the Bruins come to town for a rematch on Feb. 3.
UCLA (14-2, 6-1 Pac-12) will host Cal on Thursday, with tip-off set for 6 p.m. PT. The Golden Bears have lost five in a row, so the Bruins should be able to take the outright lead in the Pac-12 standings with another solid performance.
It would be fitting. Tuesday night was a clash of conference elites. At least for right now, UCLA can claim it’s the best of the best.
Quite a statement.