There were moments Thursday in which UCLA seemed to find its basketball program.
For once, Pauley Pavilion wasn't better suited as a student study hall. Arizona, the top-ranked team in the nation, was teetering. UCLA was in an eight-clap frenzy and closing fast.
Yet all the Bruins had in the end was stiff-upper-lip coach-speak after a 79-75 Pac-12 loss.
"Those are strides," UCLA Coach Steve Alford said. "I would like those strides to be made in wins, but we have seen strides."
The Bruins had feel-good moments to look back on.
BOX SCORE: Arizona 79, UCLA 75
Nick Johnson's emphatic dunk gave the Wildcats a 68-55 lead with six minutes left. The "U of A" chants from the numerous Arizona fans fell from the rafters.
But UCLA fans found their voice in a 15-1 run that gave the Bruins a 70-69 lead.
From there, the Bruins again showed they were not quite ready to win this type of game. Arizona made eight of 10 free throws in the last minute.
So the Wildcats (16-0 overall, 3-0 Pac-12) walked out of the arena with what they had at the start: the No. 1 ranking in the nation.
The Bruins (12-3, 1-1) walked away with a need to win such a game.
"That is definitely something we need to take care of," said guard Kyle Anderson, who had 16 points, 11 rebounds and six assists.
When, would be the question.
"Sunday is a vital game," Alford said. "It's extremely important that we beat Arizona State."
There is no respite after the Sun Devils. Lurking out there are road games at No.15 Colorado and No.17 Oregon in the next three weeks.
"It's a demanding league," Alford said.
The Bruins prepped for it with a far-from-demanding schedule, with victories over a collection of mid-majors and two lower-tier teams from power conferences.
UCLA came up short in the two opportunities to give the season traction. The Bruins lost at Missouri and to Duke in Madison Square Garden.
Meanwhile, Alford said, Arizona was making its reputation playing "at Michigan, against Duke, at San Diego State, against Texas Tech. They have played a very demanding schedule. Our guys haven't quite been in that."
Alford used the Duke and Missouri losses as reference points. Again, it came back to strides.
"At Missouri, we did good job in the first half," Alford said. "The second half, they got up, and we couldn't catch them. Duke, we were tied at halftime, then they got a lead on us. The last six minutes we didn't have near the fight we did tonight."
A year ago, UCLA had more than fight against Arizona, sweeping the three games. This is a different Wildcats team, and they brought attitude.
"After three losses to UCLA last year, I definitely had a chip on my shoulder," said Johnson, who made nine of 15 shots and finished with 22 points.
The Bruins came into the game second nationally in field goal percentage at 53%. They shot 40%. The Wildcats shot 54% for the game.
The Bruins missed four layups on one possession in the second half. They followed that up by missing five consecutive free throws as Arizona's lead grew to 13 points.
"We have to prove that when we have games where we shoot 40%, that we win them," Alford said.
When a big shot was needed, the Wildcats sank it and the Bruins missed it.
Johnson dropped a 15-foot jumper for a 71-70 lead with 1:25 left. With UCLA down, 73-70, Jordan Adams had a three-pointer bounce off the rim with a minute left.
It was a stride left for another day.
"We're not far off, we know that," Alford said. "I hope our guys understand that it's encouraging. I hope the loss hurts."