For 11th-ranked Arizona, the much-anticipated Pac-12 Conference showdown Saturday night at UCLA came with a strong case of déjà vu.
And it was bad news for the Wildcats, who continue to find themselves mired in a defensive funk and reeling with just one game remaining before the Pac-12 tournament.
Bruins point guard Larry Drew II scored 14 points and handed out nine assists, and UCLA withstood a late rally to defeat Arizona, 74-69, at Pauley Pavilion.
A four-point halftime deficit ballooned to 14 in the first 5 1/2 minutes thanks to a 15-5 run by UCLA (22-7, 12-4 Pac-12). It looked eerily similar to the start to the second half Wednesday at USC, which quickly turned a six-point lead at the break into a double-digit advantage en route to victory.
The Wildcats (23-6, 11-6 Pac-12) trailed by as many as 14 with 14:28 remaining and were still down double digits as late as the 4:12 mark.
But UA freshman Grant Jerrett sparked a final push, scoring six of his 14 points on a pair of 3-pointers in the final 1:38 to cut the deficit to 72-69. Arizona then forced a shot clock violation against Drew and had possession down three with 24 seconds left.
It all was reminiscent of the Wildcats from earlier in the season who continually scrapped and stole victories late.
However, Mark Lyons's drive to the basket and tough, contested shot in the lane misfired with nine seconds remaining. Shabazz Muhammad then iced the game at the free-throw line for UCLA with two of his game-high 18 points.
Freshman Kyle Anderson added 17 points and seven rebounds for the Bruins, who shot 46.8 percent and turned the ball over just eight times.
Lyons led Arizona with 13 points but made just 5 of 15 shot attempts and turned the ball over five times. Despite a 10-of-22 effort from the 3-point line and a 34-27 edge on the boards, the 'Cats shot just 44.4 percent from the field and coughed the ball up 16 times.
Nine first-half turnovers set the tone for the Wildcats, who trailed by just four after a shaky first few minutes.
The start was forgettable for UA, which opened 1 of 7 from the floor with five turnovers while trailing 13-6. The defense showcased little resistance, allowing uncontested shots and layups.
In 65 seconds, the Wildcats stormed back to tie the game at 13 with 12:03 to play in the half. But the Bruins immediately responded with their own 7-0 run, including a thunderous Norman Powell dunk over Jordin Mayes, to steal back the momentum.
And it was that type of frenetic, back-and-forth that played out for the remainder of the half. The Wildcats eventually found the shooting touch and the pleasant surprise of the night came from Mayes.
The reserve guard scored seven points before the break, including a mid-range jump shot with 1:13 remaining to pull UA within 38-36. Mayes' first-half total equaled his point total over the previous seven games combined.
But as has been the case recently, the Wildcats' defense fell asleep just before the half as Drew drove past center Kaleb Tarczewski and scored a layup at the unprotected basket. The Bruins led 40-36 at the half.
Click Here to view this Link.Tracy McDannald
GOAZCATS.com Senior Editor