LOS ANGELES - Their Pac-12 title hopes all but flew out the shiny new glass doors of Pauley Pavilion on Saturday, but the Arizona Wildcats knew the damage was already done.
No. 11 Arizona's 74-69 loss at UCLA was the one game on the Wildcats' schedule that they were expected to lose when they entered conference play at 12-0.
To coach Sean Miller, it wasn't the real problem, even as the Wildcats showed some of the same early-half troubles that have doomed them throughout the conference season.
The problem was their losses at Colorado, to California at home, and most notably at USC on Wednesday in an 89-78 setback.
The Wildcats (23-6 overall and 11-6 in the Pac-12) are now in fourth place with just a home game remaining against ASU on March 9.
"If we finish 24-6 and 12-6, we look at ourselves and say, 'We missed the Pac-12 championship by a game' or whatever it becomes," Miller said. "But I don't think that was (because of) tonight's game. I think it was a couple of others."
Miller complimented the Wildcats from nearly recovering from UCLA's 12-0 run early in the second half, when Arizona cut it to three points after two straight three-pointers from Grant Jerrett. But he stopped short of terming it some sort of moral victory.
"By the way, we're disappointed," Miller said. "Because we set out a long time ago to win this conference. I think you guys that cover us know it's a matter of several plays right now that are preventing us from winning it."
The Wildcats have only a slim, mathematical chance to grab a share of the conference title.
For UA to finish in a first-place tie, the Wildcats would have to beat ASU, while UCLA and Oregon would both have to get swept on the road next weekend and Cal would have to lose to Stanford at home.
But the Pac-12 race is also so bunched up that the Wildcats may have to beat ASU at McKale Center next Saturday just to ensure they get one of the four first-round byes.
UCLA coach Ben Howland, meanwhile, said the Bruins "control their destiny now," which is true if they are aiming to share the conference title with the Ducks. But a tie with Oregon would leave the Bruins with the No. 2 Pac-12 tournament seed because the Ducks beat them in their only meeting of the season.
The Bruins are now tied with Oregon for first place at 12-4 as they improved to 22-7 overall. The Bruins will finish the regular season with the Washington road swing, while Oregon will play at Colorado and Utah.
In any case, the Bruins may have awakened their fan base, which set a record for the new Pauley Pavilion with 13,727 on hand Saturday night.
"This was a great win and a great crowd," Howland said. "It was awesome to have Pauley rocking and have the phenomenal support from our fans."
The newly renovated building was no more bubbly than during the opening moments of the second half, when UCLA expanded a 40-36 halftime lead to 52-38.
The Wildcats did themselves in with poor starts to both halves but the early second-half stumble was particularly costly. UCLA outscored the Wildcats 12-2 through the first five minutes of the second half. During that time, the Bruins made 5 of 8 shots, while UA made only 1 of 6 and turned the ball over twice.
"They really socked us in the mouth," UA guard Nick Johnson said.
Miller said the opening second-half segment was the difference in the game, though the Wildcats actually hurt themselves also at the beginning fo the game.
Early-half starts have been a problem for UA throughout conference play, and the Wildcats trailed 9-5 after five minutes of the game and turned the ball over five times. Overall in the first half, Arizona turned the ball over nine times and UCLA scored 11 points off them.
The first half was mostly dominated by UCLA's Kyle Anderson, who tore through Arizona for 15 points to help give the Bruins a 40-36 halftime lead. Anderson finished with 17 points and seven rebounds.
Larry Drew II, a senior transfer from North Carolina who was playing his final game at UCLA, had six assists in the first half for the Bruins. He finished with 14 points and 9 assists.
But after UA stumbled again in the second half, the Wildcats gradually worked their way back into the game. UCLA led by up to 14 points in the second half but a pair of three-pointers from Jerrett cut it to 72-69 entering the final minute.
The Bruins then lost the ball, giving UA the ball with 24 seconds left. But Mark Lyons drove down court, began to penetrate and pulled up for a 14-footer that missed.
"He went in the lane and really got a shot off," Miller said. "Maybe he got bumped, maybe he didn't. But if that goes in you're down one with a real unique opportunity. We tried to make a play and as you know, Mark's made quite a few of them."
After Lyons missed, UCLA had the ball with 10 seconds left before Shabazz Muhammad was fouled and hit both ends of a one-and-one to seal the Bruins' win.
Arizona left the building but left, at least, knowing that it could have been worse.
"I'm gonna keep telling you: I still hate losing," UA senior forward Kevin Parrom said. "But I can accept guys playing hard at the end of the game. Guys tried. And I'll take that. Guys battled. I can live with that."
• Who: ASU at No. 11 Arizona
• Where: McKale Center
• When: 2:30 p.m. Saturday
• TV: FSAZ
• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM, 990-AM (Spanish)