Wildcats edge closer to complete game

Updated: October 13, 2003, 3:28 AM ET

TUCSON, Ariz. -- The Arizona Wildcats got everything they wanted out of their game with UCLA -- except that elusive first victory for interim coach Mike Hankwitz.

Arizona scored in the first half for the first time since its season-opening rout of UTEP, more than doubled its total-offense average with 519 yards and had an impressive running attack against the Pac-10's best defense.

UCLA still won 24-21 on Saturday night, thanks to defensive tackle Rodney Leisle's 55-yard interception return in the fourth quarter.

"The guys tried," said Hankwitz, who was John Mackovic's defensive coordinator until Mackovic was fired Sept. 28. "You can't fault effort -- we have to learn to channel effort."

Arizona (1-6, 0-3) lost its sixth in a row and 13th straight in Pac-10 play at home, but may have found something to build on during its open date this week.

"We've been meeting more as an offensive line," center Keoki Fraser said. "We all just have been working hard and sticking together."

The Bruins (4-2, 2-0) stayed on track for the Rose Bowl with their third straight win, rallying from a 21-10 halftime deficit on a 5-yard run by Manuel White and Leisle's second TD in as many weeks.

Leisle recovered a fumble for a score in a comeback win at Washington the previous week.

Tyler Ebell ran for UCLA's first TD, and Justin Medlock kicked a 32-yard field goal. But Medlock missed from 35 yards in the fourth quarter.

The Wildcats could have tied it, but Nick Folk pushed a 28-yard attempt wide right with 5:29 remaining after Nic Costa set it up with a 43-yard scramble.

"We get all the way down there and are not producing," Costa said. "But we can't blame this loss on one play. It is a learning experience. We're playing tough right now; we've been hanging with them."

Costa threw two short-range scoring passes to Matt Padron and Clarence Farmer, and Kris Heavner had a 39-yard TD throw to Biren Ealy.

The Wildcats threatened in two previous games -- a 13-10 overtime loss to No. 16 TCU and a 30-7 defeat at No. 6 Washington State when they played well early.

But youthful mistakes -- Heavner, a freshman, began starting ahead of the sophomore Costa against TCU -- have hurt them, including this loss. Heavner was 13-of-20 for 187 yards, but threw three interceptions.

"We know we had this game to win," wide receiver Ricky Williams said. "The quarterbacks played well with the two-quarterback system. Nic did a nice job. Kris is getting better the more and more he plays."

As the running game improves, both quarterbacks should find more time to let patterns develop. Farmer had 122 yards in 25 carries, and Mike Bell had 94 in eight.

"They played really well," Leisle said. "We need to come out to play that way next week (against California). It didn't puncture our confidence, but I think it put a damper on our overall performance. We're trying to set a standard."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index