TUCSON, Ariz. – This one was hard to swallow for coach Steve Alford.
After a game that he thought UCLA played as well as it could have, Alford was fixated on just two numbers: 45 and 16.
He couldn’t get over how his team was outshot by almost 30 shots at the free-throw line in a 81-75 loss.
“I thought we guarded pretty well. I thought our guys concentrated really well,” Alford said. “31 fouls. I mean that’s got to be a season high for us, so I have to watch tape to see if we fouled 31 times I guess.”
While not exactly a season-high, the 31 fouls called against the Bruins tied the mark set in a double-overtime loss to Washington early January.
The No. 17 Arizona Wildcats (20-5, 8-4 Pac-12) mounted a second-half comeback, overcoming a 7-point deficit with 9:14 left to play.
However, it wasn’t just the sheer amount of fouls and free throws called in the second half that led UCLA to give up a 10-point halftime lead. Fifteen whistles blew against the Bruins in the first half, which led to 21 Wildcat free throws. In the second half, those numbers were only slightly bigger – 16 fouls and 24 free throws.
UCLA knew that Arizona was going to come out swinging in the second half in front of a raucous crowd to try and protect its 50-1 conference home record since 2013.
“I knew they were going to make a run, obviously playing on the road, especially against a top-15 team you got to expect them to make a run,” said junior guard Bryce Alford. “I think we weathered it pretty well in the first five or six minutes.”
But in weathering the storm, the Bruins took a beating.
Sophomore center Thomas Welsh was limited in the first half to just seven minutes after picking up three fouls. Senior forward/center Tony Parker filled in the rest of the 13 minutes, and started the second half in place of Welsh with just one foul.
Then it just started adding up.
Welsh ended up fouling out with 6:37 after playing just seven more minutes in the second half. Parker subbed in, but quickly followed suit, picking up his fifth with 5:55 left.
“We didn’t do a good job of rebounding, so they got a lot of offensive rebounds and put-backs,” said junior guard Isaac Hamilton. “When Tony and Tom fouled out, that’s kind of what hurt us.”
Without a center on the floor to play against Arizona guard Ryan Anderson and center Kaleb Tarczewski – who had 13 rebounds and 14 rebounds respectively – UCLA was just outmatched.
When Parker fouled out, the game was tied in what had become a back-and-forth nail-biter. After that, the Wildcats ran off, ending the game on a 18-12 run and a 7-3 rebounding advantage.
All that the Bruins were left with after almost toppling a top-25 team once again was the numbers 45 and 16 on a box score.
And all Steve Alford could do with that was laugh.