None of their three wins in three days were particularly easy as the Wildcats started slow in each game. They won each game by double-digits but all three opponents — the Colorado Buffaloes, UCLA Bruins and USC — made Arizona work for it.
It appears Arizona is peaking at the right time with the NCAA Tournament just days away but there are still a few takeaways from this week’s performances that could leave the Wildcats vulnerable in March Madness.
With that, here’s three up and three down for Arizona’s Pac-12 Tournament run.
I’m not sure what can be said about this kid that hasn’t already been said.
Let’s get this out of the way first — he didn’t play well in Thursday afternoon’s quarterfinal win over Colorado. 10 points, six rebounds, only 25 minutes on the floor thanks to foul trouble. The good news was that Arizona was able to get the win without Ayton at his best. But how would he respond for the rest of the tournament? Would he be back?
Everybody knows the line from The Terminator when Schwarzenegger says, “I’ll be back.” It’s classic. But not many people know what follows because the scene is classic just for that line. Spoiler alert, he drives his car through the front of a police station moments later.
Ayton, Arizona’s resident Terminator, was in fact back on Friday and Saturday and he treated UCLA and USC like the front of a police station, completely demolishing everything in sight.
He set a career high on Friday night with 32 points, shooting a ridiculous 13-for-16 from the floor and added 14 rebounds. Ayton’s encore was just as good on Saturday with another 32 point effort, this time bringing down 18 rebounds.
A common question in Tucson is: What will it take for Arizona to win this year’s national championship? The answer is, well, this. These last two nights of Ayton becoming a hybrid of 2007 Ohio State Greg Oden and 2003 Syracuse Carmelo Anthony — with a little bit of Schwarzenegger mixed in.
Arizona may not do it. History and the odds are not in their favor. But if they do, it will be because this young man decided to show everyone that he’s the best college basketball player in the country. And quite possibly a robot from the future.
As Ryan Kelapire pointed out in an article published yesterday, Arizona’s defense is coming together at the perfect time and was actually the main reason for this Pac-12 Tournament Championship.
Arizona held all their opponents to 45 percent shooting or less, something that didn’t seem like a possibility from this team as recent as a month ago.
After holding Colorado to 42 percent and UCLA to 39, USC actually had the most success of the three against the Wildcats, hitting 45 percent of their shots. But even then, Arizona kept USC at bay with only 61 points and 5-of-19 from beyond the arc.
The personnel hasn’t changed, the scheme hasn’t changed, it’s been strictly about effort and mentality.
This team has taken on a stronger work ethic at the defensive end and instead of either constantly looking for a big play or standing around waiting to get the ball back, they’re locked in on disturbing their opponent’s shot to the best of their ability.
With Arizona embracing their defensive potential, the sky is officially the limit for the Wildcats.
As mentioned above, Arizona started slow in each of their games over the last few days.
Colorado kept it very close, being tied for much of the first half and trailed by only three with 12 minutes remaining.
Arizona trailed at the half against UCLA and ended up needing overtime to get the win.
And then in Saturday’s Championship game, the Wildcats once again trailed at halftime.
And yet, Arizona consistently answered the bell, not just beating all these opponents but winning each game by more than 10.
They disposed of Colorado by 16, riding a 17-2 run in the middle of the second half. The Wildcats didn’t allow the Bruins to score a single point in overtime, winning 78-67. And on Saturday night, Arizona ran roughshod over the Trojans in the final 11 minutes, outscoring them 31-18 to take a 75-61 win.
Over three days, Arizona showed something they’ve lacked and they most certainly did not have in last year’s Sweet Sixteen loss to Xavier — a killer instinct and an ability to smell blood in the water and put their opponent away when it mattered most. That, perhaps above all else, is what makes the Wildcats dangerous.
It can’t all be sunshine and rainbows for Arizona over the last few days. After all, the guy most would consider to be their third best player had a very tough tournament.
I hate mentioning this in the “Down” section but this does need to be highlighted:
Rawle Alkins just killed a man pic.twitter.com/t07JdkM0zn— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) March 11, 2018
Beyond that though, things didn’t come easy for Alkins over the last few days. He scored just six points in the Final and for the tournament, Alkins shot just 10-of-28 from the floor which comes out to just 36 percent shooting.
He took some bad shots and was flat out sloppy at times, turning the ball over eight times in the three games with five of those coming in the Tournament final.
He deserves credit for some of the defensive success but all in all, against the top teams in the country, Arizona will need a sharper, more efficient Rawle Alkins to get the job done.
This is supposed to be about the tournament in its entirety so it has to be said that Arizona really tightened things up against Colorado and UCLA, only turning the ball over eight times and six times in those games, respectively.
Turns out they were saving all of the turnovers for the championship game, giving it away 14 times against USC and looking downright horrible at times. Alkins struggled as mentioned above, Ayton fumbled it away a few times, Parker Jackson-Cartwright had some iffy moments and Dylan Smith almost gave the ball away a couple times himself.
The Wildcats will see many different defensive looks in the coming weeks — some zone, some pressure, some absolute chaos — and their ability to deal with those defenses and not turn the ball over will be the difference between a long NCAA Tournament run and a short one.
This team is capable of knocking them down from deep. Allonzo Trier has shown it, PJC has shown it, it’s Dylan Smith’s calling card and Rawle Alkins can be a nice spot-up shooter.
But this is not a weapon that Arizona can truly rely on and they need to stop acting like it.
Over three nights, Arizona hit 18-of-59 from long range, just 30 percent.
When they’re falling, the Wildcats are impossible to stop. But when they’re not, Arizona needs to fallback on their trusty attack plan. Feed the beasts in the post or penetrate, drive and get to the basket.
Arizona likely can’t afford another three game stretch of 18-of-59 or especially tonight’s putrid 4-of-17. If they get comfortable settling for jumpers, they become predictable and quite a bit more beatable.