LOS ANGELES – If Arizona’s men's basketball team had any dreams of playing in the NCAA tournament this year, its weekend road trip to Los Angeles may have put an end to them.
The two most prestigious and history-filled programs west of the Rocky Mountains faced off once again in the latest chapter of the heated rivalry between UCLA and the University of Arizona. The two programs share 12 national championships between them and countless other Final Four appearances.
That was the past, though, because the matchup that took place at Pauley Pavilion on Saturday was nothing like the high-profile bouts of recent years.
Arizona came into the game coming off a 23-point blowout at the hands of USC and followed it through with an almost identical performance, losing big 90-69, as it once again labored to get anything on the offensive end going while letting UCLA and its talented big men bully them inside on both ends of the floor. The absence of Chase Jeter once again looked to hamstring and restrict the Wildcats on both sides of the court.
“We got killed in both games,” Arizona head coach Sean Miller said in his postgame press conference. “It really wasn’t close, and it’s up to us to respond.”
Arizona could not get anything going from deep, as it finished the game 8-26 from behind the three-point line. The Wildcats didn’t do too much better closer to the basket either; they finished the evening shooting just 33 percent from the field overall.
“You know, we can’t make a shot,” Miller said. “I thought at times we really moved the ball and attacked the ball by getting the ball in the middle and dribble-penetrating … But you know, at the end of the day, someone’s gotta throw that thing, and we’re really struggling in that area.”
UCLA, coming off a three-game losing streak, looked like the top-25 team that it was projected to be before the season started. The Bruins went to their stars early and often, as Jaylen Hands, Moses Brown and Kris Wilkes all delivered performances that allowed UCLA to coast during the last 10 minutes of the contest as the Bruins made sure their 20-something-point lead throughout the last few minutes was preserved. Wilkes was especially outstanding, as he finished the game with 34 points and was dominant throughout.
Brandon Williams was the lone bright spot for the Wildcats, pitching in 19 points while shooting 6-13 from the field. The Southern California native was the sole force for the visiting side on Saturday night, as the Wildcats' next leading scorer was Ira Lee, with 11 points – the only other Wildcat in double figures.
Coming into this weekend, Arizona was 5-1 in the Pac-12 and 14-5 overall, sitting just inside the tournament bubble. Two blowout losses to two teams who have a combined record of 21-17 are not going to impress the selection committee when it gets to early March.
The two losses have essentially limited Arizona’s shot to the tournament through the automatic bid that is provided by the conference tournament. But if things continue to go the way they have over the past two weekends for Arizona, now the loser of three of the last four contests, this once semi-promising season is one more bad weekend from completely coming off the rails.
Arizona returns to the friendly confines of the McKale Center and look to rebound against in-state rival and fellow Pac-12 bubble occupier Arizona State, who will also be looking for a statement win to boost its own NCAA tournament resume.
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