Tonight's game was the opposite of the game these teams played in Tucson last month.
Last month, UCLA started strong and wilted at the end. Tonight, the Bruins started slowly as Arizona jumped out to an 11-2 lead in the first 6 minutes of play. They looked as bad out of the gate tonight as the Wildcats did last month.
But, if the Bruins finished the way they did in Tucson, it was going to be a long night.
Instead, UCLA came back and outscored Arizona 25-16 in the rest of the first half to tie the game at the break. This was despite early foul trouble for both Tony Parker and Isaac Hamilton which required Noah Allen, Thomas Welsh and G.G. Goloman to play more than usual.
The Bruins kept the momentum at the start of the second half, leading for the first ten and a half minutes.
With 8:51 to play, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson hit a free throw that gave Arizona a one point lead that they would never relinquish.
The Bruins were able to get as close as 2 points twice in the last minute and a half but they just couldn't get any closer than that.
Brandon Ashley led all scorers with 24 points for Arizona while NP4 led the Bruins with 21. Kevon Looney who played most of the game despite a broken bone in his face was quiet most of the night with only 5 points.
As we've seen time and time again over the course of the season, the Bruins just ran out of gas at the end. Some will attribute it to a "thin bench" or a "young team", but, ultimately, this loss and the inability to get productive play out of anyone but the starting five lays squarely on Coach Steve Alford.
Why? Because it's Alford's responsibility to develop more than the starters. While Allen, Goloman and Welsh may currently be playing up to their best (and thereby consider their efforts a success under Coach Wooden's definition), a high quality coach would be doing more than what Alford is doing to develop these guys.
While the bench held it together in the first half when Parker and Hamilton ran into foul trouble and UCLA actually finally looked like a true team playing cohesively out there for the first 30 minutes, Alford's poor coaching finally showed its ugly head in the final ten minutes of play.
All of the so-called experts have basically said that UCLA needed to win tonight in order to make the NCAA Tournament.
Please go back and re-read that last sentence.
The fact that this was even being discussed shows you just how far the Bruin basketball program has fallen. There is no sense of entitlement in that sentence. No team and no coach can be expected to have a run like Coach's teams did.
I'm simply saying that UCLA should play well enough to be considered one of the Top 68 teams in the country every year. The fact that we will now likely fall to the NIT is embarassing.
Who wants to play to be the 69th best basketball team in the country? It should be The Dance or nothing. If there is any sense of pride left in UCLA basketball, UCLA should decline the chance to play in any basketball tournament that is not played for a National Championship.
I'm sure that this article will probably attract a bunch of comments that make excuses for Coach Alford. "Well, he had three players drafted in the first round last year." will probably be the first excuse offered after the "thin bench" and young team" excuses. That's all on Alford. It's his job to recruit and he hasn't recruited enough high caliber talent since becoming coach and it really says something about his coaching if a team with three first round NBA draft picks can't advance past the Sweet Sixteen. Yes, those players left, but they chose to leave. They made a conscious decision that they basically said, "I'm not going to learn anything else from this guy."
And, that speaks volumes.