The Arizona Wildcats played the kind of game Saturday that, just a month or two ago, they probably would have lost.
In a 65-63 win over UCLA at McKale Center, the Wildcats struggled to shoot well. They had trouble containing big men. They turned the ball over again, and they nearly kicked away a six-point lead in the final 53 seconds.
They also did not appear to have luck on their side. UCLA's Tyler Lamb scooped up a loose ball and banked in a 25-footer with 6:28 left that gave the Bruins a four-point lead.
It was just a month ago that Washington's Tony Wroten, known for driving much more than long-range shooting, poured in a similarly shocking bomb at McKale - and the Huskies held on to win that game 69-67.
"You could play five seasons and not have a ball go in like that," UA coach Sean Miller said. "Two went in against us. When that happens, you start to say, 'Well, maybe it's not our day.'"
But it was. It was Senior Day at McKale, the final regular-season home game ever for seniors Kyle Fogg and Jesse Perry, whose competitive drives have never been questioned no matter what their production has been.
They weren't about to let this one go easily. Fogg had 20 points and nine rebounds, while helping limit UCLA leading scorer Lazeric Jones to just 1-for-12 shooting, and Perry had 16 points and eight rebounds.
"I just wanted badly to go out with a win since I'll never be playing here again," Fogg said.
It's actually still possible Fogg could play an NIT home game at McKale Center next month, but the Wildcats took another big step away from that possibility Saturday. The win moved UA to 21-9 overall and 12-5 in the Pac-12, in better shape for an NCAA tournament at-large bid and also with a much greater likelihood of earning one of the Pac-12 tournament's top four seeds and thus a critical first-round bye in the conference tournament.
The Wildcats remain in a three-way tie in the loss column for third place with Colorado and Oregon but the Ducks and Buffaloes have three games each remaining while UA has just one game left, on March 4 at ASU.
"Our main focus is finishing out strong, and putting ourselves in the best position for seeding in the Pac-12 tournament," junior guard Solomon Hill said. "Maybe we can do some things that will shine some light on us. Maybe get an automatic bid (by winning the Pac-12 tournament). It's not really over."
On Saturday, the Wildcats had a regionally televised CBS spotlight and an overcapacity crowd of 14,724 on hand that spent more time on its feet than in the seats Saturday. It was the fifth-largest crowd in McKale Center history, and perhaps the loudest of the season.
"It was crazy," Perry said. "Definitely crazy."
If anything, Fogg and company may have wanted the game too much. Especially against UCLA's slow pace, the Wildcats struggled to find a rhythm early, shooting just 32 percent from the field in the first half while leading just 27-26 at halftime.
Then Fogg, who made just 1 of 7 field goal attempts in the first half, also had trouble at the free-throw line when it mattered most. Fogg had hit eight of his first nine free throws, but missed 2 of 4 in the final 12 seconds to leave the game open for UCLA to win or tie.
It was nearly the opposite feeling Fogg had two years earlier, when he hit 3 of 3 free throws to tie the regular-season finale against USC in the final seconds before then-senior Nic Wise won the game at the end of two overtimes.
"I've been in that situation a lot," Fogg said. "I missed two, and that could have cost us the game. It's on me to knock them down. Guys put their trust in me at the end of the game."
But Fogg also made plays down the stretch that put the Wildcats in a position to win in the first place. He drove the baseline past foul-stricken Josh Smith to make a layup that cut UCLA's lead to 53-52 with 4:41 left, hit two free throws to give UA a lead for good, 54-53, with 4:06 left, and also nailed a three-pointer with 53 seconds left to give the Wildcats a 63-57 lead.
Not surprisingly, it was Perry who set one of the screens for Fogg's three-pointer, and dished the assist to him.
Earlier, Perry also made a layup with 2:02 left to give UA a 60-55 lead and, throughout the game, he had to deal with the skilled 6-10 UCLA twins, David and Travis Wear, as well as the 300-pound-plus Smith.
"He's probably, what? A hundred fifty, 200 pounds more than me?" said the 6-7 Perry, who is listed at 217 pounds. "It's definitely a challenge, but I was up for the challenge."
Although Smith was efficient offensively, banking in shots the Wildcats simply could not guard, he wasn't in the game long enough to be a major factor. Smith played just 14 minutes with foul trouble, collecting nine points and five rebounds.
Perry, meanwhile, logged 33 minutes, adding a block and two assists to help brighten the mood for postgame Senior Day ceremonies.
When it was all over, Perry toted his 9-month-old daughter, Madison, while soaking up a postgame ceremony that honored senior managers Aaron Levine, David Miller and Tyler Tatum as well as Fogg, Perry, Brendon Lavender, Alex Jacobson and Dondre Wise.
Although Lavender made only 1 of 5 three-point shots Saturday, his late-season surge helped earn him starts on Thursday against USC and on Saturday, when Nick Johnson came off the bench instead. And while Wise's help has been more behind-the-scenes, Jacobson also made an appearance earlier in the game, matching up with Smith.
Together, the seniors didn't just help UA win Saturday's game.
They also became family.
"I knew this day was going to come," Perry said. "But I wasn't going to go out there and cry, or nothing like that. It was definitely emotional. It was almost like you created a brotherhood with your teammates, growing closer and closer. Just being here at McKale, here, with the fans, and how much support they showed, it's kind of hard to leave in an environment like that."
• Who: Arizona at ASU
• When: 1:30 p.m. March 4
• TV: FSAZ