I admit I was certain UCLA would not lose a home game this season, so I was stunned when Arizona handled the Bruins, 96-85, at Pauley Pavilion Saturday. I remain certain they won’t lose another, but the result does spark some thoughts.
■ UCLA’s defense isn’t of the highest quality, but I thought it was improving. It didn’t look that way against Arizona. However, the Bruins are not in denial.
“If we want to become great, we’ve got to play as unselfishly defensively together as we do at the offensive end,’’ coach Steve Alford said. “You could be awfully special by the time we get to March, but your defense has got to grow.’’
“It’s a wakeup call,’’ said star freshman point guard Lonzo Ball. “The places we want to go, we have to play defense.’’
It’s not time to abandon the Bruins as a national championship contender, but the situation has to be monitored.
■ Arizona is a lot better than projected. The Wildcats are 18-2 and 7-0 in the Pac-12, with a 13-game winning streak. Coach Sean Miller has done an incredible job to have this team playing this well after losing star recruit Ray Smith to injury and guard Allonzo Trier for testing positive for PED use.
ESPN’s Jeff Goodman broke the story about why Trier hasn’t hadn’t been playing this season. He tested positive for a PED, appealed, and won, but then had to wait until all traces of the drug disappeared from his system. It finally did, and Trier returned for Saturday’s game to score 12 points.
“We probably don’t win without him,’’ said Miller.
He was projected as the team’s leading scorer but the Wildcats have been led by two outstanding freshmen, forward Lauri Markkanen and guard Kobi Simmons. Trier’s return, along with this victory, means it’s time for a reassessment of Arizona. The Wildcats might be a Final Four contender.
Looking back at college basketball last week:
ELEVATOR GOING UP
Akron: The Zips are the best unit in the MAC and will be a handful for someone in the NCAA Tournament with their balanced offense and gritty defense. The featured players are a pair of big men, 6-10 Kwan Cheatham, who is an outside threat, and the gigantic Isaiah Johnson (6-10, 290). High-flying guard Jimond Ivey is really entertaining, too. The Zips have won nine in a row overall and 27 straight at home. That’s the third-longest active home win streak behind Kansas (52) and Oregon (36).
Belmont: The Bruins, always well-coached by Rick Byrd, are back in a familiar spot: First place in the Ohio Valley Conference. They’ve won nine straight and are 7-0 in the league.
UC Irvine: The Anteaters have won eight in a row and are undefeated in the Big West.
Cincinnati: The Bearcats have won 10 straight and are undefeated in the AAC, where they seem to be fully in control.
Georgia Southern: The real reason Georgia Southern is in the Sun Belt Conference is football, but shockingly the Eagles sit atop the men’s basketball standings at 6-0 and have a seven-game winning streak. Wake up, mama, there are no blues in Statesboro, Ga.
Mount St. Mary’s: What a resurrection. The Mounties started 1-11 but are now 9-12, having won eight of their last nine and, most importantly, are tied for first place in the NEC.
Oregon: The Ducks broke a 104-year-old school record with their 16th consecutive win after sweeping the Bay area schools. The only downside is that star guard Dillon Brooks is hurt again. When he’ll return is unclear.
ESCALATOR GOING DOWN
BU: The Terriers were tied for first in the Patriot League a little over a week ago, then lost three consecutive games, including a painful home decision to Colgate.
Colorado: The Buffaloes got swept in Washington, which probably won’t happen to any Pac-12 teams not named Oregon State. The Buffs are now 0-7 in the Pac-12. Defense is a problem, as they surrendered 83 and 89 points in the Pacific Northwest. Just in time, Oregon State comes to Boulder Thursday; the Buffs need that one.
DePaul: It’s hard to imagine the Demons ever getting good again. It’s been a long time. Right now, they’ve lost eight of nine and are 1-6 in the Big East. Things got really ugly Saturday when they blew a 20-point lead and lost to Butler in overtime.
Fairfield: The Stags’ season reached a high point with a big home win over Iona Jan. 2. Since then, things have gone down the drain as they’ve lost five in a row.
Fort Wayne: The Mastodons’ victory over Indiana seems like a long time ago. They are currently on a three-game losing streak and are only 3-4 in the Summit League.
Miami: The Hurricanes had an 11-point halftime lead at Duke, then absolutely disintegrated. It was ugly to watch. Now they’ve lost four of their last five, and it’s doubtful that they can win many games in the ACC.
Nebraska: After a surprising 3-0 start in Big 10 play, the Huskers have reverted to form with four straight losses. It’s been tough; all three losses were by single digits, including back-to-back buzzer beaters by Ohio State and Rutgers.
Northeastern: The Huskies have lost their way. After an eight-game winning streak, they’ve lost three in a row, including a 69-62 loss at Delaware (after they had battered the Blue Hens, 90-54, in Boston).
South Florida: The Bulls entered league play with a winning record but have lost all seven of their AAC games.
THIS WEEK’S FINAL FOUR: Kansas, Villanova, UCLA, Florida State.
THIS WEEK’S NATIONAL CHAMPION: UCLA. Keep the faith.Joe Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeSullivan