The first three days of the Pac-12 Tournament were full of excitement, but in the end, it’ll be the conference co-champs going head-to-head for the tournament crown.
After the Oregon Ducks took down the California Golden Bears by a score of 73-65, the Arizona Wildcats followed that up with a 86-75 victory over the UCLA Bruins. UO and UA will meet at 8 PM PT on Saturday night to settle the whole “co-champ” thing the best way possible....on the floor.
This game was almost the exact opposite of what we saw from these two teams in Tucson just a couple of weeks prior. Arizona was the better shooting team, and the better rebounding team throughout the night.
Lauri Markkanen was a stunning 10-of-22 from the field, good for 29 points (one shy of his career high). His roommate, Allonzo Trier, was also feeling it, pouring in 20 points of his own on 5-of-9 shooting plus going 7-of-10 from the free throw line.
That duo rolled while UCLA’s duo of Bryce Alford and Lonzo Ball struggled. In short, that’s what this game came down to.
Here are some of the main takeaways from Friday night’s Vegas action.
In the first half, Arizona drilled seven of its 13 three point attempts, three more than the entire previous meeting with UCLA.
The Wildcats got close to seven in another stat, missing six of their ten free throws before the break. Had they been closer to normal in this stat in the first half, they could have put the Bruins away early. However, it was still a six-point contest when the two teams retreated to the locker room.
The free throw shooting improved, and the three-point shooting stayed hot in the second half, allowing the Cats to move on to the final round with relative ease.
Boarding up the Paint
Last time Arizona and UCLA met, one of the big reasons the Bruins were able to come out of Tucson with a victory was the offensive rebounding disparity.
In Vegas, that number was essentially turned on its head.
Arizona pulled in 12 of their own missed shots, while UCLA got just seven. This resulted in a 14-6 second-chance points advantage for the Cats.
The possible first overall pick in the NBA Draft had a pretty off game, especially early on. At half, Lonzo Ball had just two points, two assists, one rebound, and four turnovers.
On an Arizona airball, Ball seemed to jam his hand or a finger or two as the shot bounced off of him and went out of bounds. He spent the entire ensuing timeout messing with his hand, and then seemed to favor it throughout the rest of the half.
Neither Ball nor Bryce Alford could buy a long distance bucket, which was one of the main reasons for UCLA’s demise. As a team, the Bruins were just 4-for-25 from long distance. Ball and Alford were a combined 4-of-19 from the floor, garnering just 13 of UCLA’s 75 points.
T.J. Leaf certainly had the attention of Arizona fans in all three games this year, but never as much as he did in Vegas.
The former Arizona commit, playing with a brace on his left ankle, was in foul trouble for a good chunk of the game, and then fouled out at about the four minute mark.
Arizona fans loved it, and it likely ended any chance of a UCLA comeback as he had 15 points and eight rebounds in 30 minutes of action. He and Thomas Welsh were the most productive Bruins all night, so when Leaf sat, so did UCLA’s chances.
There were plenty of games in McKale Center this year. Only one or two of them had the same type of atmosphere that T-Mobile had on Friday night.
Towards the end of the Oregon victory, the seats started to become largely filled. Then when pregame intros went down for Arizona/UCLA, the building started rocking more than it likely ever has, and that feeling kept up all the way into the wee hours of the night.
People had their concerns about the Pac-12 being able to fill the brand new arena and create an electric atmosphere. Having three elite teams with well-traveled fanbases certainly helped create that in the first semifinals the building has seen.
Saturday is supposed to be sold out as well, so we’ll see if the feeling is similar.
Random other note. The conference did a presentation involving Olympians at halftime. Stanford alum Kerri Walsh Jennings got the biggest ovation -- by far -- of any of the athletes that were being honored.
Arizona and Oregon will square off in the Pac-12 Championship Game on Saturday evening at 8 PM PT, or 11 PM ET, or 9 PM in Arizona. The game will be broadcast on ESPN. You’ll also be able to stream it on Watch ESPN.
For our complete coverage from Las Vegas the Pac-12 Tournament, check out the StoryStream below.