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Jalen Hill ripped the ball away from a defender underneath the basket, rising in one fluid motion for a putback in which he was fouled.
The sophomore forward turned toward the UCLA bench and roared in celebration, another play having gone his team’s way in a game heavily tilting in the Bruins’ favor.
It was part of an epic run that prompted some Arizona fans to start vacating the McKale Center with five minutes left and their team down by 15 points.
UCLA held on for a most unlikely 65-52 victory over No. 23 Arizona on Saturday, its third consecutive triumph on the home court of its biggest Pac-12 Conference rival.
The Bruins (13-11, 6-5 Pac-12) won with tenacious defense and heady play in their half-court offense, countering every Wildcats surge with a bigger one of their own.
It was UCLA’s 14-0 run starting midway through the second half that transformed a one-point game into a rout. It started with Chris Smith’s turnaround jumper and continued with Jules Bernard making a steal and hitting two free throws after getting fouled on a breakaway layup. Tyger Campbell then banked in a tough floater and Hill powered in for a layup off the glass before Hill pulled down his offensive rebound that triggered his emphatic celebration as part of a three-point play.
But the Bruins weren’t done. David Singleton made a three-pointer from the corner, giving his team a 59-44 lead and sending a trickle of fans toward the exits.
Those who remained took out their frustrations on the Wildcats, who shot only 25.4%, including 20.7% in the second half, when they missed all 12 of their three-point tries. After one point-blank miss in the final minutes, a fan yelled, “My grandma could have made that!”
Arizona even started missing free throws late in the game, bricking two in a row after having made its first 16 from the line.
Smith finished with 15 points and Campbell added 12 for the Bruins, who shot 59.1% in the second half and 51.1% for the game.
UCLA coach Mick Cronin pointed at a group of fans that included Bruins athletic director Dan Guerrero on his way off the court following the most impressive victory of his first season, and several players slapped hands with fans who leaned over a railing as they gleefully raced toward the locker room.
The Bruins were in position for the upset early in the second half after freshman guard Jaime Jaquez Jr. stole an inbounds pass and made two free throws after getting fouled on a breakaway layup, putting his team ahead 38-30. The lead grew to 45-36 after Smith buried a turnaround jumper, but then the flurry of blunders began.
Arizona went on an 8-0 run, pulling within 45-44, before the Bruins finally countered with their own massive push to give them the 15-point lead.
Zeke Nnaji scored 14 points for Arizona (16-7, 6-4), which had won its previous three games.
UCLA had made itself at home here in its last two trips to the McKale Center, beating the Wildcats each time. There were happy memories of Bruins backup forward GG Goloman outplaying NBA lottery pick DeAndre Ayton exactly two years ago Saturday in the last meeting between the teams, and UCLA’s Bryce Alford sinking the clinching free throw a year earlier that made it a miserable sendoff for Kadeem Allen in the senior night festivities that followed the game.
The Bruins did not play here last year as part of the Pac-12’s unbalanced schedule.
The scrappy play in the first half made it seem like old times for Cronin and Arizona counterpart Sean Miller, who have a long history of hard-fought games against one another. It was their first meeting since 2008, when Cronin coached Cincinnati and Miller was in charge at Xavier before departing for Arizona in 2009. Cronin continued to guide the Bearcats until taking the UCLA job in April.
The coaches shared some pleasantries and pats on the shoulder before the game. Then the Bruins went out and delivered a defensive effort worthy of Cronin’s best teams.
UCLA held Arizona without a field goal for more than 7½ minutes late in the first half as the Wildcats missed 10 consecutive shots before Josh Green buried an open corner three-pointer.
The Bruins kept the pace to their liking and got a big early lift from their two fifth-year seniors, with guard Prince Ali contributing two three-pointers off the bench in the first half and Alex Olesinski making one of his own while playing tenacious defense.
Hill came off the bench after returning from the sprained right knee that had sidelined him during the Bruins’ loss to Arizona State on Thursday. His presence was immediately palpable when Nnaji flung an awkward shot over Hill’s outstretched arms that missed.