Rivalry Breakdown: UCLA vs. Arizona
Although UCLA and Arizona are comparative latecomers to the rivalry party, the Bruins and Wildcats have quickly made up for lost time. Since Arizona joined the Pac-10 (now Pac-12) in 1978, the two teams have combined to win 24 of the 36 regular-season championships and made West Coast basketball far more than a one-team show.
They’ve also featured more quality NBA point guards than some NBA teams can boast for their entire histories. All-American Mike Bibby wasn't even the best future pro on his own team, but he did plenty to frustrate the Pauley Pavilion faithful all the same.
Here is a closer look at the many floor leaders (and other stars), tense games and eye-opening moments that have made the Bruins vs. Wildcats series the pinnacle of West Coast hoops.
Wins: UCLA 42, Arizona 36
Conference Championships (regular season only): UCLA 37, Arizona 26
NCAA Tournament Championships: UCLA 11, Arizona 1
Consensus All-Americans (first team): UCLA 26, Arizona 5
NBA Players Produced: UCLA 80, Arizona 42
UCLA’s All-Time Starting 5
C Lew Alcindor
PF Bill Walton
SF Keith Wilkes
SG Reggie Miller
PG Gail Goodrich
Yes, multi-year champs Alcindor and Walton were both centers, but as they’re both among the top five college players in history, which one would you want to leave out of the lineup? Wilkes’ own national titles (alongside Walton) get him the nod over fellow scoring machines Kiki Vandeweghe and Don MacLean at the 3 spot.
Miller never had the team success of other Bruins guards, but his incomparable jump shot makes him the choice here. At point guard, the Bruins can pick from NBA stars (Baron Davis) and March heroes (Tyus Edney), but Hall of Famer Goodrich combines the best of both elements as the leader of John Wooden’s undersized first national champs.
Arizona’s All-Time Starting 5
C Bob Elliott
PF Channing Frye
SF Sean Elliott
SG Miles Simon
PG Damon Stoudamire
Bob Elliott didn’t get much national recognition on some relatively anonymous 1970s squads, but he still holds the school record for rebounds and places second in points. The high-flying Frye jammed his way to 1,789 points while grabbing the third-most boards and swatting the second-most shots (258) of any Wildcat.
Marksman Sean Elliott, the only Wooden Award winner in school history, crushed the school's career points record and graduated as the Pac-10’s leading scorer in history. Simon, another sniper, stands in for the entire electrifying backcourt of the 1997 national champs (for whom he won Final Four most outstanding player honors).
Picking just one Arizona point guard is a thankless task, but Stoudamire gets the nod for his balance of scoring (1,849 points), passing (663 assists) and defense (174 steals). That said, Jason Terry and Jason Gardner both have excellent claims to this spot, too.
Most Iconic Coaches
UCLA’s John Wooden is the coach to end all coaches. Although he can’t match Mike Krzyzewski’s career wins record, it’s hard to imagine Coach K or anyone else ever catching the Wizard of Westwood (who amassed 664 wins in 29 seasons behind the bench) and his record 10 NCAA championships.
Lute Olson virtually created this rivalry when he arrived at Arizona in 1983-84. The former Iowa boss found his home in the desert, winning 589 games for the Wildcats and guiding them to all four of their Final Four appearances (including the 1997 national title).
Most Memorable Games
5. Arizona 76, UCLA 73 (2005)
Unranked UCLA got a stellar performance from Dijon Thompson (27 points, 10 boards) to hang right with the No. 17 Wildcats in Tucson, Ariz. Only a 24-point second half from Salim Stoudamire—including the game-winning trey with 2.5 seconds to play—saved Arizona.
4. UCLA 68, Arizona 66 (2008)
Kevin Love played like an All-American in Tucson, laying waste to the Wildcats front line with 24 points and 15 boards. Nevertheless, Chase Budinger’s 24 points kept the game close until the end, when Jerryd Bayless (who played all 40 minutes, along with Budinger and Jawann McClellan) just missed a potential game-tying jumper.
3. Arizona 105, UCLA 94 (1991)
Wildcats center Brian Williams (later Bison Dele) overwhelmed No. 14 UCLA with 32 points and 14 boards, but when his late turnover helped the Bruins take the lead at Pauley Pavilion, Chris Mills had his back. Mills’ buzzer-beater sent the game to overtime, where the fifth-ranked Wildcats’ inside-outside duo combined for nine more points to secure the win.
2. UCLA 79, Arizona 77 (2001)
Gilbert Arenas had led Arizona to a No. 8 national ranking, so his 30-point showcase at Pauley Pavilion came as little surprise. The shocker was in how the 24th-ranked Bruins managed to overcome his efforts.
Dan Gadzuric, on crutches the previous week with a sprained ankle, came out and played 41 of 45 minutes in an overtime thriller, turning in the game of his life. The lumbering center outmuscled smaller Arizona for 22 points and 17 rebounds to lead four Bruins in double figures in the win.
1. UCLA 89, Arizona 87 (1992)
The national spotlight on this rivalry has never been brighter than when No. 2 UCLA headed to Tucson to challenge No. 6 Arizona and its 71-game home winning streak. The intensity at the McKale Center was so high that even Lute Olson boiled over, receiving a technical foul that helped put the Wildcats in a seven-point hole in the final minutes.
Arizona battled back to tie the game on a Wayne Womack jumper with 19 seconds to play, but UCLA got one more chance. Combo guard Darrick Martin drained a runner with less than a second to play, making Don MacLean’s 38-point night hold up for a huge Bruins victory.
Moment You Shouldn’t Mention to a UCLA Fan
Reggie Miller had some amazing games in his breakout 1985-86 season (25.9 points per game), but his visit to Tucson was not one of them. The junior managed just 16 against the Wildcats as he fouled out with more than seven minutes still to play.
Miller then made himself a permanent symbol of this rivalry by rubbing his fingers in a “money” gesture to accuse the refs of being paid off.
Not that his presence would have saved a UCLA squad that was badly overmatched by the eventual Pac-10 champs. The victorious Wildcats weren’t above rubbing UCLA’s nose in the outcome, either, as freshman reserve Bruce Wheatley closed the game by banking in a three-pointer at the buzzer.
Moment You Shouldn’t Mention to an Arizona Fan
Heading into the Pac-10 tournament in 2003, Arizona was the No. 1 team in the nation behind Jason Gardner, Channing Frye and an ultra-balanced offense. UCLA, meanwhile, was 9-18 and playing out the string on Steve Lavin’s disastrous final season.
Inexplicably, the hapless Bruins managed to hang right with Arizona for 40 minutes, getting a Ray Young three-pointer to tie the game at the end of regulation. In the extra session, Jason Kapono capped a 26-point effort by leading a stunning 96-89 triumph.
The win kept the Bruins’ season alive for all of one more game before they were eliminated by Oregon.
Public Enemy No. 1 for UCLA
Sean Elliott’s 6-2 career record versus the Bruins is just the start of his offenses against UCLA. The Wildcats’ all-time leading scorer also became the only Pac-10 player not from Westwood to claim John Wooden’s namesake Player of the Year award.
That season, 1988-89, saw Elliott score 35 points to hand the Bruins their worst loss in history (and still the worst in this series), 102-64. In the process, he knocked Lew Alcindor off the top of the Pac-10 scoring charts as he climbed to 2,326 in his career.
Public Enemy No. 1 for Arizona
After an early 11-game skid in the series, Arizona has mostly avoided extended losing streaks. Mostly, that is, except for the years when Darren Collison was running the point for the Bruins.
He arrived as a freshman in 2005-06, and Arizona wouldn’t beat him until their final meeting when he was a senior.
In compiling an 8-1 lifetime record against the Wildcats, the current Los Angeles Clipper also put up stat lines of 12 points, four rebounds and seven assists (2008, in a rout at Pauley Pavilion) and 17 points, four boards and 15 assists (in Tucson in 2007).
UCLA’s Biggest Claim to Bragging Rights
Virtually any argument about UCLA basketball can be solved using the following algorithm. Step 1: Does opposing team have 11 national championships? (Hint: Answer is always no). Step 2: UCLA has more national championships. A lot more.
In Arizona’s case, the Wildcats got on the board in this contest with their impressive run to the 1997 title, but they haven’t yet duplicated that feat. An 11-1 lead in the most important statistic in the sport is pretty tough to overcome.
Arizona’s Biggest Claim to Bragging Rights
Since Arizona joined the Pac-10, the two teams have been on an equal footing where conference play is concerned. The championship of that shared league has gone to the Wildcats 13 times.
The Bruins only have 11.
The two combatants are also dead even on conference tournament titles with four apiece. The huge bulk of UCLA’s accomplishments came before the rivalry existed. Now that they’re on even terms, the Wildcats have actually outplayed their more celebrated foes.
The Final Word
Even ignoring UCLA’s unbelievable history, the Bruins have been an extraordinary program just over the 36 years of this series as a conference rivalry. In that time alone, they’ve equaled Arizona at one national title (courtesy of Ed O'Bannon, among others) while winning the head-to-head series and making five Final Four trips to the Wildcats’ four.
On those numbers, the series is a virtual dead heat. Once the full weight of UCLA’s history is brought to bear, though, it’s hard to see how Arizona (or any team) could claim the upper hand in a program-on-program contest.
The Bruins get the nod.