"We knew if we could keep it close until the last 5:00 that they would start to crack," said Jason Kapono.
The Wildcats could not buy a bucket in the extra period and watched as the Bruins continued to fight and claw. Sadly it could have been worse, the Bruins missed a pair of free throws, a breakaway dunk and threw an inbounds pass away, but it did no good for the Wildcats who mustered just two field goals in OT.
"I'm just really proud of our seniors," said Lavin. "I'm proud of our seniors. We're playing our best ball at the end of the season."
The Bruins, for one of the few times this season, showed heart. They kept fighting, even as the Wildcats fended off run after run. The team the Wildcats waxed earlier in the year would have folded during the 17-4 run to begin the second half.
"It just showed the grit of our team in the second half," Kapono said. "This team kept fighting. We just cut it and cut it."
This is not the same Bruin team we've seen all year. With a rejuvenated Ray Young at point guard and a confident Kapono on the wing, the Bruins' senior duo outplayed the Wildcat senior pair of Luke Walton and Jason Gardner.
Kapono, who took a total of 13 shots in the two blowout losses to the Cats earliere in the season, looked like the Wildcat killer of old. He posted up when guarded by the smaller Salim Stoudamire and was accurate from the outside. Kapono had a game high 26 points, and was efficient as well, hitting 8-17 from the field.
Young, who replaced Cedric Bozeman, played with confidence and poise. He hit big shots when he needed to, and was a beast on the defensive end. Young dished out four assists to go along with 17 points and five rebounds.
"I think they are better with Ray (Young) at the point position because he's a scorer," Lute Olson said. "I've always thought if the point guards were scorers it opens things up."
The Bruins went out and attempted to shut down the Wildcat guards and did just that. Lavin noted that they had a size advantage over Stoudamire and Jason Gardner and they were able to exploit it at both ends. Stoudamire finished with 17, but he never got going from the floor. Seven free throws made up a good chunk of his output.
Gardner battled, playing 42 minutes, but just did not have it. He hit just 2-of-20 shots, missing all 12 three-point attempts.
Gardner had an opportunity to win the game with 4.2 seconds left. After Young hit the three to tie it at 83, Gardner took the inbounds pass and raced the length of the floor a la Tyus Edney. Gardner got a good look, but his floater over three Bruins did not fall.
Along with the Wildcat backcourt, the Bruins limited Luke Walton. The senior, facing his father's alma mater for the final time, could not get on track. Walton got off just six shots, scoring six points. He dished out seven assists, but it was apparent that his tender ankle was holding him back.
With the Bruins neutralizing Gardner, Stoudamire and Walton, Channing Frye and Rick Anderson had career games.
"UCLA really spread out to cover our perimeter, giving us good looks inside for Rick and Channing," Olson noted.
Anderson eclipsed his career high, scoring 23 points in front of his hometown crowd. The senior was the lone effective perimeter shooter for the Wildcats, nailing 5-10 threes. He also pulled down 11 rebounds, seven on the offensive end.
Frye was just two points off of his career best, scoring 23 as well. Frye was an efficient 10-16 from the field, including a desperation three pointer in the waning seconds. Like Anderson, Frye was tough on the boards, grabbing nine on the day.
The Bruins must have looked at game films from the Wildcats' last three games. Stanford, Oregon State and Oregon all played physical and the Bruins did the same. UCLA had a pair of players foul out and another saddled with four fouls. The officials let both teams play and it seemed to take its toll on the Wildcats.
Neither team gave an inch in the early going. Both clubs got up and down the floor, playing aggressive on both ends. At the second television timeout the Cats held a slim 22-21 lead.
Kapono was the key for UCLA. Matched up against the smaller Stoudamire, the 6-8 senior posted-up and attacked the basket. When the Cats put a taller defender on him, Kapono kept him honest by shooting from the outside. Kapono had 12 of his 15 first half points in the first 10:00, including five in a row. His three-pointer from the top gave the Bruins a 26-22 lead.
While Kapono was heating up, Frye was keeping pace. The sophomore center had his hook shot working early and hit four of his first five field goal attempts.
Turnovers plagued the Wildcats, and the Bruins used the sloppy play to build on the lead. The Cats coughed up the ball 10 times in the first half and the Bruins led by as many as seven.
The Cats climbed back into the game, using a run over the final four minutes to regain the lead. The Wildcats, thanks in large part to a pair of Ricky Anderson threes, outscored UCLA 14-6 down the first-half stretch. Anderson had a chance to stick his third three of the stretch but with time running out in the half, the senior had to rush his shot and it missed badly. Despite the miss, the Cats still took a 43-41 lead to the locker room.
Arizona kept the momentum at the start of the second half and outscored UCLA 17-4 to open the second 20:00. Frye led the way scoring eight points, his hook shot still unguardable.
Down by as many as 15, the Bruins battled back. They kept running the floor and got a number of easy looks. A pair of three-point plays preceded a TJ Cummins transition dunk and the eight straight points had the Bruins within four, 68-64.
The Bruins refused to die. Every time the Cats fended off a surge, the Bruins regrouped and came right back. Anderson hit a three to give the Cats a seven-point lead and the Bruins battled back. Finally they tied the game at 75 with six in a row. Even when things looked bleakest, Young was there to hit the three to send it into overtime.
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