The No. 5 UCLA Bruins scored a big road victory over the No. 4 Arizona Wildcats on Saturday with a 77-72 win at the McKale Center in Tucson, Arizona.
Kadeem Allen had a chance to tie the game for Arizona with nine seconds remaining, but he air-balled a three and the Bruins managed to hang on.
Arizona fell to 15-2 in the Pac-12 with the loss, while UCLA improved to 13-3. The Wildcats are now tied atop the Pac-12 standings with Oregon, and the Bruins are technically still in contention for a share of the regular-season title.
According to ESPN College BBall, Saturday's win added to what was already an impressive UCLA resume as March Madness approaches:
Freshman guard Lonzo Ball was once again strong for UCLA, putting up 11 points, eight assists and five rebounds in the victory.
His performance was bolstered by the fact that the Bruins had five players reach double figures in scoring, including Ball, Thomas Welsh, TJ Leaf, Bryce Alford and Aaron Holiday.
Sophomore guard Allonzo Trier was Arizona's difference-maker with a game-high 28 points, but the Wildcats still fell short.
Arizona actually outshot arguably the best shooting team in the nation 51 percent to 45.3 percent, but UCLA won the offensive rebound battle 14-4 and took advantage of its second chances.
Although Arizona jumped out to an 11-6 lead in the first half, UCLA went on an 11-0 run and led for the majority of the opening 20 minutes.
The Wildcats managed to remain within striking distance, though, due largely to the play of Trier.
As seen in this GIF courtesy of Arizona Athletics, Trier put together some spectacular individual efforts that stymied the UCLA defense:
With under 10 minutes remaining in the half, the two biggest stars in the game went shot-for-shot. Trier knocked down a three to pull Arizona within two, while Ball answered with a trifecta of his own on the following possession.
Trier was at his best when driving to the basket, however, including this layup, which started a three-point play with 7:32 left in the opening half:
UCLA continued to lead thanks to the play of Ball, Alford and Leaf until Arizona managed to tie it at the 1:05 mark.
Arizona then took the lead on a pair of Parker Jackson-Cartwright free throws, and Jackson-Cartwright extended the advantage to 43-39 with a jumper just prior to halftime.
Trier entered the locker room with 16 points, and Sam Vecenie of Sporting News pointed out the Bruins seemingly had no answer for him:
Perhaps the bigger issue for UCLA in the opening half was its cold shooting, but that changed during the second half.
Down by five with 15:34 left, the Bruins went on a major hot streak bolstered largely by three-point shooting and offensive rebounding.
By virtue of a 19-4 run, UCLA suddenly led by 10 with just under seven minutes remaining in the game.
Holiday was the Bruins' biggest contributor during the run, and as pointed out by Doug Gottlieb of CBS Sports, UCLA was helped by Arizona's inability or unwillingness to crash the boards:
The game seemed virtually over with UCLA up by 11 at the four-minute mark, but Arizona managed to make things interesting.
Following a Trier trifecta and two made free throws by Lauri Markkanen, Holiday missed a free throw that would have essentially ended the game, and gave Arizona a chance to tie.
Allen's long-range attempt was well off the mark, however, and UCLA managed to avenge its home loss to the Wildcats from earlier in the season.
Arizona is still in good position to nab a share of the Pac-12 title assuming it beats Arizona State on March 4, but it needs an Oregon loss to Oregon State to win it outright and nab the No. 1 seed in the Pac-12 tournament.
The Bruins need wins over Washington and Washington State along with Arizona and Oregon losses in their final games to force a three-way tie for the championship.
Although that's unlikely to happen, UCLA's win bolstered its case for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament and gives it a ton of momentum entering the Pac-12 tourney as well.
Following one of the Bruins' biggest victories of the year, UCLA head coach Steve Alford said on ESPN (h/t Matt Cummings of the Daily Bruin) that he believes his team has come a long way on the defensive side of the ball:
As seen in the following video courtesy of SBNation's Ryan Kelapire, Alford was especially happy with the fact that his team managed to go undefeated in the month of February:
Arizona head coach Sean Miller had a decidedly different tone, as he was especially frustrated with his team's work on the boards, according to Zack Rosenblatt of the Tucson Star:
He also felt as though the Wildcats didn't adapt well enough when UCLA switched up its defense:
Miller made it clear that Arizona wouldn't be defined by its shortcomings in the loss, however:
With a win over Arizona State, the Wildcats are still in line to clinch a share of the Pac-12 title, and they have a great chance to go on a deep run in the Pac-12 tourney as well.