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The Daily Wildcat


No. 12 Arizona MBB overcomes 19-point deficit to stun UCLA in McKale

Jay Corella
Oumar Ballo celebrates a Wildcat win over the UCLA Bruins in McKale Center on Jan. 20. Ballo scored 17 points during the game and helped close the point gap in the second half.

The No. 12 Arizona men’s basketball team overcame a 19-point first-half deficit to stun UCLA 77-71 in front of a sold-out McKale Center on Saturday, Jan. 20. 

The Wildcats’ (14-4, 5-2 Pac-12) 19-point comeback was the largest comeback since 2013 when Arizona also overcame a 19 point deficit against Drexel University. With their victory, the Wildcats remain undefeated at home this season and complete the sweep of the weekend over USC and UCLA.

“The fans at McKale were awesome today,” Arizona Head Coach Tommy Lloyd said. “We weren’t giving them much to cheer about, but they stuck with us and got us through with the win.”

First half:

After winning the opening tip, the Wildcats quickly jumped out in front, following a Pelle Larsson 3-pointer to give the Wildcats a 3-0 lead. However, the Wildcats would never lead again the remainder of the first half.

The Bruins took total control of the game following Larsson’s opening bucket. The Wildcats were unable to get into any rhythm as UCLA locked down on defense. Arizona’s struggles were apparent as they found themselves chasing a 19-point deficit only 13 minutes into the first half. Unable to convert on any of their open looks, the Wildcats were an abysmal 1-10 from deep and 3-7 on layups.

McKale, which was loud at the start of the game, was dead silent as fans were stunned by Arizona’s struggles and inability to score. However, momentum flipped in the Wildcats’ favor at the 7-minute mark of the opening half. Arizona, using a 15-5 scoring run over the final 7 minutes of the first half, cut UCLA’s lead down to single digits, as they trailed 37-28 going into the half.

“I thought we did a good job the last seven minutes just keeping ourselves in the game,” Lloyd said.

Second half:

The Wildcats carried a wave of momentum into halftime, but it was nowhere to be found at the start of the second half. The Bruins opened the first 5 minutes of the second half with an 8-0 scoring run, expanding their lead back to 17 points. However, momentum would once again swing back into Arizona’s favor as the Wildcats became more aggressive on both sides of the ball.

Arizona found success moving the ball and getting it down into the paint. The increased aggression broke through the UCLA defense, helping the Wildcats chip away at their deficit. Arizona shot 23 free throws in the second half and converted on 22 of them. Oumar Ballo, Larsson and KJ Lewis shot a combined 21-22 from the line in the second half.

“I needed to make them the most,” Ballo said. “I’m glad my teammates trust and believe in me. It gives me confidence.”

Over the final 15 minutes of the second half, the Wildcats outscored the Bruins 49–26, helping the Wildcats erase a 17-point deficit and walking away victorious with a 77-71 victory over UCLA. Arizona held the Bruins to zero field goals over the final 3 minutes and 1-9 over their final nine attempts, while the Wildcats converted on six of their final seven shots.
“Everyone in this town knows it’s been a rivalry for a long time,” Larsson said. “We’re just glad that we can honor the guys that came before us to this program with this win.”

Larsson led the way for the Wildcats, scoring a team-high 22 points while also hauling in three rebounds. Ballo also delivered with a big game, scoring 17 points and hauling in 13 rebounds. Meanwhile, Caleb Love, who struggled from the field, was able to deliver a solid 14-point performance. However, the biggest surprise was freshman Lewis, who scored a career-high 13 points while converting on 75% of his shots.

“It was a really gritty win,” Larsson said. “KJ was the real difference maker off the bench. He was awesome.”

Looking ahead:

The Wildcats travel to the state of Oregon next weekend to face Oregon State University on Thursday, Jan. 25, at 9 p.m. and the University of Oregon on Saturday, Jan. 27, at 3:30 p.m.

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