As hot as UCLA shot in the first half of its 72-70 win over Arizona State on Thursday, hitting 83 percent from the field and 80 percent from behind the 3-point line, the Bruins discovered how the other half lives on Saturday morning at Pauley Pavilion against Arizona.
Apparently, the other half lives in a desolate wasteland of sorrow, no sun creeping through the clouds, dreary, bleak, cold.
UCLA slept through the first half of a 77-63 loss to the Wildcats, only awakening to take off-balance shots, hitting just 5-of-24 from the field for 20.8 percent.
Sophomore guard Malcolm Lee blamed it on the 10 a.m. start: “We weren’t prepared.”
Head coach Ben Howland blamed it on shot selection: “We were so sped up that it really hurt us.”
Senior forward Nikola Dragovic didn’t know what to blame: “It was shocking. I thought we were open.”
They were not.
While Arizona State played a zone defense and could not handle the Bruins’ screen-and-slips – Dragovic was especially effective, hitting all five of his 3-pointers in the first half on Thursday – the Wildcats had no such problem in their man-to-man defense. Arizona, which won at Pauley Pavilion for the first time since 2004-05, hedged UCLA’s screens around the perimeter and aggressively attacked the Bruin shooters, forcing hurried shots with little opening.
“We were taking quick, rushed shots,” Howland said. “We were forcing shots, instead of being patient and letting shots come to us. A number of those shots from the perimeter, the defense sped us up. You have to be able to play slow on offense and read things. … They were in man to man almost the whole game, but they were just hard-hedging. They really came out and aggressively attacked the guy with the ball.”
The Wildcats were equally aggressive offensively.
Arizona (7-7, 1-1) scored 17 points off 15 UCLA turnovers, with guards Kyle Fogg and Nic Wise pushing the tempo. Fogg had a game-high 25 points, including 19 in the second half on 7-of-8 shooting, and Wise added eight points and five assists.
As the Wildcats quickly built their lead – a 14-13 Arizona advantage with 10 minutes, 46 seconds left in the first half became a 29-14 lead just under six minutes later – the Bruins (6-8, 1-1) wilted equally as fast. Shoulders slumped and chins drooped, while Howland shook his head and looked to the heavens, hoping for answers.
UCLA found none.
“We were physically ready, but our mindset wasn’t,” said Lee, who along with guard Michael Roll led the team with 15 points. “Better preparation would have made a better outcome. Getting up, getting loose, getting pumped. Last time we played early in the morning it was a bad game, too. We just have to be better prepared.”
Whether simply unprepared or just flat-out cold, UCLA was a different team on Saturday, shooting 40.8 percent for the game.
Against the Sun Devils, the Bruins led by as many as 16 points; on Saturday, UCLA led just once, two minutes into the game at 4-2.
“Contain and contest – they put a show on early (against Arizona State); I know Dragovic had about five threes in a row – so that was a huge point of emphasis for us,” said Arizona forward Jamelle Horne, who scored 17 points. “They were going to get their fair share of looks, we just wanted to make them difficult. The coaches say, ‘Do what we do,’ and that’s what we did. We always jump ball screens, we’re very aggressive on defense, and it paid off for us tonight.”
The Wildcats saw the Bruins’ bad body language and pounced, unwilling to relent. After UCLA cut the lead to 12 with 14:22 left to play, Arizona went on a 14-6 run over the next four minutes to stretch it back to 20.
“With 10 minutes left in the first half, we just saw all the momentum shift to our side,” said Wildcat forward Derrick Williams, who added 16 points and nine rebounds. “Even though it was their home game, we took it right from them.”