Dylan Andrews’ final look that would have won the game. As good of a shot as you were ever going to get, just didn’t fall 🤷
UCLA falls to Arizona in the Pac-12 title game for the second year in a row, 61-59. pic.twitter.com/9FtJMVcP3g
— Jon Christon (@JonChristonDB) March 12, 2023
UCLA men’s basketball drops second straight Pac-12 championship game to Arizona
Freshman guard Amari Bailey walks off the court. No. 1 seed UCLA men’s basketball had a look to win the Pac-12 tournament championship game at the buzzer, but No. 2 seed Arizona escaped for its second-straight title win over the Bruins. (Joseph Jimenez/Assistant Photo editor)
|No. 1 seed UCLA||59|
|No. 2 seed Arizona||61|
By Jon Christon
March 11, 2023 10:23 p.m.
This post was updated March 12 at 11:08 p.m.
LAS VEGAS — It was a slugfest. A back-and-forth affair. The conference’s best game of the year.
It was only fitting the winner got a trophy.
Ultimately, though, the Bruins had the deck too far stacked against them to claim it as theirs.
No. 1 seed UCLA men’s basketball (29-5, 18-2) fell to No. 2 seed Arizona (28-6, 14-6) in the Pac-12 tournament championship game for the second year in a row, 61-59, on Saturday night at T-Mobile Arena. The Bruins had multiple chances to tie or take the lead in the final seconds, but came up just short each time en route to a second straight runner-up finish in the title game.
“It was a tough one,” said senior guard/forward Jaime Jaquez Jr.
The Bruins were without two starters and their two best defenders in junior guard Jaylen Clark and freshman forward Adem Bona. The two centers who stepped in for Bona – redshirt freshman forward Mac Etienne and redshirt senior forward/center Kenneth Nwuba – both fouled out. The Wildcat faithful outnumbered their Bruin counterparts significantly.
Coach Mick Cronin, however, said he doesn’t teach his team to concede defeat just because it’s down two starters.
“We don’t accept that somebody was out, so you’re supposed to lose,” Cronin said. “We don’t roll like that.”
Redshirt senior guard Tyger Campbell had a free throw that would have tied the game with six seconds left. The 84% free throw shooter, who had made the front end of the one-and-one, missed short on the second, and Arizona remained in front.
Cronin said he had full confidence his point guard would drain both – and he still does, even with the miss.
“I’d put my career on the line with Tyger at the line,” Cronin said.
The Bruins had yet another chance to change the tide of the game at the end following the free throw.
Jaquez found the ball in his hands after Arizona forward Azuolas Tubelis split a pair of free throws to keep the Bruins within two. Cronin opted not to call a timeout, trusting his senior leader to make the right decision.
“I try to train the guys, don’t try to do too much,” Cronin said. “Take what they give you.”
The Pac-12 Player of the Year took a few dribbles down the court before finding freshman guard Dylan Andrews spotting up behind the arc on the left wing with plenty of space in front of him.
Andrews’ shot went up and immediately sliced right, ricocheting off the rim and into the waiting hands of Tubelis. He took the ball and ran to center court in celebration, the victor of his second consecutive Pac-12 championship.
“Wide-open shot to win the game,” Cronin said. “Is what it is.”
The Bruins had led for most of the second half, responding every time the Wildcats threw a punch. Seventeen times the lead changed, though UCLA was in front 58-57 at the start of the stretch run.
The punch it couldn’t recover from, however, came next.
Guard Courtney Ramey’s step-back 3 over redshirt freshman guard Will McClendon with 16 seconds to go proved to be the difference. The shot put Arizona up by two, 60-58, before Campbell’s and Andrews’ ensuing misses.
Ramey pushed off with his right arm before stepping back, a move Cronin said should have been whistled for an offensive foul.
“My takeaway is: Offensive foul not called, they hit a 3,” Cronin said.
Freshman guard Amari Bailey led the way for the blue and gold with 19 points, with Campbell close behind at 16 and Jaquez at 13. The three non-injured starters all played more than 37 minutes, with Bailey eclipsing his career high.
The Bruins will have at least four days off before they next step on the court for the NCAA Tournament.
“We’re looking to get home to get some rest,” Cronin said.