By BETH HARRIS
Arizona took its lumps against UCLA last season, losing three times to its Pac-12 rival. Those defeats stuck in the minds of the Wildcats, especially when they let a commanding lead slip away in the latest matchup.
Nick Johnson scored 22 points and the top-ranked Wildcats withstood UCLA’s late 15-1 run to beat the Bruins 79-75 Thursday night, equaling the best start in school history at 16-0.
“We’re undefeated and we’ll keep it like that if we can keep churning out wins and not worry about who our opponent is or how special it is, and just play our game,” Johnson said.
The Wildcats (3-0 Pac-12) blew a 13-point lead with 6:16 to play and committed a season-worst 17 turnovers. UCLA shot 41 percent in the second half against a team that had been holding opponents to 36 percent in the final 20 minutes.
“Losing to them three times last year definitely made us more hungry,” said Gabe York, who had 12 points. “None of us forgot that.”
Johnson added: “It was definitely a chip on my shoulder.”
Kaleb Tarczewski made all six of his field goal attempts and scored a career-high 16 points for the Wildcats in the lone regular-season meeting between the longtime conference powers.
The 1931-32 Wildcats also began the season 16-0.
“Our common goal is to get to the national championship,” York said. “We don’t really talk about it. We take it one game at a time and I think that’s what’s giving us a great record right now.”
Freshman Zach LaVine hit a 3-pointer that got UCLA to 77-75 with 15 seconds left, but he missed another one with 2 seconds to go that would have left the Bruins down one.
“We knew they were going to make their run,” Johnson said. “We couldn’t blow them out really, but we just tried to respond when they made their run and we did.”
Kyle Anderson had 16 points and 11 rebounds, and Jordan Adams added 12 points and a career-high 11 rebounds for the Bruins (12-3, 1-1). They haven’t beaten a top-ranked team since March 13, 2003, when they took down Arizona in overtime in the Pac-12 tournament.
UCLA’s other two losses came against Missouri and Duke.
“Being down to a very good team, we did a good job of fighting back,” Anderson said. “I’m not one for moral victories, but we did fight hard.”
Buoyed by loud chants of “U of A” in sold-out Pauley Pavilion, the Wildcats pulled away to a 12-point lead midway through the second half after UCLA kept it close in the first 20 minutes. Arizona starters Aaron Gordon (16 points), Brandon Ashley (nine points) and T.J. McConnell (eight points) all played with four fouls in the second half.
Johnson’s dunk gave Arizona its largest lead of the game, 68-55.
That’s when the Bruins reeled off a 15-1 run, including 13 consecutive points, to take their last lead at 70-69.
Adams hit a 3-pointer for a 68-all tie. He, Anderson and Bryce Alford combined to outscore the Wildcats, who made just one free throw during that stretch. Alford finished with 12 points.
“Being down one was a little bit nerve-racking, but Coach Miller is a really good coach,” Gordon said. “He gathered us and said, `OK, stick together, it’s really time to come together and just stick with and just do what we’d been doing the whole game. It’s a process and just stick to Arizona principles.'”
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