LOS ANGELES – After UCLA's Bryce Alford hit two free throws to give UCLA a one-point lead with 1:44 left Thursday, UA coach Sean Miller looked over at Nick Johnson.
“He said, `What play do you want?’ “ Johnson said. “So I told him. I knew Alford was smaller than me. I just snuck up in the middle. He went for a steal and I got in the open lane.”
Johnson wound up hitting a floater that gave UA a 71-70 lead with 1:27 left and the Wildcats never trailed again in their 79-75 victory.
The shot, along with Johnson’s 22 points and defensive effort against UCLA’s Jordan Adams, gave UA coach Sean Miller another chance to offer praise.
“Nick has really become a great player,” Miller said. “He plays three positions and guards the other team’s best player. I thought he did a good job of at least making it hard on Jordan. At the end of games, with his clutch shots and free-throw shooting, he’s grown, he’s matured. It’s fun to see.”
Miller and Johnson was just as enthusiastic about sophomore guard Gabe York, who hit three three-pointers in the first half and added the final two free throws of the game with 12 seconds left.
“We were winning at halftime because of him,” Miller said of York.
York’s three-pointers pretty much rendered UCLA’s zone defense as ineffective as anything else.
UA shot over 50 percent in both halves, getting 42 of its 79 points in the paint.
“I’m not surprised at all,” Johnson said of York. “We gave him all the confidence in the world, and he has all the confidence in the world. We want him when he gets open -- it doesn’t matter when it is in the shot clock -- to shoot the ball. We know he can change the game and that’s what he did. He also had a few huge passes and I think he also defended really well.”
Against the zone, Johnson added of York, “he’s gotta come in and change the game and that’s what he did.”
Apparently, he was confident. Among the words York said after the game:
“It came easy for me tonight."
Miller said UA’s nonconference scheduling helped the Wildcats pull off the win Thursday. They entered Pac-12 play having played four games away from McKale Center, plus a closed preseason scrimmage at St. Mary’s in which they struggled.
Their two true road games were close victories at San Diego State and Michigan.
The schedule is “everything,” Miller said. “We were in the same situation for all three of those (true road) games. So tonight, although it’s not easy, you’re more quick to deal with it for sure.”
For about the first 35 minutes of the game, the Wildcats played as well as they have this season defensively. But Miller wasn’t wild about the fact that UCLA grabbed 10 offensive rebounds in the first half, and 16 for the game.
Overall, UA outrebounded UCLA only 37-36, well under the plus-12.0 averaging rebounding margin the Wildcats entered the game with.
“I thought we defended UCLA really good,” Miller said. “The one thing I give them credit for is they really hurt us on the offensive glass. That was a surprise to us and something we’ve done very well. It isn’t necessarily a strength of theirs but tonight it was.
“If we would have done a better job of defensive rebounding, the game wouldn’t have come down to a final play. One of the reasons they were in it was the number of second shots they got.
“So that’s one thing for sure from this game we’ll take with us and hopefully be better off on Sunday.”
The L.A. Daily News says it seemed like old times at Pauley.
Here's the official box score.
Around the rest of the Pac-12:
--ASU easily put away USC.
-- Oregon made it an improbable 12 straight losses to Cal.
-- Eric Moreland came alive in his third game back from a suspension to lead Oregon State past Stanford.