Oregon had the Pac-12 Player of the Year on the floor and the conference Coach of the Year on the bench last night. But that still wasn’t enough to keep the University of Arizona men’s basketball team from its first Pac-12 Tournament title in 13 years.
There was no way this team was going to let another tournament championship slip away from it. The Wildcats had been there three times before during head coach Sean Miller‘s first five years in Tucson and each time came away without a trophy.
This time they simply imposed their will on the Ducks from the get-go, taking a 15-point lead into halftime and then cruising to a resounding 80-52 rout. The win wasn’t all that surprising, but the 28-point margin was impressive.
And that was the idea. The Cats are looking to get picked for a No. 1 seed in next week’s NCAA Tournament and, after some inexplicable losses to three unranked teams during their run to a 28-3 regular-season record and a conference championship, they needed this tournament title to help build their case for a top seeding.
To accomplish the feat, they were able to hold Oregon’s senior guard Joseph Young, just named the conference player of the year, to 36.8 percent shooting from the field and 19 total points. Only one other Oregon player was in double figures as Arizona’s defense stepped up to do what it has done all season long – make it hard for opponents to get into any kind of offensive rhythm. The Ducks managed just 28 percent shooting in the first half and 40 percent for the game.
And Oregon head coach Dana Altman, the conference coach of the year, had no answer for the offensive onslaught coming his way as Arizona shot 48 percent in the first half and then cranked up the afterburners in the second half to connect on 62.5 percent of its shots over the final 20 minutes.
Brandon Ashley led the way with 20 points, Stanley Johnson added 14 more, and point guard T.J. McConnell directed a pin-point attack while contributing 12 points and dishing out six assists as the Cats finished with 54.5 percent shooting for the game.
Arizona comes out of the tournament with a 31-3 record for the season, which is the first time in the history of this storied program that a team has completed back-to-back 30-win seasons.
That’s why it’s difficult to realize that it was 2002 since a UofA men’s team has won a Pac-12 Tournament. Just how far back is that? The MVP in that 2002 title game was Luke Walton, who has since moved through an NBA career and onto the bench of the Golden State Warriors as an assistant coach.
Now Arizona fans are hoping this upcoming journey through March Madness will be the end of yet another dry spell. Miller has taken the Cats to the Elite Eight twice, but hasn’t cracked the Final Four. The second time was just last year when the Wildcats finished 33-5, were ranked No. 1 nationally for a good part of the season, and also started out as a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tourney.
Actually, there were a couple of other similarities to this year as well. They won last year’s regular-season title, as they did this year, and won it by three games, just as they did this season.
This team is likely to reach, or surpass, last year’s 33 wins. The only real question is whether they will make it to that elusive Final Four appearance.
And maybe even beyond. This team has the talent to make it to the title game – but the players will have to decide that they want it as badly as they wanted the Pac-12 Tournament title.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)