LAS VEGAS — UCLA went into the season with the uncertainty that comes with a new coach. The Bruins suffered their share of setbacks, a notable one just a week earlier.
Once the Pac-12 tournament got rolling, the Bruins took off.
Now, after trading body blows with one of the nation’s best defensive teams, UCLA takes home a Pac-12 championship in its first season under Steve Alford.
Outlasting one of the best closing teams in basketball, UCLA knocked off No. 4 Arizona 75-71 in the conference tournament final Saturday.
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“We’ve got an edge to us now, it’s a lot of fun,” Alford said. “To win a championship means a lot to us.”
They definitely earned this one, emerging from a battle of the Pac-12’s best teams that featured big plays, big blows and floor burns.
The Wildcats locked UCLA down in the second half after an offensive show in the first. The Bruins (26-8) countered by doing the same thing to Arizona down the stretch, and then made the big plays to finish it off.
UCLA point guard Kyle Anderson was at his best, finishing with 21 points, 15 rebounds and five assists. Jordan Adams made a big three-pointer with 45 seconds left and scored 19 points. Norman Powell scored 15 points and combined with David Wear to hit four free throws in the final five seconds.
“This gives us the confidence that we not only play with anybody, but beat anybody,” Alford said. “But you’ve got to get hot and stay hot.”
Arizona (30-4) started flat defensively, clawed back behind its offense and shut down the Bruins through most of the second half. The Wildcats were unable to finish it off for one of the rare times this season, hurt by 10 missed free throws and questionable shot selection down the stretch.
Nick Johnson led Arizona with 22 points and Kaleb Tarczewski added 12. Aaron Gordon had 11 points, eight rebounds and eight assists for the Wildcats, who may have lost out on a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
“We lost a game we could have won,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “Jordan Adams hit a great shot and I believe some of the things we learned in today’s game will better serve us for the biggest prize, why we all do this, and that’s to hopefully advance next week in the NCAA tournament.”