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Double-digit lead dissipates as UCLA men’s basketball falls to Arizona

Sebastian Mack rises with the ball. The freshman guard had 21 points in UCLA men’s basketball’s loss to Arizona on Saturday, with 16 of those coming in the second half. (Nicolas Greamo/Daily Bruin senior staff)

Men’s basketball


UCLA71
No. 12 Arizona77

By Lauryn Olina Wang

Jan. 20, 2024 5:02 p.m.

Déjà vu dawned on the desert.

One team, attempting a double-digit comeback, inched closer and closer to a tie.

Courtesy of a technical foul, it would get the chance to knot the contest at the charity stripe.

But this time, it wouldn’t be the Bruins achieving the come-from-behind triumph.

Once up 19 points in the first half and 17 points in the second, UCLA men’s basketball (8-11, 3-5 Pac-12) ultimately relinquished its advantage over No. 12 Arizona (14-4, 5-2) in McKale Center on Saturday afternoon, falling 77-71. During the late-game collapse, the Bruins allowed 23 second-half free throw attempts as the Wildcats surmounted the improbable and completed their largest comeback since 2013. 

“It’s hard to win a game when the other team shoots 23 free throws in the second half,” coach Mick Cronin told reporters after the game. “The team that’s losing usually has to play harder to catch up. When you have the double-figure deficit, you’re the one that’s going to get the fouls. You’re the one denying, grabbing, holding, trying to scratch and claw to get back in the game – not the winning team.”

When junior guard Lazar Stefanovic was called for a foul on a fast break with six minutes to play, Cronin uttered a shower of expletives to the officials.

The fifth-year coach, unable to cool off, drew a technical foul – likening the game to Wednesday’s where Arizona State’s four technicals enabled UCLA to chip away at its double-digit deficit. 

But Saturday, the Bruins possessed a tenuous 60-56 lead before watching it slip away with the help of the two extra free throws.  

UCLA then emerged from the flurry of free throws on Sebastian Mack’s back.

In his first run in the raucous McKale Center, the freshman executed a three-point play to take the lead back. The Bruins would continue finding the guard to orchestrate his drive-by offense and get to the foul line. 

“It was really smart on their part, because we were winning a clean game, so they just went and made it a hold- and grab-fest, and we couldn’t run any offense,” Cronin said. “All we had was Sebastian, at that point, to drive hard, because nobody else could drive the ball for us.”

Junior guard Lazar Stefanovic holds the ball during a game. Stefanovic had 17 points and eight rebounds against the Wildcats. (Nicolas Greamo/Daily Bruin senior staff)

The two programs traded baskets, but what should have been a guaranteed putback for redshirt fifth-year forward/center Kenneth Nwuba instead ricocheted off the rim and into the hands of guard Pelle Larsson.

The play shifted the favor to Arizona, which earned its first lead since the opening basket of the game off of a three-point play at the 4:14 mark.

The culprit?

None other than the antagonist of UCLA’s Sweet 16 nightmares two years ago. North Carolina transfer and guard Caleb Love buoyed the Wildcats with a three-point play in transition as the home squad took a 67-65 lead.

“They were more aggressive, and we kind of backed up instead of going at them,” Stefanovic said. “I think that’s why we – and we didn’t pass much – that’s why our shooting percentage went down.”

After sophomore forward/center Adem Bona fouled out with 1:51 remaining, Arizona again capitalized from the charity stripe to make it a two-possession game. Stefanovic crashed the glass on the ensuing play for an offensive board and made both free throws after getting fouled.

Then, a layup from Larsson helped the home squad once again gain a four-point lead, and late-game efforts from the Bruins proved futile.

With 40 seconds to play, UCLA attempted four consecutive 3-pointers after repeated offensive rebounds and a jump ball that afforded it the ball back. Stefanovic attempted a pair, as did Mack.

But after going 6-of-9 from deep in the first half, no one could come up in the clutch.

Despite the final score, Mack said the road trip demonstrated to the Bruins that their ceiling is higher when they tap into their camaraderie.

“By the way we played, I feel like it made us closer as a family,” Mack said. “We’re not just a bunch of guys that are here to play – we’re a family, and if we mesh together, we’re damn good.”

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Lauryn Olina Wang | Sports senior staff
Wang is currently a Sports senior staff writer on the women’s basketball, men’s basketball, NIL and football beats. She was previously an assistant Sports editor on the women’s basketball, men’s soccer, men’s golf and track and field beats, reporter on the women’s basketball beat and contributor on the men’s and women’s golf beats. Wang is also a fourth-year history major and community engagement and social change minor.
Wang is currently a Sports senior staff writer on the women’s basketball, men’s basketball, NIL and football beats. She was previously an assistant Sports editor on the women’s basketball, men’s soccer, men’s golf and track and field beats, reporter on the women’s basketball beat and contributor on the men’s and women’s golf beats. Wang is also a fourth-year history major and community engagement and social change minor.
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