LAS VEGAS—A year ago at this time, Arizona was sitting out the postseason while awaiting its punishment from the NCAA for past discretions.
The Wildcats are still waiting for those penalties to be levied, but they’re doing so as double Pac-12 champions.
Top-seeded Arizona rallied from down 12 in the second half to beat No. 2 UCLA 84-76 in the Pac-12 Tournament final on Saturday night at T-Mobile Arena. It was its first tourney title since 2018 and, along with a regular-season championship and a conference-record 18 league wins, sends the Wildcats (31-3) into the NCAA Tournament as one of—if not the—team to beat.
“When I got together with this group of misfits, I knew we had something special,” UA coach Tommy Lloyd said before hoisting the Pac-12 Tournament title trophy.
Bennedict Mathurin led Arizona with 27 points, 18 coming in the second half when the Wildcats used a 31-11 run to go from down 53-41 to up 72-64, along with seven assists. Dalen Terry had 15 points, seven rebounds and seven assists, Christian Koloko had 13 points, 10 rebounds and 4 blocks and Oumar Ballo blocked six as the Wildcats swatted 11 UCLA shots.
UCLA (25-7) got 19 from Jules Bernard, Jaime Jaquez Jr. had 18, Johnny Juzang had 16 and Tyger Campbell added 14, but the Bruins shot only 37.1 percent in the second half while Arizona shot 66.7 percent in the second half and 51.9 percent for the game.
Arizona trailed 40-35 at the half, the margin more than doubling just before the break when Juzang hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer. A Tyger Campbell 3-pointer and a 3-point play by Jaquez made it 46-39 Bruins with 18:58 left, and on that play Justin Kier got his fourth foul.
Koloko was fouled by UCLA’s Cody Riley with 18:29 left, but after the play officials reviewed the footage and assessed Koloko with a flagrant for elbowing Jules Bernard. Bernard made both free throws, then Campbell hit a jumper to put the Bruins up 11.
That call, one of many that caused the partisan Arizona crowd to boo heavily, was the turning point of the game.
Arizona trailed by 12 before going on an 8-0 run, with Mathurin’s 3 cutting the deficit to 53-49 with 14:21 left. After a Jaylen Clark layup, the Wildcats went on another 7-0 run and took its first lead since the 7:13 mark of the first half on a 3-point play by Koloko to go up 56-55.
Bernard hit a 3 to put the Bruins back ahead only to see Arizona score another seven straight, with Dalen Terry’s backdoor pass to Pelle Larsson for a layup putting Arizona ahead 63-58 with 8:17 left.
Steals by Koloko and Kier—who returned to the court with 6:20 left after Larsson got his fourth foul—set up fast break opportunities that Arizona cashed in on, going up 72-64 with 5:27 to go, then the teams traded baskets for the next 2 ½ minutes with the Wildcats maintaining at least a 6-point edge.
Down the stretch the UA made 4 of 6 free throws while also blocking four of UCLA’s last seven shots including three in the final 38 seconds.
The Wildcats pounded it inside early in the game, scoring its first 10 points in the paint, while UCLA was focused more on jumpers. But then Arizona started to get into foul trouble and the Bruins’ game plan changed.
Kier picked up his second foul with 12:06 left in the first half, with UCLA taking its first lead a minute later. Larsson got his second with 10:06 to go before halftime, then Terry got his second with 9:21 remaining.
The foul trouble prompted Lloyd to turn to freshman wing Adama Bal, who promptly sank a 3 to put Arizona up 20-18 with 8:45 left. He hit a second with 5:02 to go to tie it at 24.
Kier came back in with 7:13 left and immediately got called for his third foul, sending him back to the bench, while Larsson got his third with 5:59 to go.
Jaquez, who had scored 99 points in his last four games, got his first basket with 3:43 left in the first half and later had a 3-point play to give the Bruins their biggest lead at 34-28. Five straight from Mathurin cut the deficit to one before UCLA ended the half on a 6-2 run.
Arizona now awaits its seeding and region placement in the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats are expected to be a No. 1 seed, most likely in the South Region, playing their first- and second-round games in San Diego with a trip to San Antonio for the second weekend if they advance.