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January 24, 2013

No. 6 Wildcats' comeback falls short against Bruins

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The scene looked similar to all of Arizona's other comebacks: Dig a deep hole, only to inch closer and closer.

With every Wildcats run, UCLA had an answer - but that's nothing new to a group that has routinely erased double-digit deficits without panic this season. This time, however, the opposition had the dagger to drive through Arizona's heart, and any rallies felt larger than the score indicated.

Bruins freshman Shabazz Muhammad scored 23 points Thursday and UCLA remained resilient to hold on for an 84-73 win over the sixth-ranked Wildcats in front of a hostile 14,617 at McKale Center.

The Wildcats (16-2, 4-2 Pac-12 Conference) led for all of 30 seconds after Brandon Ashley's free throw inside the first minute of action - and that was it. Solomon Hill collected a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds and Ashley added nine points and rebounds, but no other Wildcats were able to convert at least 50 percent of their shots on a night when there may as well have been a lid on the Arizona basket.

"It was that type of game," UA head coach Sean Miller said.

After shooting just 31.4 percent through the first 20 minutes, the 'Cats continued to struggle at the start of the second half.

The Bruins, who led by 10 at halftime, quickly bumped their lead back up to 15 with 16:11 to play.

But with a crowd that had been begging for some sign of life all night, Arizona used a 10-0 run in 91 seconds capped by a Johnson fastbreak slam to cut the deficit to 55-51 with 11:14 to play.

That was as close as Arizona would get, however.

Almost as quickly, however, UCLA answered with five consecutive points to create a nine-point cushion. By the 5:25 mark, the lead was up to 10. Twice, Arizona cut the deficit down to six but there would be no late heroics this time around.

For the Bruins (16-4, 6-1 Pac-12), who have won 11 of their last 12, the difference was in transition. UCLA scored 21 points off 14 Arizona turnovers and owned a 14-8 edge in fastbreak points.

"I think our defense was our strongest point," said Muhammad, who calmly converted 8 of 16 shots in the victory. "If you look at Arizona as a really good offensive team, we just locked down in the clutch and got the stops we needed."

But unlike Florida, San Diego State, Colorado and Utah - all of whom squandered late leads to the Wildcats earlier this season - the Bruins were quietly guided to the finish line by point guard Larry Drew II, the assist leader in the conference.

The redshirt senior made just 2 of 8 shots but dished out nine assists and controlled the tempo after each UA flurry.

Drew's dribble penetration helped the Bruins get to the free-throw line for 27 of their 29 attempts in the second half.

"[Larry] Drew did a terrific job with seven or eight minutes to go," Bruins head coach Ben Howland said. "He made some great decisions and really controlled the game."

Jordan Adams and David Wear added 15 points apiece for UCLA.

Mark Lyons struggled for Arizona, converting just 6 of 17 shots for his 16 points, and added five turnovers. Nick Johnson matched Muhammad's game-high total with 23 points and finished 9 of 19 from the floor.

With a jazzed up, home whiteout crowd on hand, the Wildcats came out tight. Arizona converted just one of its first eight shots, short-arming four point-blank layups in the process.

UCLA, meanwhile, came out clicking and connected on 55.9 percent of its shots. The Bruins led 15-3 after six minutes, and Muhammad hit his first three shots to account for seven of the points. UCLA, which converted 10 of its first 15 shots, extended the lead to as large as 16 with 13:11 left in the half.

After another missed layup, this time by Hill, the Wildcats finally converted around the rim on Grant Jerrett's putback following the offensive rebound. And it was nine of the team's 19 offensive rebounds in the first half that helped Arizona stay in the contest.

"We missed maybe five or six, what I would call really good shots, early in the game," Miller said. "That dug us a hole. Sometimes when we play behind the whole game we try to make things happen individually."

A dunk and layup from Johnson then sparked a 22-12 run that got the Wildcats back within single digits. Jerrett's 3-pointer with 2:08 to play in the half pulled the Wildcats to within five, but UCLA closed the half strong to take a 40-30 lead into the break.

Tracy McDannaldTracy McDannald
GOAZCATS.com Senior Editor

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