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UCLA Basketball and Pac-12 News Roundup: UCLA Runs Out of Gas

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UCLA loses the Pac-12 semifinal 78-67 to Arizona.

NCAA Basketball: Pac-12 Conference Tournament - Arizona vs UCLA
On Thursday night this was a foul on Friday night it is a play on.
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

The last game of the regular season is really easy to analyze. A lot of the stories from national news are about how Deandre Ayton dominated the game. He did but there should be an asterisk and an explanation to it. He dominated the game LATE. As the AP reported in an article on ESPN.com:

Ayton triggered a second-half resurgence after Arizona (26-7) labored offensively in the first half. . . .

Then Ayton took over. He scored 13 straight points at the end of regulation into overtime and made 13 of 16 shots overall. He had 10 points on 4-of-14 shooting in the quarterfinals against Colorado.

There are a number of reasons for this. First, there were few fouls called for much game. In the first half, there were only 8 fouls total called. The SPTR let them play. For the game, UCLA only shot 4 free throws to Arizona’s 18 but Arizona only shot 2 in the first half. As the Daily Bruin noted:

Coach Steve Alford said that the lack of stoppage of play might have played a role in tiring out UCLA.

“(Holiday) just does as much as he possibly can,” Alford said. “(In) 45 minutes, we get him to the line once, and that was late in the second half. So we’ve got to figure out ways of getting him to the free-throw line a little bit more, because I think he’s a handful.” . . .

The Bruins got to the free-throw line four times all night, compared to Arizona’s 13-of-18 performance from the charity stripe. Alford noted it was unfortunate that his team couldn’t find ways to get to the free-throw line and get to bonus and would look at tape to try to correct that moving forward.

Alford is kind. To put it in perspective, in UCLA’s first game in the PAC 12 tournament, there were 41 fouls to only 27 last night with many coming late. Putting aside the issue of bias, the completely different approach of few fouls called favored the big men like Thomas Welsh and Ayton. They could play and bang inside without worrying about foul calls. It was Welsh not Ayton who dominated inside in the foul-free first half. Welsh had 11 rebounds and Deandre had 2, Arizona had 13.

But this hurt UCLA’s little guys, especially their best little guy. It meant few stops in plays and little rest. There were no fouls on drives hard to go inside. As Joey Kuffman reports, Aaron Holiday and UCLA had nothing left late in the game:

UCLA, though, did not score in overtime, gassed.

“We were probably a little bit run down,” Alford said.

Aaron Holiday appeared exhausted at times after playing all 45 minutes. Holiday finished with 15 points, making only five of 20 shots, along with with three assists and a rebound. It was a drop-off from recent games. In the previous five contests, Holiday had averaged 28 points, seven assists and five rebounds, including consecutive 34-point performances in the regular-season finale against USC and in a quarterfinal win over Stanford.

Even the numbers are a bit deceptive. Holiday missed his last seven shots. I doubt Holiday can move today. I thought 120 minutes would be too much for Holiday but really 75 minutes were too much. And, interestingly, this was a game where Holiday’s backup made the big shot.

Jaylen Hands hoisted up one ugly hero ball shot in overtime, but, generally, played under control.

Hands’ play sent the game to overtime, but his fellow freshman Kris Wilkes had the highlight of the night:

Hands, Wilkes, and Welsh (17 points and 17 rebounds) all had good games. But the Bruins, especially Holiday, wore down. The scouts and media were drooling over Deandre Ayton who only played 25 minutes Thursday and was clearly the most rested at the end of the game. To me, it was not a matter of Ayton being better or UCLA failing to stop him. It was the Bruins were out of gas and Ayton was not. The stat of the night:

Of Ayton’s 32 points, 25 points came in the second half and in overtime.

Go Bruins! Thanks, guys, for the effort.