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Wildcats lose conference lead in loss to Bruins

By Michael Schwartz
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, January 9, 2006
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All season long the Arizona men’s basketball team has reeled off a patented run to either get back into a game or a blow an opponent away.

A run like that never materialized against No. 17 UCLA, as the No. 21 Wildcats fell 85-79 in their first conference loss Thursday at McKale Center.

“We just couldn’t break that little run,” senior guard Hassan Adams said.

UCLA (12-2, 2-1 Pacific 10 Conference) spurted to a 10-0 run from the last minute of the first half to the beginning of the second half, but Arizona (9-4, 2-1) never answered, as the lead hovered between five and eight points much of the half.

With 34 seconds left and Arizona trailing by five, senior guard Chris Rodgers stole a backcourt pass and converted a three-point play to cut the lead to 79-77.

After UCLA sophomore guard Jordan Farmar hit two free throws, freshman forward Marcus Williams answered with a jumper to make it 81-79 with 21 seconds left, but clutch free throws by the Bruins put the game out of reach.

“It was right there in our hands,” said Williams, who scored a career-high 19 points. “It’s just the certain little things, the loose balls being grabbed and offensive boards. We had it right there, but little mistakes were made down the stretch that just cost it.”

Said Adams: “We just gave them an opportunity and another opportunity. Teams like that and games like that you kind of worry about. Everything was just kind of going their way.”

The Bruins shot a lights out, 60.8 percent from the field, including 68 percent shooting in the first half, as the Wildcats struggled to stop UCLA’s right-handed penetration.

“They just kept getting into the lane,” Williams said. “Either it was a lay-up, a foul or a big man touching the ball. We couldn’t stop penetration. That’s all it was.”

While Arizona head coach Lute Olson also blamed his team’s defense on the Bruins’ drives, he said he ultimately credits the Bruins’ play for the outcome.

“This was more about how well they played rather than us not playing well,” he said. “We played well. They played great.”

After struggling on the Washington trip, junior forward Ivan Radenovic kept Arizona in the game during the first half.

He scored 17 points and grabbed eight rebounds with much of that production coming before halftime when other players struggled in what could be seen as a letdown game after Arizona’s 96-95 double-overtime win at then-No.7 Washington Dec. 31.

“We emphasized a lot in practice to come out fast and step on their necks and get going on our home court,” Williams said. “Ivan at the beginning of the game was really carrying us.”

Coming off consecutive Pac-10 player of the week honors, Adams scored a game-high 21 points while also dishing out a team-high six assists and grabbing five rebounds as the Wildcats failed to take control of the Pac-10 standings after sweeping the Washington schools.

The Bruins, led by sophomore guard Arron Afflalo’s 20 points, are tied for second with the Wildcats and USC (2-1) and stand one game behind California (3-0) in the wide open conference race, while No. 10 Washington (1-1) remains among the leaders.

“We’ve got to come up with some way to get fired up for every game,” Williams said. “Every game’s going to count toward the championship. We have to take care of business.”

In that pursuit Olson shortened his playing rotation to only seven players until the game’s final minute as four players played at least 35 minutes. Only five Wildcats scored, all in double figures.

Junior point guard Mustafa Shakur continued his inconsistent play going scoreless in 26 minutes after scoring 23 points and dishing out nine assists in the win at Washington.

“We don’t have as many options as we will have,” Olson said. “We got two on the road, we gave one up at home. We have to do our job on Saturday and then when we hit the road we’ll be a lot better off than we are now (since) we get (sophomore guard) Jawann (McClellan) back.”

In the last game before McClellan’s expected return after starting the season academically ineligible, Arizona hosts USC (11-3) tomorrow at noon at McKale Center on FSN Arizona.

The Trojans knocked off ASU 66-65 last night on a 3-pointer hit with 2.1 seconds left by junior guard Lodrick Stewart.

USC lacks quality depth but has star power in its sophomore duo of forward Nick Young, who averages 16.7 points per game, and guard Gabe Pruitt, who scores 16 per game, to bolster the conference’s second best defense, allowing 60.8 points per game.

“Everyone’s going to come in and give us their best shot,” Williams said. “We’ve got to come out and let them know from the get-go this is our house. We need to put this behind us and come out with some more fire.”

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