PHILADELPHIA — At some point soon, valiant showings against quality competition in tough environments aren’t going to be enough.
UCLA arrived here needing not just a quality effort but a victory. Near-upsets against Marquette and Gonzaga in the Maui Invitational that might have boosted spirits did little for the Bruins’ early NCAA tournament resume with only a handful of major-conference opponents remaining before the start of Pac-12 play.
Even after falling out of the national rankings during a recent three-game losing streak, Villanova still represented a chance for UCLA to notch a quality road victory.
The Bruins couldn’t get it, unraveling in the final minutes of a 65-56 loss to the Wildcats on Saturday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
It was another opportunity lost, especially after UCLA (5-3) held a 45-41 lead with 8:24 left after sophomore Adem Bona drove for a layup and was fouled, making the free throw he was awarded.
Villanova rallied amid a flurry of 3-pointers, starting with one from Hakim Hart in the corner after the Wildcats (7-4) rebounded a missed free throw.
Seeking a spark with the score tied and 6 1/2 minutes left, UCLA went back to a 2-3 zone that had been effective in the first half. It initially seemed to befuddle Villanova before Brendan Hauser rose for a 3-pointer over Jan Vide with the shot clock about to expire.
Then the Bruins’ struggling offense continued to sputter. Lazar Stefanovic missed another shot on a dreadfully cold night for the junior guard and Sebastian Mack couldn’t handle some pressure, losing the ball out of bounds for a turnover.
When Hauser buried another 3-pointer, the Wildcats were suddenly up 52-45 with 4:38 left and the Bruins needed a quick answer that was not forthcoming. UCLA repeatedly hurt itself with turnovers, wild shots and a lane violation that gave Villanova an extra point, the Wildcats ending the game on a 24-11 run.
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