UCLA didn’t come here just to try.
Their best defenseman at home, their best big-watching man in a tracksuit, the Bruins didn’t back down Saturday night at T-Mobile Arena while severely shorthanded in the Pac-12 tournament championship.
They finally ran out of counterattacks.
A wild game came down to a crazy final fight. from arizona Bluewings Tubelis he pushed his team to a two-point lead by making the first of two free throws with 5.8 seconds remaining before missing the second.
UCLA’s Jaime Jaquez Jr. grabbed the rebound and dribbled frantically before passing to freshman guard Dylan Andrews on the wing. Andrews rose for a 3-pointer and a chance to take the shot of his life.
The ball bounced off the side of the rim, preserving the second-seeded Wildcats’ 61-59 win over the top-seeded Bruins.
“Wide open shot to win the game,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said afterward. “We’ll take it. It is what it is. Get some rest, get ready for the real tournament.”
The Arizona players stayed on to celebrate their second straight title game win over UCLA (29-5) as the Bruins pondered where they might be seeded in the NCAA tournament.
Even short on manpower, the Bruins had every opportunity to pull this off.
Given a chance to tie the score with 6.8 seconds remaining, Bruins point guard Tyger Campbell, an 84.9% free throw shooter who had been so decisive all week, missed the second of two free throws and the ball rolled through the rim before going out. . Cronin said that Campbell was unnecessarily angry with himself afterwards.
“I would put my career on the line,” Cronin said, “with Tyger on the line.”
Tubelis grabbed the rebound and was immediately fouled to start the final sequence of the game.
Another opportunity had been lost for UCLA after Jaquez stripped Tubelis of the ball with 1:10 remaining for a steal and the Bruins leading by one point. But after the Bruins called a timeout, Jaquez missed a short throw.
“I thought I had a great look,” said Jaquez, who scored 13 points on 5-of-18 shooting, “I just missed.”
The Wildcats missed their next shot, but Tubelis grabbed an offensive rebound and found Courtney Ramey on a 3-pointer that pushed Arizona to a 60-58 lead with 18 seconds remaining. Cronin suggested that Ramey had shoved Will McClendon before the shot, one of two calls that irritated the coach.
“My conclusion is an offensive foul that doesn’t get called, they hit a 3-pointer,” said Cronin, who also lamented his team’s defensive mistakes and allowed seven offensive rebounds in the second half.
The other decision that bothered Cronin came in the first half, when Jaquez passed the pass to Amari Bailey, who threw a brutal one-handed dunk on Arizona’s Pelle Larsson. The whistle blew. Bruins fans roared, assuming it was an opportunity for a three-point play.
No. The referee waved his arm to signal that Bailey (19 points) had pushed himself. Offensive foul. Cronin and the Bruins fans were furious.
“An offensive foul called on a guy who had the best dunk of the season,” Cronin said in disbelief.
Somehow it got worse. On the Wildcats’ next possession, Larsson threw his own one-handed dunk, prompting an Arizona fan sitting courtside to yell, “That’s how you do it!”
Bruised but not broken, the Bruins fought back. They took a nine-point lead early in the second half before it looked like their magic would run out. The shots stopped falling. Accumulated fouls.
With rookie center Adem Bona sidelined after injuring his left shoulder Friday, the Bruins ran out of bigs in the final minutes. Substitute Mac Etienne fouled with 9:35 to play and Kenneth Nwuba followed with four minutes to go.
Tubelis had 19 points and 14 rebounds for the Wildcats (28-6), who ended the Bruins’ 12-game winning streak. Later, an Associated Press reporter told Cronin that an Arizona fan had gotten into the face of his father Hep, 81, after the game. Mick Cronin and his players immediately got up and left the post-game press conference.
UCLA radio hosts reported on air that a family of fans from Arizona caused a disturbance and called security to de-escalate the situation and ask fans to leave the area. Bruins athletic director Martin Jarmond told The Times that he was in contact with Pac-12 officials about the incident.
This was supposed to be an opportunity to settle the debates, answer the questions, and end any lingering doubts.
These two teams had met twice before this season, each winning once. The respective fan bases had made their cases of superiority. UCLA was the toughest and most complete team. Arizona possessed the bigger first line and a more powerful offense.
The Bruins had won the Pac-12 regular season title in a four-game breakout, defeating the Wildcats last week, and now the teams were meeting again.
Any reasonable calculation for the Bruins had changed considerably in the past week. Images of the Bruins running to celebrate with their fellow students inside Pauley Pavilion were replaced with those of UCLA fans crossing their fingers and holding their breath over the two asterisks that hung like a dark cloud over Arizona’s latest matchup. .
Junior guard Jaylen Clark was out with a lower leg injury. Bona, a shot-blocking threat, became a cheerleader for a sore shoulder that isn’t expected to keep him out last Saturday.
The Bruins weathered it all as part of a stirring streak this week that was the stuff of Disney, pulling away from Colorado before sweeping Oregon behind a barrage of buckets from Campbell. But this challenge was on another level entirely, like going from climbing the Santa Monica Mountains to Mount Everest.
UCLA made it most of the way. I just couldn’t make it to the top.