TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Arizona struggled early, rallied and dug another big hole.
The Wildcats scratched their way back by getting gritty, turning their Pac-12 home finale against UCLA into a desert version of a street fight.
Oumar Ballo had 17 points and 13 rebounds, Pelle Larsson scored 22 points and No. 12 Arizona rallied from a 19-point deficit to beat UCLA 77-71 on Saturday in the rivals' final Pac-12 game at McKale Center.
“The game literally fighting to eight hours for me,” Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said. “You don’t not necessarily want your team to be in that position, but when you’re in that position you've got to take advantage of it and our guys did today. I think it was a great experience.”
The Wildcats (14-4, 5-2 Pac-12) labored offensively against one of the nation's best defenses while falling into a 32-13 hole midway through the first half.
Arizona trailed by 13 midway through the second half before rallying behind full-court pressure. Making every UCLA possession a struggle, the Wildcats used an 12-2 run to pull within 55-52 and kept up the pressure.
Larsson scored on a putback with 52 seconds left and Ballo hit two free throws after Arizona survived three straight UCLA offensive rebounds to secure the hard-fought win.
“It was a really gritty win, a character win,” Larsson said. “We have things we can do better — we shouldn't be down like that at home.”
The Bruins (8-11, 3-5) got off to stellar start in their final desert trip before leaving for the Big Ten next season. The Pac-12's worst 3-point shooting team, UCLA used the arc to trigger a dominating first half, scoring 13 straight points as part of a larger run while building a 19-point lead.
Sebastian Mack scored 16 of his 21 points in the second half to lead UCLA and Lazar Stefanovic added 17.
“We were able to pass and move and run offense in the first half,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said. “Then the game became an unofficiated street fight, and we had to spread it out and drive the ball. We couldn’t throw a pass.”
Shooting 29% from 3 on the season, the Bruins opened with 6 of 9 from the arc, including a 3 for 3 start by Stefanovic. Sparked by its perimeter shooting, UCLA went on 17-2 run to go up 32-13 as the Wildcats struggled offensively for the third straight game.
Arizona had a hard time getting good looks, missed numerous shots around the rim and had a scoring drought of more than 3 1/2 minutes during UCLA’s big run.
Then Arizona flipped a defensive switch.
Everything that had come easy for the Bruins suddenly became hard. UCLA went more than 5 1/2 minutes without hitting a field goal and Arizona went on an 11-1 run to pull within 37-28 by halftime.
“It was really smart on their part because we were winning a clean game, so they just went they just went and made it a whole grab fest,” Cronin said.
Arizona freshman guard KJ Lewis had 11 combined points the previous three games, including 16 minutes against Utah without taking a shot. He had a bigger offensive role against UCLA, finishing with 13 points and four rebounds while playing stellar defense.
“KJ helped us in every facet,” Lloyd said. “I thought he played awesome and I’m really proud of him because it hasn’t been coming easy for him the past few games.”
UCLA: The Bruins have had trouble closing out games and let another one slip away in their last trip to McKale Center as a Pac-12 team.
Arizona: A shaky start to both halves threatened to put the Wildcats in the crosshairs of an upset. They managed to pull it out behind their defense, which sparked the offense and the boisterous McKale Center crowd.
UCLA: Plays at Southern California next Saturday.
Arizona: Plays at Oregon State on Thursday.
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