No. 1 Arizona survives late UCLA comeback
LOS ANGELES – Nick Johnson scored a game-high 22 points and led the No. 1 Arizona Wildcats to a 79-75 victory over UCLA, marking a tie for the UA’s greatest start to a season in program history.
“It was a great victory for our team,” said head coach Sean Miller. “Any time you go on the road in the Pac-12 it’s difficult, but we battled through, were resilient, and we left with a good win.”
Johnson was one of four Wildcats to compile double digits. Sophomores Kaleb Tarczewski and Gabe York and highly heralded freshman star Aaron Gordon were among the other players to account for 10 or more points. The Bruins were led by double-double performances from sophomores Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams and additionally recorded four players in double digits.
Arizona’s win snaps a three game losing streak to the Bruins. UCLA still holds the upper hand in the all-time record, which now stand at 52-38.
“We eliminated the things we did wrong last year, and I think that is a big part of why we are where we are,” Johnson said. “We are a defensive team. Last year, I think we got away from our defensive style and that is where we took a dip.”
York continued to prove himself as one of the most improved players on Arizona’s team as the West Covina, Calif. native shot with 50 percent accuracy from three-point range [3-for-6] and ended with 12 points, two assists and a rebound.
“That’s his job this year. He has all the confidence in the world,” Johnson said. “We want him when he gets open to shoot the ball because we know he can change the game. He also had a few great passes and did well on defense.”
Last year, York’s minutes were limited due to defensive difficulties, but this year, the 6-foot-3; 180-pound guard is seeing more time on the court and making the most of his opportunities.
“We all have a common goal, and that is to get to the national championship,” York said. “We don’t really talk about it; we just take it one game at a time, but we all know what our goal is, and I think that is what’s giving us a great record right now.”
UCLA’s Anderson and Adams challenged Arizona’s durable defense but were unable to break through the Wildcats’ prowess. The two combined for 22 points, 22 rebounds, nine assists and six steals.
Adams collected 12 points, 11 rebounds and three assists while shooting 4-for-15 from the field, before fouling out late in the second half.
“Jordan Adams was defended by Nick [Johnson] the entire game and I thought he did a good job at least making it hard on Jordan,” Miller said. “At the end of games, free throw shooting, clutch plays; he’s grown and matured. It’s fun to see.”
Johnson thrived in a leadership role during Arizona’s third true road game of the season. As the Gilbert, Ariz. native added four rebounds, two assists and a steal, to his point total (22).
Tarczewski was the team’s offensive catalyst and scored Arizona’s first five points to get momentum started. The 7-foot starting center flawlessly converted 6-of-6 from the field to compile 16 points, a team leading eight rebounds and a block.
Gordon added to the Wildcats’ balanced attack and contributed 10 points, six rebounds, and two assists.
“UCLA is really good,” Miller said. “They’re not just going to lose by 10 or 15 points going away; they stayed with it, made some big shots, and challenged us a great deal. I thought we defended them well. The one thing that I give them credit for is they really hurt us on the offensive glass. That was a surprise to us. It isn’t necessarily a strength of theirs, but tonight it was. ”
Miller went on to explain that if Arizona had done a better job in defensive rebounding, the game wouldn’t have come down to the final play.
“It was a hard-fought win for us,” York said. “We are a very unselfish basketball team and we are going to get the job done no matter what.”