The final memories at McKale this season were positive, with the Wildcats cutting down the nets to celebrate another conference title. But Arizona didn’t exactly go out with a bang.
They were projected by many to blow Cal out, including a bunch of us here at AZDS. Cal came in with a 2-15 record in the conference and had the lowest shooting percentage in the Pac-12 from 3-point land, the free throw line, and overall.
Despite jumping out to a 10-2 lead, Arizona ended up needing to fight their way to victory. The Bears slowed the game down and neither team played particularly well. The game was tied at 53 with less than six minutes remaining.
Behind strong defense, a bunch of free throws and the incomparable Deandre Ayton, Arizona finished the game on a 13-1 run to win it 66-54.
Let’s look at three up and three down from Arizona’s regular season finale:
I mentioned before that he’s “incomparable,” but that doesn’t quite convey how much of a beast this kid is.
On a night when no other starter shot 50 percent from the floor, Ayton saved his best for last – scorching Cal for 26 points and 20 rebounds while shooting 9-of-12 from the field.
Ayton set the record for most points scored by a freshman in an Arizona uniform. He’s been dominant all season, but these last five games he’s on an absolute tear. Ayton is averaging 22 points and 15.2 rebounds over that time.
For those attached to names like Sean Elliott, Damon Stoudamire or Mike Bibby and are not ready to crown Ayton as the best player to ever play at Arizona, that’s understandable. But he is absolutely the most talented player to ever don the red and blue, the best one-and-done player in program history, and has a real chance at being the first number one pick in the NBA Draft from the University of Arizona.
There’s not much better in college basketball than watching seniors who spend nearly their entire season on the bench get a chance to play at the end of the game on Senior Day.
And he scored!
After all the starters had their curtain call moment including Dusan Ristic taking his jersey off to show a shirt that read “Dusan Loves Tucson,” Denny entered the game, attacked the basket, and knocked down a free throw.
As wonderful as the Deandre Aytons of the world are to watch, moments like these make the sport what it is.
Arizona clinched their 16th Pac-12 title and the fifth of Sean Miller’s tenure.
When you dig a little deeper, you see the level of dominance Arizona has displayed. The Wildcats now have at least a share (and they only had to share it once) of four of the last five Pac-12 regular season championships.
This is the first time that any program in the Pac-12 has won four out of five titles since Lute Olson’s Wildcats won four straight from 1988 to 1991.
That’s elite company but Miller’s ‘Cats have a ways to go. That early ‘90s run ended up with seven championships in nine years.
Arizona has been mired by bad turnovers for a couple weeks now and they reared their ugly head again on Saturday.
The Wildcats now have eight straight games with double-digit turnovers.
Some of them are such goofy mistakes too. Stepping on the line when passing the ball in bounds, flat out throwing the ball away and lazy, nonchalant passes in traffic.
This seems like something that doesn’t need to be said but teams that turn the ball over a lot? They don’t usually do well in the NCAA Tournament. Arizona needs to fix this in Las Vegas.
This isn’t about his overall game. Trier had seven assists and played solid defense, nabbing a steal that led to his only bucket of the game.
But about that last part – only bucket. Only one. If Ayton saved his best for last, Trier saved his, well, worst. He finished with his lowest McKale Center scoring total of his career, just two points.
Bad shooting nights happen. He shot 1-of-10 and 0-for-7 from deep. It’s not like he was the only one to struggle. Arizona’s offense was just out of sync. Ristic only shot 1-of-9 and Parker Jackson-Cartwright was 1-for-4.
The only truly concerning part of Trier’s game was his zero free throw attempts. The team shot 23-of-26 from the line, a major part of the win. But Zo wasn’t aggressive on offense, contributing a rare zilch from the charity stripe.
If Arizona has any hope for success in the coming weeks, they need Trier to be aggressive at the offensive end when his shots aren’t falling and force his way to the line.
Saturday was a big chance for the Wildcats. A relatively easy game at home on Senior Day to clinch the Pac-12 title and head into the Pac-12 Tournament guns a-blazing.
While they got the win, being entrenched in a back-and-forth battle with the worst team in the conference for 34 minutes isn’t the fire and fury one could have hoped for.
After everything the team has been through, there’s certainly plenty of motivation to come out looking to bury opponents. That’s a motivation this team needs to embrace in Las Vegas.