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Arizona Wildcats

Cat Tracks: Slow start, poor foul shooting doom Arizona in Pac-12 championship vs. UCLA

UCLA's Kyle Anderson shoots against Arizona's Aaron Gordon in the second half during the championship game of the NCAA Pac-12 conference college basketball tournament, Saturday, March 15, 2014, in Las Vegas. Anderson was voted Most Outstanding Player. UCLA won 75-71. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

LAS VEGAS -- Sophomore guard Jordan Adams was still reeling from his UCLA Bruins' 79-75 January loss at home to Arizona. He had a chance to tie the game in the closing minute, but his 3-point attempt rattled in and out -- ultimately keeping the Wildcats atop the rankings and undefeated.

Fast forward to Saturday's Pac-12 championship game (also in the final minute) and Adams receives a pass from teammate Kyle Anderson behind the arc with the game tied at 68.

Adams "knew" this time around he was sinking the shot, he said after the title game.

His 3-pointer with 43 seconds left propelled UCLA to its fourth Pac-12 Tournament championship, outlasting Arizona 75-71 in front of a sold out MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas.

"I always told myself if I got another chance, I would knock it down. And Coach trusted me to shoot it, and that's when I made it," Adams said.

The opportunity presented itself following a 20-second timeout called by UCLA head coach Steve Alford in which he instructed his team to play for a 2-for-1 strategy -- a concept that allows a team to possess the ball twice in the final minute of a contest.

"I don't like giving (Arizona), especially a team like that, the last shot. If we would have taken 20 seconds, make or miss, they get the last shot. We didn't want that," said Alford.

Needing a quick shot out of the timeout, Alford drew up a play that he trusted his point guard Kyle Anderson to execute.

"I knew he would deliver the pass the right way. I've got the best shooting guard, and Tony [Parker] does a great job screening," he said. "It's our money play."

The Wildcats (30-4) missed all three game-tying shots in the final 25 seconds, leaving them winless in the championship game for the third straight year.

"In one sense, it's heartbreaking, but I feel like we're on the right track. One of these days we're going to come here and break through," Arizona head coach Sean Miller remarked afterwards.

The Wildcats can really fault themselves for not winning this game by virtue of poor free throw shooting and a rough start offensively.

Arizona fell behind 14-3 by the 14:33 mark in the first half and were on an uphill climb the rest of the game. Combine that with 6-of-16 shooting from the foul line and it was a recipe for a letdown against the unranked Bruins.

"For us to overcome 6-for-16 when the other team's 21-for-25 (on free throws), it's tough," Miller said. "If we would have shot better from the free throw line, we'd have been in the winner's circle; there is not a doubt in my mind about that."

With the championship trophy heading back to Westwood, Anderson will bring along a Most Outstanding Player award to go along with it. Despite being guarded by Pac-12 Player of the Year Nick Johnson, Anderson finished with 21 points, 15 rebounds and five assists.

Anderson's athleticism as a point guard helped his Bruins win the rebounding battle 38-37 -- a category Arizona dominated in its first two games of the tournament.

With the Wildcats trailing by double digits early, a barrage of 3-point baskets trimmed the deficit to three by halftime, 43-40.

Arizona stepped up its defense in the second half and the score was within one possession for either team for nearly the rest of the contest.

"We lost to an excellent team. It was a war from start to finish," Miller said.

Despite limiting UCLA to 7-of-27 shooting in the second half, the Bruins' effectiveness at the free throw line -- completing 17-of-20 attempts -- kept them neck-and-neck. The Wildcats only made 3-of-10 from the charity stripe in the second half.

Led by Johnson's game-high 22 points, Arizona also received double-digit scoring efforts by Kaleb Tarczewski (12), Gabe York (11) and Aaron Gordon (11).

THE GOOD

U of A was able to shake off a poor start and get its highly praised defense clicking on all cylinders in the second half. This nearly completed a hard-fought comeback for the top-seeded 'Cats.

The crowd was at the very least a 10-to-1 advantage in favor of Arizona supporters today. The team fed off its fans' cheers and noise all game, but ultimately UCLA emerged with the title. This lopsided edge in fan support could help the Wildcats in the NCAA Tournament, wherever they end up.

THE BAD

As previously stated, poor free throw shooting handicapped the Wildcats all game long. On multiple occasions, Arizona missed foul shots that would have either extended a slim lead or given them the lead late in the game. They also missed several times on the first shot of 1-and-1 opportunities. The team finished shooting 37.5 percent from the line overall.

NOTED

- Johnson led all scorers in the tournament with 52 points.

- Gordon struggled from the foul line Saturday, going 2-for-8, but he dished out a career-high eight assists.

- The Pac-12 All-Tournament team featured Gordon and Johnson along with Joseph Young (Oregon), Chasson Randle (Stanford) and Askia Booker (Colorado).

HE SAID IT

"We were much better defensively in the second half. But we can't warm up for the first eight or 10 minutes, spot them some baskets that we normally don't get and then expect to win in March." - Sean Miller

UP NEXT

Arizona players and fans will likely be glued to their TVs Sunday evening as they await to see where the program is seeded and whom the Wildcats will face in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

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