January 27, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

UCLA hangs on for win at Arizona, improves to 5-0 in Pac-12

Whether filled to the rafters or dotted with cardboard-fan cutouts, what’s usually the most raucous home court in the Pac-12 Conference has dialed down the decibel level in recent years whenever UCLA visits.

Silence has hung uncomfortably inside McKale Center, where the Bruins keep making themselves entirely too comfortable.

They did it again Saturday night despite nearly running out of big men and repeatedly turning the ball over on inbounds plays, the Bruins holding on for an 81-76 victory over Arizona that kept them alone atop the conference standings and gave them a fourth consecutive triumph on this court.

Tyger Campbell tied his career high with 22 points and Johnny Juzang broke out of his season-long shooting slump to make three of four three-pointers for the Bruins (9-2, 5-0 Pac-12), who are off to their best start in conference play since they also won their first five games during the 2012-13 season on the way to the regular-season Pac-12 title.

UCLA nearly gave it away in the final minutes, the Wildcats stealing inbounds passes by Jules Bernard and Jaime Jaquez Jr. to pull to within 79-76 with six seconds left after Juzang fouled James Akinjo on a three-point attempt and Akinjo made all three free throws.

But the Wildcats (9-3, 3-3) fouled Campbell on the inbounds pass and he made both free throws to give UCLA its fourth consecutive victory.

UCLA nearly ran out of post players, forwards Jalen Hill and Kenneth Nwuba on the bench with four fouls apiece before the midpoint of the second half. Forward Cody Riley took it from there, snagging three huge offensive rebounds in the final minutes and finishing with nine points and six rebounds.

UCLA’s defense was beset by sloppy switches and fouls in the first half, Bruins coach Mick Cronin alternating Riley and Hill while watching neither contribute much on either end of the court. With Riley already on the bench with two fouls, Hill picked up his third foul with 6:56 left before halftime while reaching in attempting to go for a steal.

Enter Nwuba as part of a lineup that also included freshman guard Jaylen Clark, who was inserted in place of a largely listless Jaquez.

The seldom-used pair helped transform the game defensively, their physicality disrupting Arizona after the Wildcats had made themselves all too comfortable, snatching offensive rebounds and driving into the paint with ease.

The Bruins completed a 16-2 run sparked by their newfound ability to get stops, Campbell doing much of the offensive damage by scoring 12 consecutive points for his team during one stretch on a flurry of floaters, driving layups and free throws.

When Bernard made a driving layup to complete the run and give his team a 37-30 lead, Arizona called a timeout and Riley greeted Nwuba as he approached the huddle with a firm chest bump.

Arizona fought back to forge a 41-41 halftime tie, but Cronin had served notice that he could get creative instead of waving the white flag when his starters were struggling mightily.