There were barely four minutes left in a draining Thursday night when Pauley Pavilion was suddenly flush with something so strange, so foreign, players stared into the stands as if watching a miracle of nature.
It was noise. It was booming, billowing, standing-and-dancing-ovation noise.
Bryce Alford hit a three-pointer for UCLA to pull the Bruins back to within eight points of No. 1-ranked Arizona and, well, the joint went bonkers.
"I did not know it could get so loud in here," said Alford. "My teammates couldn't hear me. I couldn't hear myself. It was crazy."
In its second season since undergoing an expensive and exquisite renovation, Pauley has finally gotten down and dirty again, its roof raised, its rafters shaking, and its inhabitants thoroughly entertained while watching the Bruins come back from a 13-point deficit against arguably the best team in the country.
In all, the darnedest loss you'll ever see.
UCLA fell to Arizona, 79-75, in a game that strangely should give Bruin fans as much hope as their three victories against Arizona last season. Watching UCLA scuffle early in the second half and then scrape back while continuing to shoot and fly and fight, one gets the feeling that two months from now, this is a game they can win.
"We're not far off, and we know that," said Coach Steve Alford after the Bruins' third loss to a March Madness-type team.
This group was not only different from the stiff and easily folding Bruins teams of recent years, it was also different from the team that suffered this season's previous two defeats.
Against Missouri, it led by eight points at halftime and collapsed. Against Duke, it was tied at halftime and crumbled. On Thursday night, trailing by double digits with five minutes remaining, the Bruins actually scuffled all the way back into a one-point lead with 1 minute 44 seconds remaining before finally succumbing to a deep and savvy Arizona team that is now 16-0.
"We're gaining on it," said Steve Alford.
The Bruins are the only team to have scored more than 70 points against Arizona, which recently held Washington State to 25. They had eight more steals, eight fewer turnovers, and were probably ultimately doomed by five consecutive missed free throws in the second half.
"Against Missouri and Duke, we came out in the second half, got punched and never got back up," said Bryce Alford. "It shows how we are maturing that tonight, when we got punched, we just punched back."
With the new digs shaking, the Bruins took that lead on two free throws by Alford. But then Kyle Anderson, who has improved enormously on offense, had a defensive breakdown that allowed Nick Johnson into the lane for a runner that gave Arizona the lead again.
On the ensuing possession, Alford lost the ball while trying to drive and get fouled. After the Wildcats had taken a three-point lead, Jordan Adams then missed an open three-pointer that pretty much ended it.
"I thought it was perfect," said Adams of his shot. "I thought it was going in."
It surely would have been perfect, the Bruins beating a No. 1 team for the first time in more than 10 seasons in front of sellout crowd that included this town's NBA royalty. Despite the traffic-crunched 6 p.m. starting time, there were seats occupied by the likes of Phil Jackson and Doc Rivers, all of which made the Bruins strangely shrug.
"Now, if Halle Berry was in the stands, I might look over," said Tony Parker with a grin.
The Bruins seemed to be more enamored by the regular crowd, the ones whose presence defied a comment made earlier this week by college basketball king Dick Vitale, who called UCLA's small early-season crowds "humiliating."
No, what's humiliating is fighting standstill traffic on Westwood Boulevard because the Pac-12 Conference has no qualms in compromising its most traditional basketball assset by scheduling Bruins games to fit prime television times.
So the fans were the real winner Thursday, fighting the Westside rush hour, filling the place by midway through the first half, and spending much of the rest of the night on their feet.
"This the best atmosphere we've been in to date," said Steve Alford. "There was volume, intensity."
There was even a farewell.
After the game ended, Pauley was again flush with something so strange, the players again looked into the stands in wonder.
It was more noise, a cheering-the-losing-team-for-effort noise. It was a hopeful noise.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Struggling against the top of the heap
UCLA's loss to top-ranked Arizona on Thursday night dropped the Bruins' record against teams ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press media poll to 10-20:
*--* 1949-50 Bradley L, 73-59 1950-51 Kentucky L, 84-53 1955-56 San Fran. L, 70-53 1955-56 San Fran. L, 72-61 1961-62 Ohio State L, 105-84 1964-65 Michigan W, 91-80 1967-68 Houston W, 101-69 1973-74 Notre Dame W, 94-75 1975-76 Indiana L, 84-64 1975-76 Indiana L, 65-51 1978-79 Notre Dame W, 56-52 1979-80 DePaul W, 77-71 1980-81 DePaul L, 93-77 1980-81 Oregon St. L, 81-67 1980-81 Oregon St. L, 82-76 1986-87 N. Carolina W, 89-84 1987-88 Arizona L, 86-74 1988-89 Arizona L, 89-86 1991-92 Duke L, 75-65 1996-97 Kansas L, 96-83 1999-2000 Stanford W, 94-93 2000-01 Stanford W, 79-73 2000-01 Stanford L, 85-79 2000-01 Duke L, 76-63 2001-02 Kansas W, 87-77 2002-03 Arizona L, 106-70 2002-03 Arizona W, 96-89 2003-04 Stanford L, 73-60 2009-10 Kansas L, 73-61 2013-14 Arizona L, 79-75 *--*