UCLA's 70-64 loss to Arizona last night was a game of runs, but most important will the Bruins season run short of the NCAA tournament. I hate to say it but Plaschke probably has it right.
Is 20 wins, including 12 in their last 17 games, enough to convince the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Committee to give the Bruins one of 36 at-large bids for next week's tournament? Or does the fact that only one of their wins came against a team ranked in the top 25 in RPI - Utah - render their record toothless?
Will it help that two of the Bruins' last three losses came against Arizona, including a Friday night defeat that could have easily been a victory? Or will it hurt that during that same final stretch, they lost two of the games they should have won, falling on the road to both California and Arizona State?
The heart says that the Bruins deserve a spot because they are playing as well as they've played all season, and may have beaten Arizona if Kevon Looney, suffering from a facial fracture, wasn't struggling to adjust to a mask he was handed two hours before the game.
The head, however, says no way. How can you make the tournament when Kentucky outscores you, 24-0, to start a game, when you score 39 points against Utah, when you fail to break 20 points in the first half three times in one dreadful four-game stretch?
One question that needs to be asked is where was this defensive effort earlier in the season? Remember the Bruins often did not bother even to get a hands up against shooters leading to debacles like the game at Oregon where they shot over 70% in the first half. Last night the Bruins were hustling hard and doing everything they could.
UCLA (20-13) survived scoreless stretches and lapses on both ends through pure effort over the game's first 30 minutes. The Bruins kept even with the nation's top defensive rebounding team in the first half, battling at the rim. They fought through a facial fracture to freshman Kevon Looney, who didn't know until 4 p.m. Friday that he'd be cleared to play, but still could barely see through the clear mask he was forced to wear.
Of course effort is not enough a couple late errors helped kill that effort, especially boxing out on free throws.
The Bruins matched Arizona (30-3) for much of Friday's game. After an 8-0 Arizona run began the game, UCLA bewildered the Wildcats with a zone defense, and Arizona didn't score for six minutes.
. . . Powell, who finished with 21 points, powered UCLA to a seven-point lead early in the second half. But the defense faltered, and the Bruins couldn't break through Arizona's set defense.
The Wildcats scored 15 unanswered points to take an eight-point lead. Brandon Ashley scored a career-high 24 points, and T.J. McConnell had 10 points and 11 assists. And the Bruins victimized themselves with two missed box-outs on free throws.
Before the game we said fouls would be the key and they were. UCLA's hot hand Isaac Hamilton was only able to play 15 minutes leading to Noah Allen setting his career high in minutes in the semi-final of the PAC 12 tournament. UCLA's bench played a lot of minutes last night maybe its most of the season. Defensively they held their own against Arizona. On offense, Welsh held his own including with a very nice assist falling out of bounds to go with 7 points.
Arizona won the game in part because UCLA lost the foul battle 23-13.
But the refs did not cost UCLA the game. Arizona's aggressiveness was rewarded. Keep in mind UCLA's was as well when they attacked. Tony Parker in only 21 minutes shot 9 free throws and fouled out Arizona's starting center Kaleb Tarczewski. Again UCLA's bigs were a key for the game. Tony Parker and Thomas Welsh combined to shoot 7-12 while the point guard Bryce Alford shot 3-12 including 1-6 from two. While Bryce's threes were good shots and the three to end the first half was great for momentum, you have to think UCLA would be better off having Parker/Welsh shoot more and Bryce sticking to looking for threes more and to pass first (he finished with two assists to three turnovers).
Arizona turned it back for a little while, going on a small run after Hamilton and Parker each went to the bench with three fouls. UCLA fought back and tied it at 27 after Alford turned a steal into a buzzer-beating 3-pointer.
The Bruins fed off the last-second shot, making seven of their first 10 shots to build a 47-40 lead.
In his post game presser Steve Alford said all the right things, you have to make the case for your team in the tournament. However, it was one bald faced
lie exaggeration, that may cost UCLA the chance to dance.
"We avoided any bad losses."
Steve has never swept a PAC 12 road trip in two years. This year, Steve did not win a non-tournament game outside California. If UCLA does not get to the NCAA Tournament it will not be because of a hard fought loss to Arizona. It will because of a lack of a similar effort on defense on the road in the PAC 12 that led to some bad losses.