Los Angeles, CA (SportsNetwork.com) - Arizona was tested on the road, but timely free throws and defensive stops helped the No. 1 Wildcats hold off UCLA, 79-75, to match the best start in program history.
Nick Johnson netted a game-high 22 points for Arizona (16-0, 3-0 Pac-12), which nearly squandered a 13-point lead in the final minutes at Pauley Pavilion. UCLA went in front 70-69 with 1:44 remaining before Johnson's floater re-established the Wildcats' edge. The nation's top team made 8-of-10 from the charity stripe down the stretch to seal the outcome.
"I am the old guy on the team and they look to me for leadership," Johnson said of being the go-to-guy down the stretch. "I am conscious about being a role model because we have a very young team."
Kaleb Tarczewski tallied 16 points and eight rebounds in the triumph for the unbeaten Wildcats, who are off to their best start since the 1931-32 season. Gabe York added 12 points off the bench, Aaron Gordon donated 10 and T.J. McConnell tallied eight points, seven assists and seven rebounds.
Kyle Anderson paced UCLA (12-3, 1-1) with 16 points, 11 rebounds and six assists in the setback. Jordan Adams and Bryce Alford scored 12 points apiece while Tony Parker contributed 10 off the bench. The Bruins saw their three- game winning streak come to an end.
"It wasn't anything we did wrong down the stretch," Anderson said. "We only got out-rebounded by one. We did all we could. We fought hard and everyone gave a great effort."
The Wildcats led 42-38 at halftime and opened the second half with two quick buckets for an eight-point margin. A 6-0 run kept the Bruins close before Johnson's trey ignited a 10-2 Arizona surge.
Johnson's explosive righty slam gave the Wildcats their largest lead at 68-55 with 6:16 remaining before UCLA came storming back. Alford followed Anderson's jumper with a 3-pointer and a pair of free throws to cut the lead to six points at the final media timeout.
Anderson made 3-of-4 from the stripe out of the break and Adams potted a triple to cap the 13-0 run with 2:23 on the clock.
Brandon Ashley then split a pair at the line before Alford gave UCLA its first lead since late in the first half with two more foul shots.
Following Johnson's runner early in Arizona's next possession that put the Wildcats back in front, Gordon padded the cushion with two at the line. After Adams missed a corner 3 which would have re-tied the score, Tarczewski drew a foul on Tony Parker and made 1-of-2 from the stripe to make it a two- possession game with under a minute left.
On UCLA's next touch, Anderson drove to the foul line and put a pump fake on Gordon, who didn't bite and forced one of the nation's best sophomores into a traveling violation.
The lead was 77-72 when Zach LaVine drilled an NBA-range 3-pointer with just under 17 seconds to go, but York potted two free throws and LaVine's next 3 was off the mark.
The first half featured six ties and 10 lead changes. Arizona led by as many as six points on separate occasions but failed to gain any real momentum. Johnson broke a 36-all tie with a triple 1:39 before halftime. Tony Parker responded with a pair of free throws, but York's 3 resulted in the four-point halftime spread.