The biggest win of the Cronin era could not be much sweeter. The UCLA Bruins shut down a high-flying Arizona Wildcats’ offense, beating them 65-52 at McKale! It was amazing defensive effort with some timely offense from the whole team. UCLA shot 53% from three and 51% overall, but it was the best defense that UCLA fans have seen since Luc Richard Mbah a Moute was anchoring the Final Four teams of Ben Howland.
Before the game, I predicted a certain loss with Jalen Hill hurt and the SPTR sure to favor the home Wildcats. There was almost no way the Bruins could win. The only hope was if the Bruins slowed the game down to keep it close and then got lucky.
I had the slow it down part right. UCLA had shot clock violations, but hit enough big shots to not only beat Arizona, but to effectively blow them out. Arizona could not buy a basket inside for much of the night.
Arizona’s first four shot attempts were three-pointers and they made two. But, at the under 16 timeout, the Bruins had kept pace with two of their own for a 6-6 tie. Then, the next two buckets were also threes.
It wasn’t until there was 13:06 left that someone scored something other than a three-pointer, sort of. That was when Tyger Campbell hit a jumper and a free throw to scores a more traditional three-point play. At the under 12 timeout, the score was, again, tied 12-12. So, eight minutes in, the Wildcats had only four hoops, but they were all three-pointers.
Arizona finally scored inside and the SPTR reared their head with a travel call on Chris Smith and a hook foul on Jalen Hill. Cronin called a timeout as it looked like the Bruins were in trouble.
But, then, UCLA took a 27-25 lead. It was the first of two eight-minute droughts without a field goal for Arizona.
That ended when the Bruins gave up a three, but led at half, 29-28.
It is was a crazy first half. The Bruins matched the Wildcats’ threes and shut them down inside. UCLA went 6 of 10 from three and they did it with Hill and Smith only playing a combined 17 minutes.
The second half started out the same way with tough defense and, in the first four minutes of the second half, the Bruins extended their lead with a 9-2 run as they completely shut down Arizona. At the under 12 timeout, UCLA led 45-38.
Over the next two and a half minutes, the Wildcats went on a run and closed to within one. It sure seemed that the game was going to go south.
But, over the next four minutes, UCLA answered with a 14-0 run of their own. Smith hit an amazing fall away and Tyger made some circus bank shots. UCLA waited until late in the shot clock to shoot and Arizona could not score at the other end.
At the under 4 timeout, the Wildcats had only three field goals for the second half while the Bruins had pulled away to a 15-point lead and it was over.
- Player of the Game: Coach Cronin. This was a game that seemed UCLA could not win. It was at Arizona. The Bruins’ Jalen Hill was hurting. The team had suffered a loss at Arizona State. Yet, they won Cronin-style. They slowed the pace, played incredible defense, and showed toughness.
- The team. Everyone except Jake Kyman, who did not play, contributed. Prince Ali and Alex Olesinski hit threes. Foul trouble did not hurt us as the next player kept the momentum going and played amazing defense. Only Tyger Campbell played more than 28 minutes.
- The defense. This was the best defense of ANY UCLA team since the Final Four teams of Ben Howland. The second half defense was perfect and, when it mattered, they only gave up points at the free throw line. Arizona had a couple late baskets when the game was over. Still, the Wildcats only shot 20% for the half! They were 0-12 from three in the second half. There are not enough superlatives for how good UCLA’s defense was.
Thank you, Coach Cronin. This was a great team win for the Bruins.