May 22, 2022

UCLA beats Arizona with gritty defense in Pac-12 showdown

View Original Notice ? UCLA beats Arizona with gritty defense in Pac-12 showdown

LOS ANGELES — Students started lining up outside at 8 a.m. for Tuesday night’s nationally-televised Pac-12 showdown. Their dedication was tested. They couldn’t leave the line unless it was for a 10-minute bathroom break, which was monitored by a school staff member. Leave for too long and they’d lose their spot in line.

“I saw them out there early, I walked over to talk to them and they were going nuts,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said of the eagerly waiting students. “I told them I missed them. It’s what makes it fun.”

Twelve hours is a long time, but not compared to the 54 days since fans were allowed into Pauley Pavilion to watch the seventh-ranked Bruins play in person. The last time students could cheer for the team in its home arena was Dec. 1, when UCLA hosted Colorado.

The fans made up for lost time by providing a raucous atmosphere that helped UCLA defeat third-ranked Arizona, 75-59, with a gritty defensive effort that handed the Wildcats their first Pac-12 Conference loss of the season.

Johnny Juzang and Jules Bernard each had 15 points to lead four Bruins (14-2, 6-1 Pac-12) scoring in double figures. Cody Riley had 12 points, Jaime Jaquez Jr. added 10 (all in the second half) and Tyger Campbell had nine.

“It was by far our most spirited 40 minutes of the year,” Cronin said. “Effort matters. I learned a long time ago: effort matters. Our effort was awesome.”

UCLA, which won its fourth game in a row, went 8 for 17 from 3-point range and shot 50% overall.

The Bruins was out rebounded 49-34 and gave up 21 offensive rebounds, but that’s because their defense forced Arizona to miss 52 shots (23 of 75).

“They got some rebounds, but they missed (52) shots. You’re going to get some rebounds,” Cronin said.

After an opening five minutes that saw the teams combine to make nine of their first 11 shots, the Bruins flexed their defensive muscles. UCLA held Arizona to just 11 points in the final 15 minutes of the first half, including a 15-4 run highlighted by Juzang’s two 3-pointers and an array of jump shots from Bernard. One of Bernard’s jumpers gave UCLA a 40-25 advantage with 1:25 left before taking a 40-29 lead into halftime.

The Bruins had an answer for anything the Wildcats (16-2, 6-1) threw at them.

An Arizona run in the second half cut what had been a 16-point deficit to just seven, but back-to-back shots from Jaquez and a nifty pass from Juzang to Myles Johnson for a 3-point play pushed UCLA’s lead to 61-46.

Freshman Peyton Watson delivered the one of the best plays of the night when he rejected a Justin Kier shot into the stands then followed up the adrenaline-pumping play with a stare down. It brought the crowd of 11,268 to its feet.

“Peyton Watson’s spirit, his athleticism, he change the game in the first half. It was a tremendous effort from our guys,” Cronin said.

Cronin was concerned about the challenge 7-foot-1 center Christian Koloko presented for UCLA, but the Bruins handled his presence well. Koloko finished with just 11 points and seven rebounds.

“We did a good job of not letting him be a dominant shot blocker. We had eight (blocked shots), they had two,” Cronin said. “Koloko is the most improved player in the country, in my opinion.”

The Wildcats cut it to eight with less than eight minutes to play, but the Bruins answered again. Back-to-back 3-pointers from David Singleton and Bernard created another double-digit cushion at 67-53.

Bennedict Mathurin scored 10 of his 16 points in the second half for the Wildcats, who had their five-game winning streak snapped.

Arizona had dominated in its previous three Pac-12 road games, winning by at least 25 points. But the Wildcats shot 31% and had 14 turnovers in their sixth consecutive loss to the Bruins. UCLA visits Tucson for a rematch next week.

UCLA fans chanted “Overrated!” at the Wildcats, who had their share of fans on hand at Pauley Pavilion. Arizona was the highest-ranked opponent to play at UCLA since No. 1 Kentucky on Dec. 3, 2015.

Despite the convincing win, Jaquez won’t give into the praise.

“We like being the underdog,” Jaquez said. “That’s our mentality.”

CLARK SITS OUT

UCLA sophomore guard Jaylen Clark sat out after sustaining an injury at practice on Monday after getting hit in the face and suffering concussion-like symptoms.

UP NEXT

UCLA hosts Cal on Thursday in the second of three straight home games.

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