By Monty Phan
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Ever since Arizona coach Lute Olson came to the University of Arizona, the men's basketball team's home at McKale Center has served as somewhat of a cathouse. Opposing teams have scurried out of their locker rooms, only to be batted, clawed and pushed around like so many meaningless rodents. Glorified catnip, if you will.
While Arizona obviously wasn't expecting timid mice last night, they certainly weren't expected to be devoured by grizzlies.
No, it was the No. 11 Wildcats who got clawed, as a sell-out crowd of 14,257 watched them fall to fourth-ranked UCLA 71-61, the second time in four years that has happened.
"We just never really responded to any of their runs," junior guard Reggie Geary said. "It hurt us all night."
Though the phrase may be overused, it just wasn't the Wildcats' night. UCLA jumped out to a 9-2 lead, as Arizona (12-4 overall, 2-2 in the Pacific 10 Conference) struggled from the floor, finally getting on the scoreboard Ä over 4 1/2 minutes into the game, however, on a shot from point guard Damon Stoudamire. That basket jump started the team, as Arizona then went on a 15-4 run. With six minutes left in the first half, the Wildcats had their biggest lead Ä trouble is, it was only four points. Even worse, they would lose it 1:20 later, never to get it back.
"I give them credit," Stoudamire said. "They didn't crack. They hit big buckets down the stretch. I felt like I needed to score, but the ball just wasn't going in for me."
Considering the statistics, it's amazing the ball went in at all. Arizona was dismal from the floor, shooting just 35.4 percent (23 of 65). But that doesn't hurt nearly as much when you look at what the team that beat them shot: an eye-popping 38.7 percent (24 of 62).
"They're a very good basketball team," Olson said. "It wasn't that they made the plays, it was that we didn't make the plays. We're just not doing a good enough job of finishing plays inside."
After holding the Wildcats scoreless the last 3:25 of the first half, the expectations were for Arizona to come out hissing. After all, what the Bruins (10-1, 4-1) effectively did was stroke their opponents backwards, and everyone knows you never do that to cats, especially in their own house.
But UCLA was simply unphased, as it methodically took Arizona out of the game, playing with the Wildcats like the ball was on a string. At the 15:58 mark of the second half, Arizona had scored a total of 30 points, four more than it had at the half. UCLA wasn't that much better, only scoring one more point than its opponent in the same time span. But the Bruins weren't the ones playing catch-up.
"We had the advantage at home," forward Corey Williams said. "We didn't take advantage of it. Everybody knows this is the big one. We had to get this one. Every time we seemed to get things going, Ed (O'Bannon) would hit a big shot."
In fact, O'Bannon hit a lot of big shots, as did the Bruins' other star senior, guard Tyus Edney. The two combined for 40 of UCLA's 71 points, including 15 of the Bruins' final 21 poiints during the last 10 minutes of the game. Arizona hung around but couldn't quite get back in it, as both starting forward Ray Owes and Stoudamire each had four fouls going into the final stretch. Owes fouled out with 2:32 remaining, finishing with 14 points on five of 10 shooting.
"We obviously didn't shoot it well from the perimeter," Olson said. "When the perimeter isn't going, you've got to do it in the paint. We're not very deep, it's obvious. That definitely hurt us."
Even though Stoudamire scored a team-high 15 points, he just couldn't seem to get on track, making only six of 21 attempts. A big drop, considering he was leading the Pac-10 in scoring and his last game was a 45-point effort at Stanford.
"I missed a couple of wide open shots," Stoudamire said. "That was kind of frustrating."
The loss weighs heavily on Arizona's mind, especially after seeing the Bruins' Charles O'Bannon dunking the ball at the buzzer. In a conference as tough as the Pac-10 is, a loss at home can't be afforded.
"You gain it in one place with two wins on the road, then you lose one at home," said Olson, referring to Arizona's recent sweep of California and Stanford. "They're a very experienced ball club. This is a big loss and a tremendous win for UCLA."
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