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UCLA Basketball History: Steve Alford vs. Sean Miller

The UCLA-Arizona rivalry, which renews this Thursday, has not been predictable.

NCAA Basketball: Utah at Arizona
Expect to see Sean Miller lose it and try to intimidate the refs on Thusday
Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona vs. UCLA matchup has had a number of surprising results over the Alford years. It is fair to say that the only thing that is predictable in the series is Sean Miller being a jerk. Alford’s worst UCLA team beat Arizona once and probably should have beaten them twice. Alford’s best UCLA team had their worst losses to Arizona, but beat them once at Arizona. This is a long-winded way of saying that, while Arizona is a favorite to win Thursday, UCLA definitely has a shot. Here are the games ranked.

1. Not to be denied: 3/15/2014, UCLA, 75 v. #4 Arizona, 71, Pac-12 Championship game

This game I will never forget Travis Wear diving for a ball. This is one of the best wins of the Alford era and was Alford’s only Pac-12 Championship. From ESPN’s summary:

They definitely earned this one, emerging from a battle of the Pac-12’s best teams that featured big plays, big blows and floor burns. . . .

UCLA point guard Kyle Anderson was at his all-around best, finishing with 21 points, 15 rebounds and five assists. Jordan Adams made a big 3-pointer with 45 seconds left and scored 19 points. Norman Powell scored 15 points and combined with David Wear to hit four free throws in the final five seconds.

2. Bryce’s big shot: 1/8/2016, #7 Arizona, 84 at UCLA, 87

UCLA was coming off two losses to some bad Washington schools to open the Pac-12. Russell Westbrook was attending and honored for his contribution to the new basketball practice facility. There was something of a feeling of dread and potential embarrassment. Yet, UCLA shot 52% and lead most of the game until later when Arizona went on a 10 point run to tie it. That set the stage for the pick and roll with Tony Parker and Bryce Alford. Arizona’s center Kaleb Tarczewski was switched on Bryce who jab stepped him and pulled up for the three-point game winner.

3. Revenge: 2/26/2017, #5 UCLA, 77 at #4 Arizona, 72

UCLA led by Lonzo Ball in 2017 beat every team that beat them during the season. The Kentucky win at Kentucky was better but this one was sweet as UCLA beat Arizona for only their second loss in 69 games at home.

4. Home Cooking: 2/13/16, UCLA, 75 at #7 Arizona, 81

Alford’s worst UCLA team went to McKale with a 4-6 conference record. Much to everyone surprise, UCLA dominated the first half getting out to a 10-point lead, shooting 17-32 in the first half. UCLA got a bit of a bad break in this one when both Tony Parker and Thomas Welsh fouled out. Welsh was limited to just 14 minutes. Arizona shot an incredible 45 free throws to UCLA’s 16. This was a game where UCLA played surprisingly well and would have likely won if it was a home game or on a neutral court. Steve Alford, in a rare veiled criticism of the SPTRs, stated: “It was hard to keep them at bay when one team is getting 45 free throws and one is getting 16.” In retrospect, it was a great effort by an inferior team that fell short because of some questionable calls.

5. Bad Breaks: 3/14/15, UCLA, 64 v. #5 Arizona, 70, Pac-12 Tournament Semifinals

A game of rallies, UCLA’s last one fell short and UCLA lost in the conference semi-final. Most telling, Isaac Hamilton had his career-best game of 36 the night before against Southern Cal, but fouled out in only 15 minutes. Kevon Looney was wearing a mask after being hurt in Southern Cal game and it clearly effected his play. If Looney were healthy and/or Hamilton did not foul out, UCLA might have won this game. Most thought, wrongly, this loss cost UCLA any chance at the big dance.

6. Alford’s First Loss: 1/10/14, #1 Arizona, 79 v. UCLA, 75

Zach Lavine hit a three-pointer with 15 seconds left to cap a rally that feel two points short. Arizona held UCLA off making 8 out their 10 last free throws, while UCLA missed five in a row during their big run. Arizona was ranked number 1 and “hungry” as the Ben Howland-led Bruins had beat them three times the year before.

7. The Ugly Game: 2/21/15, UCLA, 47 at #7 Arizona, 57

In a game the pundits thought UCLA had to win to make the tournament, UCLA went 5-20 in the first half only scoring 18 points. Arizona was better, but not by much as: “The Wildcats missed their first eight shots and had four turnovers in their opening nine possessions, looking like a nervous road team, not the nation’s seventh-ranked team playing at home.”

8. The Cheater Returns: 1/21/17, #14 Arizona, 96 at #3 UCLA, 85

This game shows how unpredictable this rivalry is. UCLA had lost just one game all year on a heartbreaking last second shot at Oregon. No one would have picked this for the worst loss to Arizona of the Alford era. For this one, Arizona had an ace in the hole: Alonzo Trier. Trier was suspended for performance enhancing drugs and was cleared in time for this game. We weren’t ready for Trier. His 12 points keyed Arizona’s run and shocking upset against UCLA.

9. Why Sean Miller Hate is Justified: 3/11/2017, #7 Arizona, 86 v. #3 UCLA, 75, Pac-12 Tournament Semifinals

Sean Miller is always complaining about the refs even when his team has shot over twice as many free throws as their opponents. In this game, with Arizona up by 11, he called a timeout with 0.9 seconds left. He said it was to ensure “poise.” It was classless as Miller, whose program is under investigation by the FBI, is. Sean Miller is a great defensive coach, but he is not a good person or mentor.

Overall, UCLA is 3-6 in the Alford era, but most of the games have been close, except for a few last year with Alford’s best team. Alford’s teams have played well at Arizona going 1-2 with one of those losses due to some ridiculous refereeing.

Go Bruins! Beat the Wildcats!