Los Angeles, CA– The Arizona Wildcats traveled to Westwood Tuesday night as the No. 3 team in the AP poll. The Wildcats have been off to a great start to the season under first year head coach Tommy Lloyd. The longtime Gonzaga assistant has taken the next step with the roster that Sean Miller left. Lloyd’s specialty is finding international players and the roster at Arizona had been filled with them as he arrived this season. The UCLA Bruins entered the match-up as the No. 9-ranked team in the nation but have played a little bit down to the competition so far this season and have still been looking for that spark that got them to that Final Four run last season. The Bruins and Wildcats were able to reschedule this game that was supposed to occur in late December and last night showed signs of that Final Four team, as the Bruins controlled the game with a commanding 75-59 victory.
The Pac-12 contest had a full capacity at Pauley Pavilion and it was clear from the opening tip that both teams fed off the energy and anticipation provided by the crowd. The opening four minutes of play saw an offensive flurry by each side, as the Wildcats took the early 16-14 lead, due to four made 3-pointers led by Bennedict Mathurin and Pelle Larsson who each knocked down two. UCLA point guard Tyger Campbell ignited his squad with seven quick points in that stretch and it appeared as if this game would be going back and forth the whole night.
After the TV timeout at the 15:28 mark, the Bruins began to buckle down defensively and started to change up how they guarded the perimeter. UCLA focused on denying the pass back out on the wing and wanted to disrupt any offensive flow or easy ball movement that Arizona had going in the first few minutes. That defense played a big part in the Wildcats going scoreless until the 9:59 mark. Simultaneously, the Bruins had still been playing aggressively on the offensive end of the court and were attempting high percentage shots. Peyton Watson then gave UCLA a 10-point lead after a 3-pointer and steal on the next play leading into a transition layup. The pace was dictated by the Bruins the remaining five minutes of the half and ended the half with a 40-29 advantage. The main takeaway from the first half was the immediate shift in Arizona’s offensive production after that first timeout. The Wildcats were shooting around 85 percent in that stretch but finished the rest of the half 35 percent from the field and didn’t hit another 3-pointer, going 4-of-15. Meanwhile, the Bruins shot 71 percent from the 3-point line (5-of-7).
The Wildcats seemed a bit in a rush to comeback from their halftime deficit and forced the issue with some careless turnovers that only helped the Bruins out. UCLA maintained their strong play towards the end of the first half and pushed their lead to 16. At that point, Arizona still played hard and didn’t want to go out with a fight. The Wildcats connected on consecutive old fashioned 3-point plays from Mathurin and big man Azuolas Tubelis. Arizona then got 3-pointers from Tubelis and Mathurin and only trailed the Bruins by seven (50-43). The Wildcats gained momentum in the middle of the half and the Arizona fan base that made it out for this game made themselves heard. Arizona looked to tighten the gap even more after finally hitting the outside jump shot, but UCLA and their fans seized back the game and answered with a quick 3-pointer of their own from Jaime Jaquez. After the under 12-minute timeout, Jaquez gave his team more of a boost when he hit a tough nosed layup, followed by a blocked shot on Mathurin from behind. It’s the hustle and hard work such as that, that makes Jaquez a fan favorite. The Bruins dug deep again defensively and despite Arizona collecting 21 offensive rebounds on the night, the Wildcats were unable to get many second chance points, often missing easy put back attempts. The game was sealed with a 3-pointer by Jules Bernard at the 6:29 mark and with the experience and poise displayed by veterans Campbell and Johnny Juzang slowing the tempo down and controlling the clock. The Bruins maintained that edge in those final minutes and won the game by double-digits.
The Bruins received an overall team effort in the matchup, getting four players in double figures and got nice minutes from Cody Riley who had 12 points. Juzang and Bernard both ended with 15 points. Arizona’s point guard Kerr Kriisa had an awful showing, being held scoreless and shot 0-of-12 on the night, missing nine from deep with four turnovers. Mathurin, who is a projected lottery pick in the 2022 NBA Draft led the Wildcats with 16 points and 10 rebounds but also lacked efficiency with his shooting, going 5-of-22 from the field.
The UCLA Bruins (14-2, 6-1) have a quick turnaround and face the California Golden Bears on Thursday and will look to win their fifth straight game against one of the bottom teams in the Pac-12. Arizona (16-2, 6-1) will head back home to Tucson and play their rival Arizona State on Saturday.