Gold: Sun Devils hold tight as Cats give us the Pac-12 title game rematch we deserve
Thank you, Wildcats, you gave long-suffering Pac-12 fans what they deserve: A primetime rematch of last year’s title game, which Arizona won, 84-76, to cap off a season sweep. Can the Cats upend the league’s top team in UCLA and make it two in a row? Or will the Bruins take home their first title in almost a decade.
Here’s a look at more semifinal action from the Pac-12 Tournament…
Arizona: Wildcats ride dominant post to second straight win
When Oumar Ballo started his second-half slide late in the Pac-12 campaign, Arizona’s Twin Terrors were relegated more to a Fearsome One-And-A-Half, with Azuolas Tubelis still playing at an All-American level even as Ballo struggled.
Now, after back-to-back big games, it’s fair to say the Wildcats’ dynamic duo is back. Arizona is plus-50 in the points in the paint category, with Tubelis and Ballo combining for 31 points and 19 rebounds and 3 blocks on Friday.
“I think it’s pretty good,” Tubelis said with a laugh, when asked about the Cats’ paint points prowess. “I know we work on it every day. So it’s not really that surprising for us because we work on that in every practice. But we made those paint points and then that just opened up for our guards, so that’s why we made the run in both games and, yeah.”
This, of course, suits Tommy Lloyd just fine.
“Obviously it’s how we like to play and when you got two bigs like we have, I think the smart thing is to feed ’em. And they did a great job, and they’re doing a great job, they’re seeing tons of different coverages and double packages and stuff like that, and then they’re creating shots for our guys and playing out of it, and it’s great to see.
Arizona State: Sun Devils hope they did enough
Bobby Hurley has been through this enough that it’s become old hat by now.
With the Sun Devils firmly on the bubble of the NCAA Tournament — ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has the Sun Devils as literally the last team in the March Madness field — Hurley and his squad now play the waiting game.
“I respect the process,” he said. “I’ve been through the process and I understand the evaluation process, and you respect other teams that have had good seasons and are being considered as we are. I truly believe, though, that if you take our three best wins and you compare them to other bubble teams, I don’t think it’s close. We’ve demonstrated that we could go away from our home court and win, and that’s a major priority in the NCAA tournament. We have seven true road games, road wins, five, we’re 5-1 on a neutral court. So we won 22 games in a power conference. I mean, how much more do you really have to do? These guys deserve it. And the other thing is there’s quad 1 wins and then there are really good quad 1 wins. Any time you go on a neutral and beat Creighton or you beat USC on a neutral or you go to Arizona and win, I mean, those are serious wins. They’re not sitting on your home court gobbling up a quad 1 game. So I’m hopeful with all the things I stated that we would have a really, really good chance to get in the NCAA tournament.”
Oregon: Ducks destroyed from deep
For Oregon head coach Dana Altman, it was pretty simple.
Asked to make an opening statement following the Ducks 75-56 loss to UCLA, Altman played it straight.
“Yeah, we didn’t hit any threes, which we needed to hit a few of the open ones that we had,” Altman said. “So that, I thought really hurt us. The difference, they went 9-19, we went 3-19. So that has been a problem for us all year and it really was a problem today. I thought we had some really good looks and just didn’t get ’em.”
The loss leaves Oregon on the outside of the NCAA Tournament field and likely destined for the NIT for a second straight season.
Not exactly the kind of standard that Altman set in the 2010s, when Oregon won 3 Pac-12 titles and advanced to the NCAA Tournament 6 times, including a 2017 Final Four appearance.
“Any time I get to put this jersey on, it’s a blessing,“ said Oregon guard Rivaldo Soares, who was held scoreless in 31 minutes. “It’s not the way we wanted it to go, but got to keep competing and there’s plenty of good teams that are going to be playing in the NIT, so got to be ready to compete.”
UCLA: Tournament title would be extra special
With all Mick Cronin has achieved in his relatively short tenure as UCLA head coach, he entered the season with some major boxes left to check.
Cronin and the Bruins checked one achievement off the list with an easy Pac-12 regular-season title.
Now comes another potential first: UCLA’s first tournament title since 2014.
Coaches and players may scoff at the significant of a postseason conference tournament, but this would mean something to a program that got close last season.
“It would mean that all this hard work paid off,” he said. “We worked so hard this year. Even the years in the past, we fell short last year. It would be great to just overcome that and bring home the PAC-12 tournament championship.”