Ben Howland raced out onto the McKale Center court less than a minute into the second half, wearing a look of pure, unadulterated disgust.
He didn’t walk onto the court, he stomped onto it, equal parts frustrated and angry, and with good reason.
A five-point Arizona half-time lead turned into 10 in the first 40 seconds of the second half, and UCLA was on the ropes.
The Bruins swayed a bit, mustered a couple punches in return, but ultimately could not recover in an 85-74 loss that snaps a four-game winning streak.
“We were down five at the half, and then they score five unanswered to go up, and it was (Derrick Williams) both times,” Howland said. “Maybe I should’ve started Anthony Stover in the second half.”
Stover, Joshua Smith, Reeves Nelson, Brendan Lane, it wouldn’t have mattered.
Williams was a force in the post and on the perimeter for the streaking Wildcats, who’ve won five of six, scoring 22 points on 7-of-10 shooting.
Starting Stover for the third straight game, Howland decided to go with Smith in the second half.
The decision did not pay dividends.
“They took advantage of his mismatch with Josh,” said Nelson, who had a game-high 24 points in 30 minutes before fouling out with about three minutes left. “He’s really a four man, and a big guy like Josh – and it’s nothing against Josh – it’s just hard for him to guard a guy like Derrick who’s skilled like that. It started with that, and after that they got confidence and hit open shots. They put on a show.
“They shot 52 percent, and that’s all you really need to say.”
Well, no, there’s more.
The Wildcats did not just shoot well, they drove to the lane with ruthless ease. Perhaps the
Bruins should swap mascots with Cal State Northridge. UCLA ole’d Arizona all night, letting guards Lamont Jones and Kyle Fogg waltz into the paint.
Jones had 17 points, nine more than his season average, while adding three steals and three assists, and Fogg had 14, including 12-of-14 free-throw shooting.
The Bruins suffered from a lack of defensive communication as the mismatched Arizona lineup toyed with their rotations and help defense. Many times, the Wildcats were left impeded in the post or open on the perimeter, particularly in the second half, when they shot 61 percent.
“We just got sped up,” Smith said. “We let little things get in our head, let the crowd get in our head, let the refs get in our head. We didn’t play the right way.”
That goes for the UCLA offense, as well.
When Nelson picked up his fourth foul with 11:48 left in the game, he had eight field goals. The rest of the team to that point? Eight field goals.
Nelson shot 10-of-12 for the game; the rest of the Bruins shot 14-for-46.
They were particularly porous from long range, hitting just two-of-15 3-pointers.
“We have to focus more on what we can control, instead of worrying about bad calls or running things wrong,” said point guard Lazeric Jones, who finished 0-for-7 for zero points but added six assists. “We have to play our game. If we can stay mentally tough, I think we’d
play a lot better.
“We just have to let things flow more; sometimes we’re running too many plays instead of using our basketball minds.”
Jones was involved in the game’s other big swing, as he was called for a technical foul for elbowing Fogg in the face on a loose ball.
Fogg got four free throws – hitting all four – and Arizona got the ball back, though they could not capitalize on the possession.
“They made it a little more than what it really was; me and Fogg were cool,” Jones said. “I apologized to him during the game. It really was nothing blatant, I’m just an aggressive player. If someone’s falling on me, I’m just trying to get them off me. It really wasn’t malicious or anything like that.”
The Wildcats sure responded angrily, however, stretching an eight-point lead before the foul to an 18-point lead just four minutes later, the Bruins’ biggest deficit of the season.
“It was real hard,” said UCLA sophomore small forward Tyler Honeycutt, after finihshing just 1-for-8 from the field. “We try to tell ourselves not to give up and we played hard at the end. I always thought the game was winnable so we kept trying to push it and get stops and force turnovers.”