- Associated Press - Saturday, March 15, 2014

LAS VEGAS (AP) - Arizona fought its way back from some early defensive breakdowns and kept the game close down the stretch, where the Wildcats usually excel.

For one of the few times this season, the Wildcats couldn’t come through, leading to another loss in the Pac-12 championship game.

Hurt by missed free throws and missed opportunities, No. 4 Arizona lost 75-71 to UCLA on Saturday for the Wildcats’ third loss in the Pac-12 title game under coach Sean Miller.

“It’s hard to be in a championship game. It’s hard,” Miller said. “There are a lot of good teams that don’t make it to their conference tournament’s championship game, and we’ve done it three times in four years. We want to win the championship, but we’re proud of the fight.”

It was quite a fight. The Pac-12’s two best teams traded big plays, big blows and floor burns.

The Wildcats locked UCLA down in the second half after an offensive show in the first.

The Bruins (26-8) countered by doing the same thing to Arizona down the stretch, and then made the big plays against the big-play Wildcats to finish it off.

UCLA point guard Kyle Anderson was at his all-around best, finishing with 21 points, 15 rebounds and five assists. Jordan Adams made a big 3-pointer with 45 seconds left and scored 19 points. Norman Powell scored 15 points and combined with David Wear to hit four free throws in the final five seconds.

After three games in three days, the Bruins are Pac-12 champions in their first season under coach Steve Alford and on a big roll headed into the NCAA tournament.

“This gives us the confidence that we not only play with anybody, but beat anybody,” Alford said. “But you’ve got to get hot and stay hot.”

Arizona (30-4) started flat defensively, clawed back behind its offense and shut down the Bruins through most of the second half.

The Wildcats were unable to finish it off for one of the rare times this season, hurt by 10 missed free throws and questionable shot selection down the stretch.

Nick Johnson led Arizona with 22 points and Kaleb Tarczewski added 12. Aaron Gordon had 11 points, eight rebounds and eight assists for the Wildcats, who may have lost out on a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament with the loss.

“We lost a game we could have won,” Miller said. “Jordan Adams hit a great shot and I believe some of the things we learned in today’s game will better serve us for the biggest prize, why we all do this, and that’s to hopefully advance next week in the NCAA tournament.”

After 10 games in three days, the Pac-12 tournament came down to UCLA and Arizona, the top two seeds, on a big roll since arriving in Sin City.

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