UCLA’s uneven yet wildly entertaining season continues. Drama in L.A. Who would have guessed?
Coming off two straight road losses (to Washington and Washington State), the Bruins returned home to Pauley Pavilion on Thursday and knocked off No. 7 Arizona on a game-winning step-back three by Bryce Alford with 1.8 seconds left.
Alford’s three capped off a 25-point night for the point guard, who shot 5 for 11 from behind the arc and added six assists and four rebounds, while not committing a single turnover.
The win over the Wildcats was much-needed for Steve Alford’s team, which was facing an 0–3 start in Pac-12 play if it couldn’t pull off the upset. Instead, the Bruins were able to do something only one other team, Providence, has done this season in defeating Arizona.
It nearly didn’t happen.
Entering the final three minutes, UCLA had led the entire game and looked poised to win without much struggle after Tony Parker’s tip shot put the Bruins up 10. But Kadeem Allen led a late Arizona charge that saw it score the next 10 points to tie things at 83. It was a stunning turn of events that quieted the Pauley Pavilion crowd, of which included Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and the rest of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
With 22 seconds left, Isaac Hamilton was fouled and made 1 of 2 free throws to give UCLA a one-point lead. On the other end, Wildcats forward Ryan Anderson (who finished with 15 points and 15 rebounds) was fouled on a drive and also missed one of his two attempts to tie things up again.
That set the stage for Alford, who had already ended the first half on a buzzer-beating three and was looking to play hero once again. He did just that, calmly nailing the three and strutting down the court right in front of a pumped-up Westbrook, who didn’t hold back from rooting for his alma mater.
The night belonged to Alford, but UCLA got plenty of other help. Guard Aaron Holiday scored 15 points and added six assists and three steals, while Parker and Hamilton each scored 14 (Parker also grabbed 12 rebounds). Arizona was led by Anderson, while Allonzo Trier scored 13 and Kaleb Tarczewski came off the bench to collect 12 points and 12 boards.
Getting in the Pac-12 win column has to be a big relief for Steve Alford and his team, but his son Bryce hit the nail on the head in his postgame interview with ESPN when he said the young Bruins “still have a lot” to learn and work on. This team has now defeated top-10 teams in Arizona and Kentucky and also boasts a road win over Gonzaga on its resume, but its losses include Wake Forest, Washington and Washington State, which all fall outside the top 100 on kenpom.com. On paper, that looks like a team that plays to its opponent (and perhaps environment), and for UCLA to reach its potential it needs to get more consistent and bring the energy it brought against the Wildcats every game.
For Arizona, this is a respectable road loss and doesn’t do much to change its status as Pac-12 favorites. It will get a chance to avenge Thursday’s loss on Feb. 12, when the Bruins travel to McKale Center. The Wildcats are the only conference team currently ranked, but several teams will present tests to both teams in the coming weeks, including California, USC, Utah, Colorado and Arizona State.