LAS VEGAS–With 17 seconds to go in the Pac-12 Conference championship game, Allonzo Trier was headed to the line with the Wildcats up by just two points. In the biggest moment of his career, Trier calmly went up to the stripe and sank a pair of championship-clinching free throws. The Wildcats were up by two possessions at that point, and would hold on to defeat the Oregon Ducks 83-80 placing them alone at the top of the Pac-12 Conference.
Trier was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player after scoring 23 points in the title game.
“It was an amazing feeling,” Trier said. “Even if I didn’t win [MOP] just being a part of this, in this atmosphere and being able to win is something I don’t take for granted.”
After missing 19 games to begin the season, Trier has become the player that most thought he would be heading in to the 2017 season, and it’s coming at just the right time for the Wildcats.
Besides Trier, the Wildcats have dealt with injury after injury and head coach Sean Miller repeatedly said how proud he of his group.
"It has never been easy for us," Miller said. "We have dealt with adversity and obstacles as much as almost any group that I've been a part of, and yet we've always been able to climb and grow. You always hope that it comes together for you in March. Right now that's really what's happened."
It is the second time the Wildcats have won the Pac-12 Tournament championship under Miller and the first since 2015.
After splitting the Pac-12 Conference regular season championship, the Wildcats and Ducks got to determine who the true champion of the conference really was in Saturday's title game.
The Wildcats’ Keanu Pinder made his first career start in a surprise move by Miller. Pinder had been giving Arizona good minutes off the bench during the weekend, but the idea to start him backfired quickly. The junior picked up three fouls in the first five minutes and turned it over twice. Miller revealed that even though it seemed like Pinder struggled, he was in there to ensure the Wildcats remained out of early foul trouble.
"We were going to let Keanu pick those [fouls] up," Mille said. "In the eight minutes that he played there in the beginning of both halves, he did his job."
Pinder helped the other bigs stay our of foul trouble and the Wildcats defense was able to keep the Ducks from exploding as they did when the two teams met in February.
It took the Ducks 12 minutes to connect on their first 3-point shot. In the team’s first matchup this season, they connected on a three during the very first possession. Dillon Brooks hit the shot for Oregon and it brought the score to 18-17 Wildcats, but Arizona led for the rest of the half.
A quick 7-0 spurt following the shot stretched the lead out to eight and Arizona continued to have success on the glass. They outrebounded the Ducks 20-13 in the first half, and it kept the Oregon offense from having second chance opportunities.
The Ducks went 6-22 from beyond the arc in the game, a far cry from the 16 3-pointers they connected on in February against Arizona. Brooks finished the half with 17 points, but Arizona’s balanced scoring had them ahead at the break.
Then it happened, again.
Arizona led Colorado by one and were ahead of the Bruins by six points at halftime of their games the previous two nights and in both games the Arizona offense exploded in the second half.
The Wildcats shot 67 percent during the second half of their win over the Ducks, and it followed 67 percent and 54 percent performances respectively against Colorado and UCLA.
They started the second half on a 6-0 run to push the lead to double digits and had the Ducks on the ropes. Brooks picked up his third foul with 18 minutes left in the game and had to play with four fouls for the last eight minutes.
Even without their star, the Ducks refused to go down without a fight. They shot above 50 percent themselves in the second half, but seemingly any time they hit a big shot, the Wildcats were right behind them with a bigger shot.
With Brooks out, Ducks guard Tyler Dorsey kept them in it with 20 points. Brooks managed to play 33 minutes and fouled out with under a minute to go. He finished with 25 points. Dorsey and Brooks were both selected to play on the All-Tournament team for their performances this weekend.
The Ducks got it down to a bucket with 26 seconds to go after the Wildcats failed to put the game away at the free throw line, but Trier was there in the waning seconds of the game to seal the win for Arizona.
“I was prepared to step up there and make them, it’s something that I work on every single day. You just want the clock to hit zero,” Trier said. “Once you get that, it’s like ‘woo.’ It’s a tremendous relief, it’s a good feeling.”
After everything Trier has been through he made sure to point out that he doesn’t take the game for granted, especially because he thought he may never play again at points this season.
"It's like a dream come true,” Miller said. “How we envisioned it going for him, I couldn't think of a more appropriate ending than watching him walk away with [MOP]."
Lauri Markkanen was named to the All-Tournament team after averaging an even 20 points per game over the weekend. Markkanen still impacted the championship game even though he scored just 11 points. Markkanen forced Brooks in to tough shots several times throughout the night, including a block, and the freshman said he wasn’t capable of that kind of defense at the beginning of the season.
“I’ve gotten a lot better on defense,” Markkanen said. “Hard work and coach Miller. [Coaching staff] has done a great job with me just trying to push me forward.”
The NCAA Tournament selection committee officially announces the brackets for the NCAA Tournament tomorrow. With the likes of Kansas and North Carolina falling in their conference tournaments, the Wildcats hope to find themselves in the West region with a high seed. Miller said the Wildcats’ record speaks for itself and is more focused on preparing to play whoever it is they will face in the opening round on Thursday or Friday.
“It’s about us being the most ready," Miller said. "These guys, they have to play great. Wherever we’re sent, our role and objective is to be ready. We’re not going to be disappointed in any seed. It’s a matter of taking that seed and advancing.”
The selection show will air on ESPN tomorrow at 3:30 p.m. MST.
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