No. 5 Arizona thrashes UCLA 88-65 to clinch the Pac-12 regular-season title in final league season

UCLA guard Sebastian Mack (12) drives past Arizona guard Jaden Bradley (0) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Los Angeles, Thursday, March 7, 2024. Arizona won 88-65. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

UCLA guard Sebastian Mack (12) drives past Arizona guard Jaden Bradley (0) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Los Angeles, Thursday, March 7, 2024. Arizona won 88-65. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — If No. 5 Arizona couldn’t clinch the Pac-12 regular-season title at home, the Wildcats loved doing it in Pauley Pavilion.

Under UCLA’s 11 national championship banners and the retired jerseys of such stars as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton, KJ Lewis scored 18 points and Pac-12 player of the year candidate Caleb Love added 17 in an 88-65 rout Thursday night.

“We know UCLA, we know they’re a blueblood,” said Keshad Johnson, who had 11 rebounds. “They’re leading the NCAA in championships, so we know how big it is to come in here and win in Pauley Pavilion. We just knew we had business to take care of.”

The Wildcats (24-6, 15-4) didn’t mess around and they got help from the Pacific Northwest, where Washington defeated second-place Washington State 74-68. The two results combined to lock up an outright Pac-12 championship for Arizona in its final season in the league. Arizona is headed to the Big 12 next season, while the Bruins are bound for the Big Ten.

“We got PTC mindset — Pac-12 champions mindset,” said Johnson, a fifth-year San Diego State transfer who realized the Wildcats were about to clinch when he got subbed out with four minutes remaining.

The Wildcats donned white championship hats and shared hugs with family members afterward.

Jaden Bradley added 13 points for Arizona, which had five players in double figures while winning its fourth in a row. The Wildcats earned their first win at Pauley under third-year coach Tommy Lloyd, who was 0-2 in the building.

“We’re going to celebrate this for probably tonight and a little bit tomorrow,” Love said, “but we came here to get the (LA) sweep.”

The Bruins had won five in a row at home against Arizona, but the Wildcats took over after the game was tied three times in the opening minutes.

They outscored UCLA 29-12 the rest of the first half to lead 44-27 at the break, with the large number of Arizona fans chanting “U of A! U of A!” Love scored his first 12 points during that spurt, while the Bruins went scoreless over the final two minutes.

“We appreciate the fans always. They travel really well,” Love said. “We just wanted to deliver.”

Arizona picked up where it left off after halftime. The Wildcats opened with a 15-6 run, including six points by Oumar Ballo, who dunked twice. Pelle Larsson and Ballo hit back-to-back 3-pointers in extending the lead to 59-33. Arizona led by 26 twice after that.

“It was an even game for a while and our guys settled in and played good team basketball,” Lloyd said. “We were able to make a really good run at the end of the first half to kind of get some separation. That’s crucial.”

Lazar Stefanovic scored 20 points to lead UCLA (14-16, 9-10). The Bruins got 18 points from Dylan Andrews and 10 from foul-prone Adem Bona in losing their season-worst fifth in a row.

The Wildcats trailed by 19 against the Bruins at home in January before rallying to win 77-71. UCLA couldn’t turn the tables and never put together a sustained run in the second half.

Ballo finished with nine points and three rebounds, ending his run of nine consecutive double-doubles.

BIG PICTURE

Arizona: The Wildcats head into next week’s Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas mindful that they lost twice to Washington State by three points. Their only other league losses came against Stanford and Oregon State, both on the road.

UCLA: The Bruins need to beat Arizona State to finish at .500 in the league standings and head into the conference tourney with a modicum of momentum. They’ll have to play a first-round game in Las Vegas.

UP NEXT

Arizona: Visits Southern California on Saturday to conclude the regular season.

UCLA: Hosts Arizona State on Saturday in its last game before the Pac-12 Tournament.

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AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball

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