Arizona claims Pac-12 championship
Tyler Baker/ The Daily Wildcat
Junior guard Nick Johnson hugs senior guard Jordin Mayes before Mayes accepts his framed jersey during senior night in McKale Center.
Freshman forward Aaron Gordon compiled his eighth double-double of the season to lead Arizona men’s basketball to a 79-66 victory over Stanford (18-10, 9-7 Pac-12 Conference) clinching the UA’s 13th regular season Pac-12 title.
The No. 3 Wildcats (27-2, 14-2) have won 21 consecutive home games and did not fall to an opponent this season in McKale Center. Arizona won its first regular-season Pac-12 championship since 2010-11, outright, with two games to go in the regular season.
Gordon, who is from San Jose, Calif., shot with over 60 percent accuracy from the field, grabbed a career-high 15 rebounds and was four points shy of his season-high of 23.
Head coach Sean Miller has now won two regular season conference championships over the past four seasons while holding undefeated records at home.
The last time Miller led the UA to an undefeated home season, he was named Pac-12 coach of the year. The Wildcats made it to the Elite Eight, falling two points short of the Final Four.
Miller said that Gordon is really starting to hit his stride right now and said he was impressed at his ability to effectively clear the glass. He said he’s pleased to see Gordon break out of his slump and succeed.
In the Bay Area trip about a month ago, Gordon had a disappointing homecoming, as he shot 2-for-10 from the field at Stanford and 4-for-14 at California. Arizona beat the Cardinal by just three points on The Farm and lost to the Golden Bears on the same trip, but beat Cal 87-59 last week.
“We’re a much better team right now than we would have been three weeks ago, in part because of how hard we’ve worked at it and some of the things that have changed inside of our team,” Miller said. “Like Aaron Gordon, for example: He had 19 points and 15 rebounds. There was a point in time a month ago — as good as he is and as talented as he is — he wasn’t on the glass and wasn’t as dominant as he was today.”
Junior point guard T.J. McConnell has gathered 26 assists and only committed three turnovers over the Wildcats’ last four games. His assist-to-turnover ratio is 2.96 this season. On Sunday, he scored 14 points and had four assists and two rebounds.
“We’re making the extra passes,” McConnell said when asked about the team’s performance over the past few games. “We’re also starting to hit outside shots and Kaleb [Tarczewski] is dominating down low. Everybody is playing well right now.”
Senior forward Josh Huestis led the Cardinal’s offensive threat and scored a game-high 22 points and pulled down 12 defensive rebounds.
“I was really proud [of] his effort,” Stanford head coach Johnny Dawkins said. “Josh did a great job rebounding and scoring for us. Our guys tried to make plays defensively, [but] those guys are just really quick. They beat us to the 50-50 balls and hurt us with offensive rebounds.”
Arizona recorded 40 rebounds compared to Stanford’s 31 and outdid the Cardinal on the offensive glass, clearing eight more offensive rebounds than its opponent.
The Wildcats won the UA’s 30th conference championship, but some said they’re still not satisfied.
“The season isn’t over yet,” junior guard Nick Johnson said. “We still have two games left, and right now, we’re trying to play for a seed and for ourselves. We want to go down in Arizona history as one of the best teams ever.”
—Follow Evan Rosenfeld @EvanRosenfeld17