The Arizona Wildcats have won the Pac-12 regular-season title for the first time since 2018, and in doing so set a record for most conference wins with 18. They’ve accomplished their first goal, now comes a chance to put a second notch in their belt.
The UA (28-3) is the No. 1 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament, which means it doesn’t play until Thursday’s quarterfinals. The Wildcats will play at 1 p.m. MT at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas against the winner of Wednesday’s first round game between No. 8 ASU and No. 9 Stanford.
How will Arizona do in Vegas, which coach Tommy Lloyd reminded the McKale crowd after Saturday’s 89-61 win over Cal was “McKale North?”
Our staff members predict how far the Wildcats will go.
There’s no logical reason to believe Arizona will not win this tournament unless you think they have another Colorado game in them.
The Wildcats have two losses in conference play. The loss at UCLA was under extreme circumstances when Arizona played just once over 22 days then was forced to play five games over 13 days, the final three on the road. That stretch culminated in the game at Pauley Pavilion. It’s easy to write that one off, especially considering how the Wildcats responded when the Bruins visited McKale.
The game at Colorado is less explainable. The Buffaloes played six games against Top 25 teams this season. The home game against Arizona was the only one they won. Several of the others were close, but the Wildcats were a Top 5 team at the time and the Buffs won by 16. It’s a game Arizona should not have lost.
One major reason they lost that night was falling in love with the 3-point shot. Benn Mathurin, Dalen Terry, and Kerr Kriisa went a combined 4 for 15 from out there. As a team, the Wildcats hit 27.7 percent of their 3-pointers against the Buffs.
Even inside the arc, it wasn’t great. Christian Koloko went 1 for 5 from the field and 2 for 5 from the free throw line.
Every team can have an off night. The Wildcats definitely had an off night against the Buffaloes. Will they have another off night in the Pac-12 Tournament? If I were a betting woman, I’d say no—as long as Kriisa doesn’t go 1 for 6 from the 3-point line.
Arizona should at minimum make the Pac-12 Tournament championship game. The Wildcats enter Las Vegas coming off the conference’s best regular season performance since 2016-17, when Arizona and Oregon both went 16-2 in league play. Anything worse than a runner-up showing would be a major disappointment.
Getting to the final won’t be easy. Arizona could face an ASU team in the quarterfinals that won seven of its last eight games in conference play. The Sun Devils played Arizona tough for 34 minutes in Tucson. They scored 79 points on the Wildcats in Tucson, tied for the second-most points Tommy Lloyd’s team has allowed in a game all season. If Arizona faces Stanford, I expect a more comfortable margin of victory.
The Wildcats will likely face either Oregon or Colorado in the semifinals, two teams that have given them fits in recent weeks. I think Arizona’s preferred matchup would be Colorado if only because Kerr Kriisa and Dalen Terry would oh so like to avenge their poor shooting performance in Boulder. Oregon, however, is the less threatening opponent given the Ducks’ inconsistencies this season.
If Arizona gets past the first two rounds, a Saturday night date with either UCLA or USC is a good bet (though don’t count out Washington and Terrell Brown Jr.). I think it’s fairly obvious that out of the two LA schools, Arizona’s best chance at winning a title would come against USC. The Trojans looked helpless defensively when the two teams faced off at Galen Center last week.
The ideal matchup for the Pac-12 would be Arizona vs. UCLA. Though I think the matchup would favor Arizona, UCLA has a core of veterans who’ve won heavyweights clashes in the past (namely beating Michigan in last year’s Elite Eight).
Ultimately, whether Arizona wins the Pac-12 Tournament or not won’t affect their NCAA Tournament aspirations. but the Wildcats should at the very least be competing in the title game come Saturday.
Arizona will go as far as Arizona wants to go.
The Wildcats have the best team in the conference. There is no potential opponent they have not proven capable of beating, and if they are motivated to win the conference tournament they will win the conference tournament.
But will a team that all but has its NCAA Tournament seed locked up really want it? Will Arizona want it more than Arizona State or Stanford on Thursday? If so, more than Colorado, Oregon or Oregon State Friday?
If you want to put an expectation on the Wildcats, getting to Saturday should be it. And truth be told, if they get that far then I would expect them to take home the trophy.
So yeah, let’s go with that. Arizona is going to win the Pac-12 Tournament.
Brian J. Pedersen
Arizona is better than every team in this tournament, and it’s not even close. Its only Pac-12 losses were on the road, both coming in scenarios—third road game in six days, playing in altitude—where a loss was very likely. On an even playing field, which a neutral court is the closest thing to in college basketball, the Wildcats are superior to all opponents.
That being said, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Arizona lose to either UCLA or USC (or a mystery finalist) on Saturday night, because other than a trophy there’s no benefit to it. I also don’t think this team, considering the low expectations it received prior to the season, would half-ass anything.
Other than a horrible shooting night, which did happen in both league losses, Arizona cuts down a second set of nets in a week’s time.