In the big picture, Sean Miller knows, there was really nothing to quibble about.

His Arizona Wildcats took over sole possession of second place in the Pac-10 before a national ESPN2 audience and rowdy, near-sellout crowd of 14,528 at McKale Center, already having won one more game than they did last season.

"We don't have a lot of opportunities" on ESPN networks, Miller said. "And that coupled with the fact that you're playing UCLA. The competition with UCLA, we all know what's at stake. It's something we want to do, and it's not easy to do."

They took advantage of Thursday's opportunity with many of their best characteristics: mind-boggling elastic moves from Derrick Williams, productive point guard play from MoMo Jones and steady 12-of-14 free-throw shooting from Kyle Fogg, who missed a pair of late free throws at Washington State that could have cost the Wildcats that game.

There was only one complaint that Miller really had, and only because it could foreshadow something much, much worse. Although the Wildcats led UCLA by 18 points in the second half, they never put the Bruins completely away, continually letting their leads slip into the single digits thanks in part to defensive lapses.

"You're not going to give up conventional-and-ones (three-point plays). You're going to continue to play hard," Miller said. "Three times we were up big, and we didn't know who we had (to guard).

"All those things are going to set us up for a big fat loss down the stretch."

Such a loss could come as early as Saturday, when the Wildcats will face rugged and defensive-minded USC, a 63-61 winner at ASU on Thursday. Or they could come next week, when the Wildcats travel to face Stanford and California.

But for Thursday, there was nothing but a positive buzz inside McKale, which had a nearly full student section full of personality and cardboard cutouts.

As usual, Williams fed the intensity with 22 splashy points and five rebounds, numbers that are actually average for him, but it was the manner in which he delivered that made an impact.

Williams threw down a variety of dunks and moves, including a bend-but-don't break rubberbandman slam in the first half, when he reached backward to catch an errant alley-oop pass and slammed it through the hoop. He also had a 360-degree blow-by of a UCLA defender and some (for him) routine tomahawk dunks.

"He's a finisher, he's talented, he's athletic - there's nothing more to say," Miller said. "He's one of the best players in the country. He's earned that."

Williams might have had more, but he sat out the last few minutes with a banged-up hand, according to Miller.

The win gave Arizona records of 6-2 in the Pac-10 and 17-4 overall, while also extending Arizona's homecourt winning streak to 14 games.

UCLA dropped to 13-7 and 5-3.

UCLA made just 2 of 15 three-pointers and 41.4 percent overall from the field, and turned the ball over 19 times. The Bruins did manage to out-rebound UA 35-30, though big man Josh Smith had only one board.

Williams was 7 of 10 from the field and 6 of 10 from the line.

Jones had 17 points and Fogg 14.

The Wildcats shot 52 percent from the field and hit 6 of 10 three-pointer attempts.

But the Bruins still managed to get powerful offensive production from Reeves Nelson, who was somewhat less showy but no less impactful. He had 24 points and 10 rebounds for the Bruins before he fouled out with 2:52 left.

Arizona took leads of up to 18 points midway through the second half though the Bruins cut the lead to 69-61 when Jerime Anderson made a three-pointer.

After taking a five-point lead at halftime, the Wildcats jumped off with a quick five points in the second half, getting a three-pointer from Williams and a jumper from Jesse Perry.

The Wildcats then went ahead 51-39 when Fogg hit all four free throws he took after Lazeric Jones was called for a technical foul while hitting him with an elbow at 17:05.

"I feel like we had it then but that was a big part of that game," Fogg said.

Solomon Hill pushed UA's lead to 54-41 with a three-pointer and another tomahawk dunk from Williams made it 60-44 with 14:21 left.

In the second half, UA center Alex Jacobson made his first appearance since Dec. 5 against Oklahoma, presumably because Kyryl Natyazhko has not been effective and UA needed another big body against Smith.

"Tree came in, and it was another big turnaround in the game," Fogg said. "He got a couple of big stops against Josh Smith, which we really didn't have an answer for. He's been working so hard in practice it's good the coaches gave him a chance."

Jacobson quickly had an offensive rebound and assist that led to a layup by Kevin Parrom, giving UA a 62-44 lead.

Arizona held off UCLA for a 38-33 lead at halftime despite the best efforts of Nelson.

UCLA entered the week uncertain whether Nelson (sprained ankle) and Smith (concussion) would play, though Smith was cleared Wednesday and Nelson earlier Thursday.


Up next

• Who: USC at Arizona

• When: 5:30 p.m. Saturday

• TV: FSAZ, Channel 58

• Radio:1290-AM, 107.5-FM, 990-AM (Spanish)