LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 09: Nick Johnson #13 of the Arizona Wildcats goes up for a shot in the lane over Joe Burton #11 of the Oregon State Beavers in the second half in the semifinals of the 2012 Pacific Life Pac-12 men's basketball tournament at Staples Center on March 9, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES -- Here's something to remember.
Never, ever count out Sean Miller's team in the postseason. Just don't do it.
If this makes any sense, expect that the Arizona Wildcats will win two or three more games than you expect them to win, because the past two years have showed us that their team is built to succeed when it really counts.
"Sometimes as a coach, you have a feel that your guys have been there before," Miller said. "It certainly helps to have a team, individual players, that have been there before."
Another hurdle fell into the Wildcats lap on Friday, when the hottest team in the Pac-12, the Oregon State Beavers, were out to put the Wildcats' season in the ol' ice chest. Instead, it was Arizona taking the Beavers' title as hottest team in the conference, and with a 72-61 victory in Staples Center, it's now Arizona's label to lose.
Now, the Wildcats will play either California or Colorado in the Pac-12 Tournament Championship game tomorrow.
Multiple characters stepped up on Friday, when the Wildcats' best player, Solomon Hill, sat on the pine after fouling out following a technical foul.
Without their starting point guard, Josiah Turner, it was just another challenge in this topsy-turvy season that was toppled. Fellow freshman Nick Johnson has come into his own after sliding over from the two-guard slot, and it couldn't have come at a better time for Arizona.
On Friday, his development in a short period of time -- two days -- coupled with freshman big man Angelo Chol's interior presence made Hill's absence less deadly to Arizona's chances of making the NCAA tournament.
Johnson had five assists and didn't record a turnover until less than a minute remained in the game. Meanwhile, Chol saw 17 minutes of playing time and had four points, four blocks and three blocked shots.
Of course, seniors Kyle Fogg and Jesse Perry did their part in stepping up in the times of need. Fogg finished with 22 points and eight boards -- many of those points came on one-on-one isolation plays with the shot clock winding down.
Perry added 16 points and 11 boards, his second double-double in a row.
Thought it looked like the Beavers' best scorer would break out of a two-game funk, Fogg also held OSU guard Jared Cunningham to 14 points on 5-of-14 shooting.
Arizona found itself leading 23-14 well into the first half, but after throwing the first punch, the Beavers had a slug of their own. They went on an 18-1 run to lead by seven with two minutes left in the first half. A 34-27 halftime lead was weathered by the Wildcats, who responded after the 18-1 run with a 23-5 push of their own that went into the second half.
"If you watch us closely, when we're at our best is when we can create transition opportunities off defense," Miller said. "Our defense set the tone for transition opportunities. And then you have to make the shots."
It also helped that, unlike the Beavers, the Wildcats weren't playing their third game in as many days.
"I thought we ran out of gas," Oregon State's Craig Robinson said. "We were getting stuff in the first half, and in the second half we were getting the same things but we didn't finish. I think if we hadn't run out of gas, we would've given them a little bit better of a game."
All of a sudden, the Wildcats have their NCAA destiny in their own hands.
Tomorrow at 3 p.m. PST, they'll get a chance to take full advantage of the Pac-12's March Madness-able teams shooting themselves in the foot.