TUCSON, Ariz. — Arizona had stretches of offensive consistency, struggled keeping UCLA off the offensive glass and had some defensive breakdowns in transition.
The Wildcats made up for it with a dominating third quarter and some big plays down the stretch to beat a top-10 team.
Not a bad way to kick off the Pac-12 season, no matter how it looked.
Trinity Baptiste had 18 points and 11 rebounds, Aari McDonald added 17 points and No. 7 Arizona held off No. 9 UCLA 68-65 on Friday night.
“It was a very ugly win,” Arizona coach Adia Barnes said. “Normally, you play these type of games another month from now, so it’s a big difference playing in early December. Both teams, you’re not as sharp, less cohesiveness.”
Arizona (2-0) went up eight on a 3-pointer by Baptiste, but the Bruins rallied with a 9-1 run, pulling within 67-65 on Charisma Osborne’s 3-pointer with 12 seconds left.
Arizona’s Cate Reese made 1 of 2 free throws to give UCLA (1-1) a last chance and the Bruins worked the ball around to Osborne. Her 3-pointer with 5 seconds left hit the back of the rim and UCLA couldn’t get off another shot after Michaela Onyenwere grabbed the offensive rebound.
“We got a good look, I just missed the shot,” Osborne said.
Arizona labored early against the physical Bruins and shot 6 of 25 from 3-point range. The Wildcats made up for it with stifling defense in the third quarter and some big shots late to win the first meeting with both teams in the top-10 since 1998.
UCLA used an 18-4 run spanning the first and second quarters to go up nine, but missed 17 of 18 shots in the third quarter as Arizona surged into the lead. Osborne led UCLA with 15 points, and Onyenwere finished with 13 points and 16 rebounds.
“We’re going to look at the film and there’s going to be a lot of little things we didn’t take care of that allowed them to make the run that they, did,” said UCLA coach Cori Close, who was denied her 200th career win.
Both teams entered this pandemic-shifted season with lofty expectations.
Arizona had highest ranking ever at No. 7 in The Associated Press preseason poll with the return of McDonald, a preseason All-American, Reese and Sam Thomas.
The Wildcats opened the season with a 16-point win over Northern Arizona.
UCLA had four players return from a 26-win team last season and opened at No. 9 in the AP Top 25. The Bruins crushed Cal State Fullerton 98-59 in their opener before having Sunday’s game against Pepperdine postponed due to coronavirus concerns.
Defense dominated early in the desert showdown.
UCLA led 14-12 after the first quarter despite going more than six minutes without a field and opened the second with an 11-2 run to go up nine. The Bruins led 38-32 at halftime.
The Bruins went cold again in the third quarter, missing 16 straight shots during a scoreless drought of nearly 6 1/2 minutes. Arizona took advantage, going on a 9-0 run to go up 48-42.
“We sort of panicked and started going one on one,” Close said. “Against a team with the athleticism and defensive prowess of Arizona, that’s not a good idea.”
UCLA began hitting shots again in the fourth quarter to pull within 58-56 with three minutes left. McDonald followed with a putback and Baptiste hit a straight-on 3-pointer to pushed the lead back to eight.
The Bruins rallied, but came up just short.
UCLA rallied after an abysmal third quarter, but couldn’t make it all the way back to miss a chance at a top-10 road win.
Baptiste dominated at times, McDonald came alive in the second half and Arizona held off UCLA’s late rally for a big confidence-boosting victory.
Barring a loss to Southern California on Sunday, the Wildcats should remain at No. 7 in next week’s poll, if not move up. The Bruins could still stay in the top 10 without a loss to Arizona State on Sunday.
UCLA: At Arizona State on Sunday.
Arizona: Hosts Southern California Sunday.