Whicker: With Lonzo Ball controlling the game, the Bruins are tough to beat

TUCSON – Lonzo Ball plays like Sgt. Joe Friday on “Dragnet.” Just the facts, ma’am.

For such a crowd-pleaser he rarely aspires for the spectacular. The intriguing thing about him, and also about UCLA, is that he leaves you wondering just how much is underneath, in times of emergency.

Maybe those moments are waiting next month. On Saturday at Arizona, everything was well within his power.

UCLA won this one, 77-72, breaking Arizona’s 21-game home winning streak in the least comfortable arena in the Pac-12. McKale Center was designed with migraines in mind. Since the beginning of the 2013-14 season the Wildcats were 67-11 here, best record in Division I. And Arizona led this one, 47-41, a couple of possessions into the second half.

But Ball never gave up the reins.

“He dictates the pace of a game as well as anybody,” said Coach Steve Alford, which means he can walk as well as run.

At times Ball would wave Bryce Alford over to the other baseline so he could feed Thomas Welsh for those sweet-spot buckets. At the biggest time, near the end when Arizona was desperately pressing, Ball was like the ninth-inning closer who walks to the mound with the world in his pocket.

“It’s a big thing to have your point guard take the ball out, and then get the return pass, and then find the best free-throw shooter,” Bryce Alford said. “He’s as smart a player as I’ve ever played with. It’s a great feeling knowing he’s back there.”

“Every time you play you want to win,” Ball said, “and you always want to beat a team that’s beaten us.”

Three teams have done that to the Bruins this season. UCLA won the payback each time. They are 26-3 with two home games left against Pac-12 punching bags.

“I think when we’re playing our game we’re a very hard team to beat,” Welsh said.

Their game on Saturday involved 14 offensive rebounds, four by Welsh, who shot 7 for 10. That translated to 13 more shots.

“The overall physicality of…

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