The atmosphere was electric in the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas as the No. 1 seed UCLA Bruins men’s basketball team (29-5) lost a heartbreaker to the Arizona Wildcats (28-6) in the Pac- 12 title game for the second straight year, 61-59, on Saturday night.
The Bruins played without forward Adem Bona, the Pac-12 freshman of the year, out with a left shoulder injury, and guard Jaylen Clark, the Pac-12 defensive player of the year and the team’s second-leading scorer who suffered a season-ending injury to his lower leg. In a herculean effort, the Bruins fought to the end without Bona’s replacements, Mac Etienne and Kenneth Nwuba, who fouled out at 12:03 and 4:27, respectively, during the second half of play. Bruin’s head coach Mick Cronin said,
“We don’t accept that if somebody was out, you’re supposed to lose. I don’t teach these guys that about life,” Cronin said.
With less than 30 seconds remaining in the game, the Bruins held onto a one-point lead until Arizona senior guard Courtney Ramsey who missed all four of his previous 3-point attempts, made a critical three-point shot resulting in a Wildcat lead.
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“I kept telling myself, the next shot is going in,” Ramey said. “My job was to make a play.”
The Ramsey three-point shot that gave the Wildcats the lead incited controversy as Bruin coach Cronin took issue with what he called a “missed call.”
“My takeaway is an offensive foul was not called, and they hit a three,” Cronin said shortly.
With 6.8 seconds on the clock and a last chance to tie the game, Bruins guard Tyger Campbell, the Pac-12’s leading foul shooter at 84.9 percent, went to the foul line for two shots; he made the first free throw putting the Bruins within one point, but he missed the second one. Arizona’s Azuolas Tubelis grabbed the rebound and split the free throws. Bruin guard Jaime Jaquez Jr. grabbed the rebound and found Dylan Andrews open and, for all the marbles, missed the potential game-winning shot as the Wildcats held on to win the title game.
“Wide-open shot to win the game,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said. “Tyger’s beating himself up over a missed free throw, but that had nothing to do with some of our bad fouls and defensive breakdowns. Those are controllables. I’ll take Tyger at the line and put my career on the line with Tyger at the line.”
Amari Bailey led the Bruins with 19 points, Tyger Campbell with 16, and Jaime Jaquez Jr. with 13 points and ten rebounds. The Wildcats Azuolas Tubelis, the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, had 19 points, and 14 rebounds, Oumar Ballo with 13 points, and Pelle Larsson with 11 points.
On selection Sunday, the UCLA Bruins were seeded number two in the West region of the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament. On Thursday in Sacramento, they will face the University of North Carolina at Asheville, the 15th seed in the South region.