The Bruins (13-12, 6-5 Pac-12) watched Arizona State hit 14 of 24 of its 3-pointers in an 84-66 loss on Thursday.
UCLA shut down Arizona inside the arc in the first half and all over the floor in the second to become the second team to win at McKale Center this season.
The Bruins were pretty good on offense, too.
UCLA shot 51% percent, made 9 of 17 from the arc and used a big second-half run to pull away. Chris Smith had 15 points and Tyger Campbell added 12 with five assists.
“I get on them and demand a lot from them, but when they get the job done, you’ve got to give them credit,” Cronin said. “The coaches don’t win games, the players win games. The players won the game tonight.”
Arizona (16-7, 6-4) hung in with 3-point shooting in the first half, but struggled from all over the court in the second as UCLA pulled away.
The Wildcats missed all 12 of their second-half 3-point attempts and went 6 for 29 overall to watch a close game spiral away from them over the final 10 minutes.
“Their toughness and physicality wore on all of us,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “It wore on our drives, our second shots. You have to know going into the game they’re playing like that and you have to be able to adjust.”
Heading into Saturday’s game, Arizona had been struggling to hold onto big leads.
The Wildcats blew a 22-point lead in a loss to rival Arizona State and, after sweeping the Washington schools, let most of a 20-point lead wither away in a win over USC on Thursday.
Saturday’s game was a 3-point shooting contest at the start.
Neither team hit a 2-pointer in the first seven minutes and nine of the first 12 made shots were 3s.
The 3-over-2 trend continued the rest of the half.
UCLA hit 6 of 10 from outside the arc, 4 of 13 inside it and led 29-28.
Arizona shot 6 of 10 on 3s, 3 of 19 on 2s and had a seven-minute span without a field goal of any kind.
“It was just one of those nights when the shots weren’t falling,” Arizona point guard Nico Mannion said.
The Bruins hit six of their first nine shots of the second half — four were 2s — to stretch their lead to nine.
Arizona answered with an 8-0 run to pull within one, but UCLA followed with a 14-1 run to go up 15 and kept the Wildcats a bay with its defense.
UCLA got back to its winning ways with a strong all-around performance in one of college basketball’s most difficult road environments.
Arizona has been led by freshmen Mannion, Zeke Nnaji and Josh Green, but the freshman trio shot a combined 7 of 33 against the Bruins.
Nnaji had the 12th double-double of the season, finishing with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
UCLA the 6-foot-10 freshman work for it, hounding him with double teams all night. Nnaji shot 2 of 8, but made all 10 of his free throws.
“The guy is impressive. We couldn’t get enough people on him at time,” Cronin said. “He was literally out-rebounding us one on four at times. He’s not the reason they didn’t win, I can tell you that.”
UCLA had to play Arizona State without Jalen Hill, its leading rebounder and second-leading scorer due to a sprained knee.
Hill returned and came off the bench against Arizona, finishing with nine points and nine rebounds while giving the Bruins an added defensive presence inside.
“This is the Pac-12, you’re playing against NBA players and it’s hard when you don’t have him in there, just his size and athleticism,” Cronin said.
UCLA hosts Washington State on Thursday.
Arizona is at California Thursday.
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