TUCSON, Ariz. — Arizona coach Sean Miller believes in playing his bench players early and often in the nonconference season. He does it for games like Saturday.
Reserve guard Gabe York had 13 points and reserve center Dusan Ristic had 12 when the No. 7 Wildcats blew a 14-point lead but recovered to defeat UCLA 57-47 in a Pac-12 game at McKale Center.
“It’s moments like this where you hope you’ve prepared guys to come in and make a difference,” Miller said.
“Our starters basically got punched in the face,” Miller said. “We won tonight because we had several players who did not start the game come in and contribute in massive ways.”
York equaled a season high with three 3-pointers, and his 3 with 5:22 remaining gave the Wildcats a 47-43 cushion that grew to the final margin as Arizona (24-3, 12-2 Pac-12) won its 36th straight game at the McKale Center.
“His 13 points, the reason it felt like 20 was because we needed every one of those baskets,” Miller said.
Arizona guard T.J. McConnell had 11 points, and he followed a 15-foot jumper with 1:12 remaining with four free throws on the next two possession to put the game away.
UCLA guard Isaac Hamilton’s dunk with 1:36 left cut Arizona’s lead to 51-47, but the Bruins (16-12, 8-7) did not score again.
Guard Bryce Alford led UCLA with 22 points, guard Norman Powell had 11 and forward Kevon Looney added 10.
“What’s tough is, they have a great bench and coach Miller utilizes that for sure,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said. “Guys like Ristic and York really got to us, especially in the first half.”
Ristic, a 7-foot freshman scored all of his points in the first half while making all of his shots, four field goals and four free throws.
Forward Stanley Johnson, the Wildcats’ leading scorer with a 14.5 average, had seven points and 10 rebounds but made only one field goal. The Arizona starters were 9 of 36 from the field.
“Ugly,” McConnell said. “We were stagnant on offense, and didn’t really run the zone offense. But (York) made some big shots. He’s the reason we won.”
Arizona, the leading rebounding team in the Pac-12, had a 40-23 advantage on the boards to overcome its 34.0 percent shooting from the field. Arizona leads Division I in defensive rebound percentage.
“That’s one thing we did well,” Miller said.
“It is the best lesson for these guys that if you don’t execute what we are trying to do as a team, you look stupid. And that’s how we looked a lot of times on offense.”
Big men Looney, Tony Parker and Thomas Welsh fouled out for the Bruins, who were called for 27 fouls compared with Arizona’s 17 in a physical game near the basket.
UCLA scored the first seven points of the game and had a 17-0 run to start the second half, turning a 32-18 halftime deficit into a 35-lead. Looney had eight points in that stretch and Alford had five as the Wildcats missed their first 10 shots of the half.
Johnson made two free throws to give Arizona a 40-39 lead with 9:32 left in the second half and the Bruins never caught up while losing both games on the Arizona trip. UCLA shot 38.1 percent from the floor, and they seem squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble.
“Arizona is a great rebounding team and we got beat up on the glass on this trip,” said Alford, who team was outrebounded 39-27 in a 68-66 loss at Arizona State on Wednesday.
NOTES: Arizona coach Sean Miller tore his sport coat off at one frustrating portion of the game. “I wanted to jump in there and start playing, but I couldn’t, so that was my next best answer,” Miller said. … Arizona F Stanley Johnson and Duke F Jahlil Okafor are the only freshmen in the top six conferences to average at least 14 points and six rebounds per game. Johnson was averaging 14.5 points and 6.7 rebounds entering Saturday. Okafor is averaging 17.9 points and 9.4 rebounds. UCLA freshman F Kevon Looney entered averaging 12.7 points and 9.7 rebounds. … Bill Vinovich, who refereed Super Bowl XLIX in Glendale,
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