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UCLA's Loss Gets XX Rating

College basketball: Bruins squander a 20-point lead in the final 13 minutes and Arizona storms to 96-86 victory.


TUCSON — They know all about heat in this desert town. From the sun. From the chili peppers that dry in the sun.

So the fact that UCLA shooters were jalapeno hot in the first half Saturday didn't cause Arizona to produce even a bead of sweat.

The Wildcats merely countered with habanero heat, overcoming a 20-point deficit in the last 13 minutes to win going away, 96-86, in front of a McKale Center sellout crowd of 14,571 that squirmed through the first half and screamed through the second.

It was an especially painful loss for No. 9 UCLA (13-4, 5-2 in Pacific 10 Conference play), which has not beaten Arizona (13-4, 6-2) at McKale Center since 1997.

The current group of seniors helplessly watched their best chance of leaving with a victory dissolve in an astonishing Wildcat surge that obscured a return to form by UCLA's Jason Kapono, another strong effort from Matt Barnes and the continued growth of freshman point guards Cedric Bozeman and Ryan Walcott.

"We really wanted to win for the seniors," Bozeman said. "This really hurts."

A day earlier, Kapono had warned of Arizona's "28-2 runs," and it turned out he was exaggerating only slightly--the Wildcats used a 27-2 tear to turn a 73-53 deficit into an 80-75 lead with seven minutes left.

"We showed no poise after they got hot," Barnes said. "We were dribbling balls off our foot, falling down, it was bad."

The Bruins did make one mild counterpunch. Two free throws and a three-point basket by Barnes and two three-pointers by Kapono cut the deficit to 87-86 with five minutes left.

But UCLA didn't score again. Three opportunities to re-take the lead were squandered. Billy Knight missed an open three-pointer and the next two possessions ended in turnovers, the second triggering a three-point play by Arizona center Channing Frye, who was fouled by T.J. Cummings while dunking with three minutes left.

The remainder consisted of eight missed shots by UCLA and six successful free throws by Arizona.

"When you come to McKale, you have to do the job for 40 minutes to have a chance to win," UCLA Coach Steve Lavin said. "Doing it for a half, or a half and seven minutes, won't do it."

Unless you're the home team. One good half--actually, one great 13-minute stretch in the second half--was all No. 15 Arizona needed.

Frye and forwards Luke Walton and Rick Anderson took advantage of UCLA center Dan Gadzuric's foul trouble and made easy baskets inside. Gadzuric played only 18 minutes and fouled out with seven minutes left. Frye, a 6-foot-10 freshman, made six of six shots and seven of seven free throws.

At the same time, guards Jason Gardner, Salim Stoudamire and Will Bynum warmed up from long range and turned up the defensive pressure, denying the Bruins the open looks they had in making 11 first-half three-point shots.

The result was the most stirring Arizona comeback, well, since it erased a 21-point deficit against Oregon State here Jan. 6.

"This was the most exciting game I've ever played in," Frye said. "The crowd was just ridiculous. I have never been in a game when the fans were that loud."

The Bruins scored 58 points in the first half and 28 in the second. They made 11 of 17 three-point shots before halftime and six of 16 thereafter. Only Kapono, who had 25 points, including 11 in the second half, played consistently well--although Walton blocked his layup attempt with 34 seconds to go, sealing the victory.

"We didn't show enough poise to make the extra pass or get deep into the shot clock," Lavin said. "Then we'd miss and allow them to go boat racing."

UCLA was the one sailing along in the first half, taking an 11-0 lead that became 23-9 when Kapono made the team's sixth three-pointer without a miss. The Bruins made their first eight shots.

Arizona crept to within 28-22, but Walcott buried his first three-point basket of the season and Bozeman doubled his season output with two from behind the arc. For the half, Kapono made four, Knight made three and Barnes added one.

The Bruins were shredding a zone defense that only two nights earlier had stifled USC. At one point, Knight fed Barnes for an alley-oop basket and a Wildcat fan yelled, "At least it wasn't a three-pointer."

At halftime, Arizona Coach Lute Olson instructed his guards to greet UCLA's ballhandlers closer to midcourt. The adjustment kept the Bruins from getting open shots from the perimeter early in the shot clock.

But rather than responding by making an extra pass to get a better look at the basket, UCLA forced shots, missed most, and Arizona turned rebounds into fast-break baskets.

"It's hard to get the break going when their shots are going through the net," Olson said. "We stepped out and created defensive pressure. And once they started missing, we were able to increase the offensive tempo."

In other words, turn up the heat.

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