With 38 seconds remaining Thursday night, UCLA coach Steve Alford asked someone on the scorer’s table how many timeouts remained for the Bruins.
Maybe Alford was tempted to continue the tit-for-tat series of reprisals that Arizona and UCLA inflicted on one another a year ago. Or maybe he just wanted to know if he could call for a tee time.
Perhaps the Bruins coach could get in a few holes Friday morning, time usually given to game-planning and damage control after a night at McKale Center.
To the shock of 14,644 people, including Governor Doug Ducey, Arizona was a movable object. The Wildcats did their best impression of Washington State, losing 82-74 at McKale.
“We had such a good flow,” said Alford, who rarely scores well in coach-of-the-year rankings. “We made it very difficult on them.”
The governor and his security patrol excused themselves from the proceedings after UCLA took a 66-51 lead and Arizona came off as a high school JV team playing against a zone defense for the first time in their lives.
But it wasn’t Arizona’s offensive struggles that infused the Bruins with new life in the Pac-12 race. It was Arizona’s inability to guard UCLA effectively in the paint, on the 3-point line, in transition and wherever else the ball went.
UCLA averaged 1.18 points per possession, and if you don’t follow the metrics, that’s historically good. Or, if you’re Arizona, historically bad.
Of the 351 teams in Division I basketball, a defense giving up 1.18 points per possession in a game ranks No. 347. Maryland Eastern-Shore and USC-Upstate are two of the four worse.
That’s how far Arizona has fallen.
If this No ‘D’ stuff continues, Arizona is apt to find itself a No. 8 seed playing in Omaha in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
UA coach Sean Miller kicked up some dust Monday when he referred to his defense in unflattering terms, saying, among other things, “With our defense, (UCLA and USC) could put up 100 on us. Both teams.”
The Bruins didn’t get close to 100 because the game was so mechanical. Arizona labored from start to finish, dropping dozens of routine passes, and looking bewildered when the Bruins’ 1-2-2 zone defense made it almost impossible for Deandre Ayton to get an open shot.
Ayton missed 12 of his 19 attempts, his worst shooting percentage this season, and unlike most McKale Center victims, the Bruins were not lured into fouling him, or Allonzo Trier, who, strangely did not attempt a free throw.
That’s Arizona’s game. Beating you at the foul line in Tucson.
“It’s crazy,” said UCLA guard Aaron Holiday, the best player on the floor with 17 points and eight assists. “Trier didn’t get to the foul line. Doesn’t he lead the Pac-12 in that?”
It’s true. Trier had 151 attempts entering Thursday’s game but the Bruins were so effective they only committed 16 fouls. Oregon committed 29 at McKale a few weeks ago.
Miller’s post-game analysis came off as a coach lecturing at a clinic.
“It is up to us to continue to work and improve,” he said. “Our guys have to be able to guard the ball, and move, think, and play together. As the season progresses and we play teams that are as gifted as UCLA is on offense, it can really expose us. And they did.”
Let’s see a show of hands: Unless you work for Rivals.com or the Pac-12 Networks, had you ever heard of UCLA freshman guard Jaylen Hands before Thursday?
He’s a remarkable prospect and if he stays at UCLA for another year or two, he’ll likely be an all-Pac-12 player. But until Thursday, Hands was shooting 41 percent and was just another guy.
When the Bruins opened by missing their first six 3-point shots — leading by just 35-33 with 54 seconds before halftime — Hands had two points.
And then in what turned out to be 54 fatal seconds, Hands swished three consecutive 3-balls, each one deeper than the one before. He scored nine points in 54 seconds. Arizona didn’t even put a hand in his face.
The game was never the same, and now, Arizona isn’t likely to be the same, either.
The Pac-12 championship? C’mon. The Wildcats still have to play at Arizona State and at the Oregon schools. They still have to play USC. If they go 2-2 in those four games it might be considered an upset.
“Right now we are 9-3 and tied with USC for first place, but it doesn’t feel that way,” Miller said. “Our effort has gone down a different path, especially defensively.
“Between switching ball screens and playing the 2-3 zone and mixing in a press, I was in search of answers.”
Have you ever heard the coach of the nation’s 13th-ranked team say something like that?
Unless you go back to the dreadful Kevin O’Neill year, or the transition from Lute Olson to Russ Pennell’s team, or the night Jimmer Fredette scored 49 at McKale when Miller was building Arizona into a top-10 program, there is virtually nothing dating to 1984 to compare to Thursday’s collapse.
If nothing else, the Wildcats were always spirited even when out-manned. But on Thursday it was as if they didn’t even put up any resistance.
A few minutes before tipoff, in the UA’s blood-pumping pre-game video, Miller gave the same message he has given in those videos for years.
“This is Arizona,” he said.
But on Thursday, it wasn’t an Arizona we’ve seen for a long, long time.