Wildcats on to the Pac-12 Tournament final after 86-75 win over Bruins
LAS VEGAS—After a tightly contested first half, it looked like the Arizona Wildcats and UCLA Bruins were locked in another thriller. Instead, the Wildcats turned up the heat in front of a Pac-12 record 19,224 fans and pulled away from UCLA placing themselves in Saturday night’s Pac-12 Tournament final. The Wildcats won the tiebreaker with the Bruins 86-75.
After splitting their first two matchups this season, Friday night’s tiebreaker looked like it was going to come down to the wire in the first half. The game started exactly like the team’s first two matchups, fast. There were no clock stoppages in the game’s first three minutes, and the Bruins had a close lead early on.
Both defenses were able to shut down what each offense does best.
The Wildcats held the Bruins to 2-12 shooting from beyond the arc in the first half, and caused nine Bruin turnovers. However, the Wildcats were only able to generate four points off of turnovers and the Bruins were able to keep Arizona from scoring in the paint. The Wildcats turned it over six times themselves in the first half.
Whatever it was that Arizona head coach Sean Miller said to his team at halftime, it got the Wildcats fired up. They continued to control the pace of the game but instead of slowing it down as many teams try to do against the Bruins, the Wildcats went right after them.
The Wildcats ran off of missed, or even made, baskets against the Bruins on Friday night. Junior guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright said the Wildcats liked to push the pace more than usual when they faced the Wildcats this season.
"I think even in Tucson, we lost, but we matched their pace and intensity," Jackson-Cartwright said. "They just beat us down the stretch with their offensive rebounding. I think tonight from the jump there was no question that we matched their intensity, on defense and offense."
Just like in the first matchup in January, the Wildcats scored 40+ points in each half. They shot 50 percent overall and for the second straight night they shot above 50 percent (54% against UCLA) in the second half. The reason that Arizona was able to push the pace against UCLA three times this season might be more simple than just a matchup problem for the Bruins. It’s Arizona being healthy.
“We love to push the ball,” Miller said. “Look, we’ve had a lot of guys hurt. You know, we’ve played over 50 percent of our season with seven available players. It’s one thing to have seven available players, but sometimes we only had three guards, so [Lauri] was the fourth guard. So you have to be smart. We couldn’t play as fast during a lot of stretches.”
Any time the Bruins tried to make a run, the Wildcats were there with an answer.
With 11:21 left in the game, the Wildcats led 63-50 and the Bruins looked losallot on offense. Then UCLA star Lonzo Ball connected on a 3-point while being fouled and he completed a four-point play. It would have been the perfect time for the Bruins to make a run, but Rawle Alkins slammed home a huge dunk off of a UCLA turnover thirty seconds later and the Bruins were never able to close the gap within double-digits again.
Ball was mostly held in check by the Wildcats throughout the game. He finished with eight points and dealt with foul trouble all night. Isaac Hamilton scored 18 to lead UCLA in scoring.
After his big first half, Markkanen wasn’t done. The freshman put together his second straight bounce back performance and he continued to prove that his shooting slump is behind him. He scored a game-high 29 points and went 4-10 from 3-point range. Allonzo Trier added 20 points of his own and the two-headed attack was too much for the UCLA defense.
“When we have these two guys together in offensive action, a lot of great things are happening for our team because they both can really score. They both can drive the ball, and they both can see [the court].”
Trier is averaging 22.2 points per game over his last five but the improvement of the other aspects of his game is what Miller likes the most.
“[Trier has] had seven assists in the last two games which is awesome because that’s something a year ago he didn’t necessarily have,” Miller said. “He’s added that to his game, and that really brings out the best in our team when he can beat you with the pass as well.”
With time winding down Arizona had an 11-point lead and Kadeem Allen had the ball in his hands. The pro-Arizona crowd was on their feet getting ready to celebrate the Wildcats’ victory but suddenly, Miller called a timeout. It may have been a display of gamesmanship.
"They called a timeout with one second left, just to make sure they had poise," Miller said. "I felt like I wanted our guys to have poise with one second left in this game."
When asked if Arizona’s timeout was a reaction to UCLA’s, Jackson-Cartwright simply said:
“Absolutely....that's all I'll say about that."
Arizona takes on the Oregon Ducks for the Pac-12 Tournament crown on Saturday night at 9:30 p.m. in T-Mobile arena. The game will be aired on ESPN.
Follow Christopher Deak on Twitter