LAS VEGAS – The Arizona Wildcats found more Pac-12 Tournament heartbreak today, losing 75-71 to UCLA in the championship game before a rowdy, largely pro-UA crowd at the MGM Grand Garden.
UA shot just 37.5 percent from the free-throw line and missed the front ends of one-and-ones twice in the final four minutes, while UCLA’s Jordan Adams gave the Bruins a go-ahead three-pointer with 45 seconds left and the Bruins hung on from there.
The loss, UA’s third in the last four Pac-12 Tournament championship games, dropped the Wildcats to 30-4 but still probably in position to receive a No. 1 NCAA tournament seed when selections are announced Sunday at 3 p.m.
UA lost to Washington in the final of the 2010-11 Pac-10 Tournament, to Colorado in the final of the 2011-12 Pac-12 Tournament and also lost to UCLA in the semifinals of last year's event.
UCLA improved to 26-8, having avenged the Wildcats' 79-75 win at Pauley Pavilion on Jan. 9.
Arizona's Nick Johnson led all scorers with 22 points, while UCLA's Kyle Anderson had 22 points, 11 rebounds and five assists. The Bruins shot 43 percent overall while outrebounding UA 38-37; Arizona shot 45.9 percent.
The Wildcats trailed by 11 points early in the game, but cut it to three at the half and stayed close throughout the second half before the game entered a dizzying final two minutes.
After Nick Johnson missed the front end of a one-and-one with two minutes left, T.J. McConnell lost the ball toward the end of the shot clock, but UCLA turned the ball over on its ensuing possession.
Then Rondae Hollis-Jefferson turned the ball over inside with 54 seconds, and UCLA responded with the three from Adams with 45 seconds that gave the Bruins a 71-68 lead.
The Wildcats hurt themselves by hitting just 6 of 16 free throws (37.5 percent) while UCLA made 21 of 25.
Arizona held the Bruins to just 1 of 5 shots over the first four minutes of the second half and tied the game at 46 and 48.
The Wildcats went on to keep UCLA to just 33.3 percent shooting over the first 10 minutes of the second half and the game stayed within a basket for much of the second half. But the Wildcats missed their first five three-pointers after halftime before they received two threes from Johnson and another from T.J. McConnell to take a 64-62 lead with 7:06 left.
In the first half, UCLA went over and through Arizona’s previously stiff defense to shoot 58.1 percent and take a 43-40 halftime lead.
The Bruins, who managed to penetrate the UA defense for 22 first-half points in the paint, took leads of up to 11 points, though the Wildcats cut it to one late in the half.
Kyle Anderson and Norman Powell each had 11 points in the half to lead UCLA while Gabe York led the Wildcats with nine points off the bench, not starting for the first time since Feb. 14.
The Wildcats, who had kept previous Pac-12 Tournament opponents Utah and Colorado under 30-percent shooting, pulled within five points twice midway through the half but couldn’t keep the Bruins from driving to the basket.
But not long after UCLA went ahead 29-18 on a three-pointer from Kyle Anderson with 9:25 to go, the Wildcats went on an 11-2 run to cut the Bruins’ lead to 33-31 with 3:33 left in the half.
Aaron Gordon hit a free throw to cut UCLA’s lead to 33-32 but the Bruins then scored four straight, taking advantage of an inbounding turnover by Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who stepped over the baseline.
Nick Johnson hit an 18-foot jumper with two seconds remaining in the half to pull UA within three.
UA started Hollis-Jefferson in place of York, something the Wildcats hadn’t done since they lost at ASU on Feb. 14, but the move did not pay off.
Arizona fell behind 14-3 early, making just 1 of 6 shots and turning the ball over three times in the first five minutes. As it turned out, the Wildcats didn’t close the game up somewhat until York came off the bench and hit two threes, while Elliott Pitts hit another, to help pull UA within 19-14.
The Wildcats lost to UCLA three times last season, including in the semifinals of the Pac-12 Tournament, but beat them 79-75 at Pauley Pavilion this season. They did not return the game to McKale Center because of the Pac-12’s unbalanced schedule.