UCLA defeated No. 7 Arizona, 87-84, at Pauley Pavilion on Thursday. It was the Bruins’ third win over a top-20 team this season and their second over a top-10 team.
UCLA also defeated then-No. 1 Kentucky at home on Dec. 3 and then-No. 20 Gonzaga on the road on Dec. 12. The Bruins have also played Kansas and North Carolina, which are currently ranked first and sixth, respectively.
“We’re definitely not intimidated by anybody this year,” UCLA guard Bryce Alford said on CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench. “We know we can play with just about anybody in the country. We just got to put it together for 40 minutes every single time we take the court. So tonight was a big win for us.”
Alford, a junior, hit the game-winning shot against Arizona, drilling a three with 1.8 seconds left.
“I just tried to get as much space as I could to try to get (the) shot off,” Alford said. “They played pretty good defense, but I had to hit a big shot for us.”
Alford created space against Arizona big man Kaleb Tarczewski, who found himself in no man’s land after a switch.
“I knew coming off a screen that I could get the big to guard me and then I could kind of try to create space that way,” said Alford, who finished with a game-high 25 points, six assists and zero turnovers. “That’s a hard job for a big to do, but I did get a little more space than I thought.”
Three-point shooting was the difference in the game. Arizona shot 6-of-17 (35.3 percent) from distance, while UCLA shot 11-of-22 (50.0 percent). Alford hit five threes, Isaac Hamilton hit three, Aaron Holiday hit two and Jonah Bolden hit one off the bench.
“That’s something we haven’t done well all year is shoot the three ball,” Alford said. “We haven’t been getting many up. It was big. I hit a couple and then Isaac and Aaron hit some. Even Jonah hit one. It was a big, big difference.”
UCLA (10-6, 1-2) got its first Pac-12 victory of the season Thursday, this after a double-overtime loss at Washington on Jan. 1 and a seven-point loss at Washington State on Jan. 3.
The Bruins could not afford to start 0-3 in league play.
“That’s an incredible hole to try to dig yourself out of,” Alford said. “We already dug a pretty big hole going 0-2, but it’s hard to win on the road in this league. We’ve got to protect home and that was our goal tonight.”