In my time writing here for Bruins Nation, I’ve gotten to do something like this twice, which feels crazy but I’ll take it: for the second time this season, UCLA went on the road and beat a top-5 team, winning 77-72 over the Arizona Wildcats in front of a rowdy McKale Center crowd.
I’m going to come back and get more in-depth, but this win requires something right away.
Great win, Bruins!
So yeah, that just happened.
There’s a lot to process in the wake of this victory. This was the biggest win of the season for the Bruins for a multitude of reasons - lack of respect from bracketologists, a rematch against the only team to beat UCLA at home, a need to show that the defensive improvement wasn’t all show. In all aspects, UCLA succeeded.
Let’s start with the defense first, because this win was absolutely keyed by the defense in this game. At 16:32, Parker Jackson-Cartwright hit a layup to put Arizona up 51-45 and give the Wildcats their largest lead of the game. Over the next 10 minutes, the Wildcats would only make 3 shots, while UCLA flipped the game on its head to take a 10 point lead. The UCLA run was keyed by a switch to a zone, which Arizona could not figure out to save their lives, but also a rise in intensity. UCLA forced the Wildcats into a variety of contested shots and unforced errors in what was easily the best defensive performance the Bruins have put on all year.
That second-half really was impressive for the Bruins, though. UCLA outscored the Wildcats 38-29 in the second half, holding the Wildcats to a point per possession. The most impressive stat? Rebounding -UCLA out-rebounded the Wildcats 19-8 in the half. Much was made about Arizona’s supposed size-advantage, but UCLA completely outhustled the Wildcats at every opportunity, a fact that Jay Bilas was quick to point out on a possession with under 4 minutes to go, where the Bruins failed to score but got 2 offensive rebounds and went an entire minute without giving Arizona the ball. That is impressive.
Let’s not forget the offense, of course. This wasn’t UCLA’s best offensive outing of the season, but when they needed it most, the offense came through. The Bruins shot 50% from the field in the second half, and went 4-9 from distance. When this offense is rolling, it’s tough to stop, and it forced Arizona coach Sean Miller to burn his timeouts early in an attempt to stop UCLA’s momentum, which left the Wildcats without a timeout on their final possession, needing a 3 to tie.
Not everything went great for the Bruins, though. In particular, you have to talk about the way the Bruins ended the first half. Steve Alford tried to sneak some rest for Lonzo Ball late in the half, and the Bruins ended up paying for it, as Arizona went on a run. Bringing Ball back into the game didn’t help, as the Wildcats ended the half on a 7-0 run to take a 43-39 halftime lead. Unlike the previous game against Arizona State where the Bruins survived without Ball, tonight reaffirmed how important Lonzo is to this team.
Bryce Alford led the Bruins with 15 points, Thomas Welsh led the team in rebounds with 8, and Lonzo Ball led the team with 8 assists. Allonzo Trier led Arizona with 28 points.
- Player of the Game: Thomas Welsh - The last time Thomas Welsh played in McKale Center, he fouled out in a loss. In the first matchup this year at Pauley, Welsh was a non-factor. So Welsh bounced back and had one of his best games of the year tonight. The big man was 7-10 from the field for 14 points, and absolutely dominated the Wildcats on the inside. Welsh scored 12 of his 14 points in the second half, led the team in rebounds, and was a menace all game. It’s hard to stop this team if Thomas Welsh is playing well.
- Stealing possessions - Arizona actually out-shot the Bruins on a percentage basis, shooting 51% in the game compared to UCLA’s 45.3%. Yet UCLA made 3 more baskets than the Wildcats did. The reason? Offensive rebounds. UCLA had 14 offensive rebounds in this game, recovering 40% of their misses. That’s ridiculous, and kept UCLA in the game when their shooting struggled.
- Not the best close in the world - If you want to see a negative in this game, it probably was the way UCLA closed both halves. I mentioned the first half up top, but the end of this game was almost as bad. In particular, UCLA only made 1 of their last 7 shots in the game, and Aaron Holiday’s miss on the front-end of a 1 and 1 brought back memories of the road loss to Oregon. So credit for pulling off the win, but the Bruins will need to be better at closing against top teams in the tournament.
UCLA returns home on Wednesday for the final homestand of the season against the Washington Huskies. Tip-off is set for 8:00 PM PST.