When No. 5 UCLA (26-3, 13-3 Pac 12) and No 4 Arizona (26-4, 15-2 Pac 12) met in Pauley Pavilion last month, the Wildcats came away with a victory because they did a better job on defense and rebounding. It was a wake up call for the Bruins. Since the Arizona loss in Pauley, UCLA has improved on defense. The Bruins used defense and rebounding to overcome a four point deficit at the half to win by five, 77-72.
“If there were any adjustments at halftime it was just challenging our guys on the backboard because I think we were down four at half,” Alford said. “I told them a lot of that had to do with the fact that we did not shoot the ball particularly well and we got into a little bit of a hurry. In the last five minutes of the half we got into too much of a hurry.”
“Halftime was about settling them down and challenging them on the backboard knowing how much of a physical fight this was going to be. I thought our guys showed a lot of toughness.”
In a close game, it always comes down to the details. UCLA didn’t shoot the ball badly, but they were below their season average from the field shooting 45.3 percent from the field, opposed to Arizona’s 51 percent.
The Bruins made up the difference in heart and hustle. UCLA was ferocious on the offensive glass, out rebounding the Cats 14 to four, which led to second chance points. UCLA outscored Arizona 20 to four, on second chance points. Defense and rebounding were key.
“I thought we’ve been growing defensively,” Alford said. “Everyone wants to keep talking about our defense, but bottom line, we are a really good basketball team.”
“There are teams out there that aren’t close to us offensively, but no one wants talk about their offense. I really honestly believe that our guys have improved the most on that end in the month on February. I’ve said it, Arizona beat us at home, we lost to USC, and we were able to get our guys attention. They’ve been terrific all season long of just getting through things and getting better. We’ve just improved things in the month of February.”
“It’s been a long time since UCLA has had an undefeated February. I’m just proud of our guys. To go through the schedule that we’ve gone through and we are 26 up and three down and this is as good of an environment as there is. We have a win at Kentucky and at Arizona in the same year is pretty special.”
In December, the Bruins beat the No. 1 team at the time, Kentucky Wildcats, to end their home winning streak and now UCLA ended the Arizona Wildcat home winning streak ending it at 25 games.
UCLA’s winning effort put a damper on Wildcat sophomore guard Allonzo Trier’s game high 28 points. He was outstanding hitting on 11-14 from the field.
In total, UCLA had five players who scored in double figures in a really balanced effort on both ends of the court. Bryce Alford led the with 15 points. He also had six rebounds and three assists. Thomas Welsh had 14 points and eight rebounds. TJ Leaf added 12 points, seven boards, two blocked shots and a steal. Aaron Holiday scored 12 points and had two steals. Lonzo Ball scored 11 points, had a game high eight assists, five boards and two steals. Isaac Hamilton chipped in eight points.
It’s hard to believe, but UCLA’s regular season is coming to an end this week against the two Washington schools. The Bruins will play the Huskies in Pauley Pavilion Wednesday Evening March 2 at 8:00PM PST. The game will be nationally televised on Fox Sports 1.
The regular season concludes Saturday, March 4 against the Washington State Cougars. Tipoff is scheduled for 7:15PM PST and will be covered nationally by ESPN.