This is a news roundup of UCLA's third win this season over a ranked opponent so it will focus on some of the reactions of the players, the coaches and the media. First off, this win was dramatic. Unlike the other two big wins (over Kentucky and Gonzaga) and like the double OT loss to UW, this one was keyed by clutching shooting by Bryce Alford. Kudos to Bryce for hitting the big shot.
The shot was a re-enactment of one of those childhood dreams.
Bryce Alford remembers pacing his backyard driveway, his mother counting down, "5-4-3-2-1." He'd fire a shot right before the countdown ended. He'd hope for a swish, imagining his team needing a late-game basket and for someone to save the day.
"I'd do it until I made it," he said.
Fading away, he drilled it with 1.8 seconds left and strutted down the sideline. Most in the near-capacity crowd of 12,206 at Pauley Pavilion jumped to their feet. The Wildcats' desperation heave was no good.
A number of reactions to this shot are interesting. First, the inspirational hero of the night, Russell Westbrook:
After the shot, Bryce Alford wheeled toward the sideline. UCLA had declared Thursday "Russell Westbrook Night." After the game, Steve Alford and the players all wore eyeglasses, sans lenses, that mimicked Westbrook's.
"And I turned around, and he was just screaming at me," Bryce Alford said.
Second the tactical. Steve Alford describes the play:
"We wanted the ball in Bryce's [Alford] hands. I think that's our guy when it comes to at least making sure we get a shot. We wanted to run a pick-and-roll; it's our ‘horns-fist' option and then let him make a play. I'm not saying the play was designed to have him shoot it, but it was designed for him to make a play. We got a switch, so he did the right thing, when we get a switch and we're inside 10 seconds, I like that matchup of Bryce against the center. He loves the step-back play and he had just missed that same step-back shot. He doesn't miss those very often and under the circumstances that was a huge shot and very well executed."
Arizona blew the defensive assignment and to say Arizona Coach Sean Miller was pissed about it is understatement:
"This is the worst defensive team that I've coached at Arizona since my first year," he said. "The last shot of the game is a reflection of that. We didn't switch Kaleb Tarczewski onto Bryce Alford. You literally have to be out of your mind to do that. But we did our own thing on the last play and he took the easiest shot he's ever taken in Pauley Pavilion on a game-winner."
Tarczewski was forced to guard Alford on his winning shot, which wasn't what the Wildcats wanted.
"It was a misunderstanding," Tarczewski said. "That's how we lost but there were a lot of other plays that were the ultimate reason we lost that game. The last play was obviously a disappointment. It would have been nice to go into overtime and maybe pick up the win."
Don't give any credit to the UCLA players will you? Miller is a great defensive coach but not on offense. They are ranked top 20 by KenPom in defensive efficiency. He lost in part because he failed in his efforts to run with UCLA in this game (and this is not a good running UCLA team). All you recruits thinking about Arizona keep in mind that Miller's team will play good D but can't run despite what he says. But I digress, his last comment was kind of classless. But his next comment is malicious. Miller has to try divide the Bruin Nation with his next crack.
"If Bryce Alford had a different last name and played for a different school the accolades he would get nationally would be far more than he gets right now playing for his dad at UCLA," Arizona coach Sean Miller said. "I don't think he gets nearly enough credit. He dominated the game -- 25 points, six assists and no turnovers."
Just face it Miller, UCLA is a better school than Arizona. And you are a very good defensive coach but you aren't going to win any "big" games on offense or trying to run.
Really the game should not have needed Bryce's heroics. Up until the last couple minutes UCLA dominated Arizona.
UCLA (10-6, 1-2) led for all but 110 seconds, held off a late run, and handed the Wildcats just their second loss of the season. Its fans filled the arena, drowning out "U-of-A" cheers with "U-C-L-A." At halftime, Westbrook was honored for his recent donation to the team's under-construction practice facility â led an eight-clap.
UCLA opened scoring with a 3-pointer and a jumper by junior Isaac Hamilton, the team's most consistent offensive performer over the past month. Midway through the first half, Holiday scored nine points in a little over three minutes â a sharp turnaround from his last eight games, which saw him average 6.9 on 36.5 percent shooting. On the other end of the floor, he was charged with guarding Gabe York, who finished with eight points.
Even more important was UCLA's defense. After allowing Washington State to shoot 60 percent in the second half in a seven-point loss on Sunday, it held Arizona to below 43 percent in the first half.
Early on, UCLA had shown intensity that had been lacking last weekend in Washington. Bryce Alford pounded the floor. Aaron Holiday pounded his chest. At one point, Holiday sliced into the lane for a layup, then stole the inbound pass and scored again. Alford's late three-pointers gave UCLA a seven-point lead at the break.
Early in the second half, UCLA zoomed to 10-0 run. With 2:33 left, the Bruins led by 10.
While 36 minutes were really good the last couple were ugly:
It was quite a turnaround. Moments earlier, UCLA was in danger of coughing away the game.
But Arizona scored 10 points in less than two minutes, the last on a three-point play by Kadeem Allen.
"It felt like, oh great, we're going to let this one slip away," Steve Alford said.
But the game was safe, thanks to Bryce Alford who Senior Tony Parker summed up as follows:
"I knew Bryce [Alford] was going to take the shot, when he bobs his head and gets into a rhythm, I just know the shot is going to go in."