LAS VEGAS — — Arizona threw shots, threw weak passes, watched UCLA build what seemed like an insurmountable lead. Then the Wildcats found a piece of gear that few teams have — maybe no other team has.
Now they are Pac-12 champions, a likely No. 1 seed on Selection Sunday and among the favorites to win the national championship.
Not bad for a team in its first season under a new coach.
Bennedict Mathurin scored 27 points and No. 2 Arizona used a massive second-half run to beat No. 13 UCLA 84-76 on Saturday night, winning the Pac-12 tournament in the league’s first season. trainer Tommy Lloyd.
“These games are long and we’re a running team,” Lloyd said. “I’m always like, ‘Hang on, hang on, we could be a possession or two away from a run.’ We managed to hold on well. »
The Wildcats and Bruins put on a Vegas headliner show worthy of the conference’s two top seeds, trading athletic plays and big runs in the first Pac-12 tournament at full capacity in three years.
The top-seeded Wildcats (31-4) played their second straight game without point guard Kerr Kriisa due to a sprained right ankle suffered in the quarterfinals against Stanford. His replacement, Justin Kier, was limited to 13 minutes due to foul issues, further draining Arizona’s depth.
Arizona worked without Kriisa and Kier, falling to a 12-point hole early in the second period before launching one of the best offenses in the nation. The Wildcats went 22-5 to lead 63-58 and fire up the crowd at McKale Center North (T-Mobile Arena).
Arizona continued its offensive show on the Strip to win the regular season and Pac-12 Tournament titles for the seventh time. It was the Wildcats’ eighth Pac-12 tournament title, first since 2018
“When we’re down 10 or up 20, we have the same mentality of playing hard until there’s no more time on the clock,” Mathurin said after tasting the one of the party cupcakes on a table outside the Arizona locker room.
The second-seeded Bruins (25-7) shut down Arizona for long stretches and appeared headed for a repeat of their lopsided win at Westwood in January.
UCLA embarked on a long offensive funk after going up 53-41, igniting the Wildcats’ fast offense and their raucous fans. The Bruins tried to fight back, but the Wildcats hit back every time.
UCLA shot 80-76 in the final minute, but Christian Koloko and Oumar Ballo blocked three shots in the final 38 seconds. Ballo blocked six shots in total, Koloko four and Arizona tied the tournament record with 11.
Jules Bernard scored 19 points and Jaime Jaquez Jr. 18 to lead the Bruins.
“I thought Arizona was the toughest team down the stretch. That’s where the game was decided,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said. “They were more physical Our defense left a lot to be desired, to say the least.
Sin City became Hoops City after two years of pandemic restrictions, with five conference tournaments played over nine days. The Pac-12 Finals dominated the marquee just steps away from The Strip, the conference’s top two teams in the regular season.
The Bruins and Wildcats put on a high level show in the first half, with no fouls called.
The Wildcats were called out 12 times and Kier was held to eight minutes after picking up three fouls. The Bruins were caught with nine fouls, including two against three players each.
UCLA led 40-35 at halftime after Juzang hit a 3 at the buzzer.
“I don’t know if it was called tight – that’s how these games go,” Lloyd said. “We just had to hang on.”
The blows kept coming.
Kier committed his fourth foul 62 seconds into the second half and Koloko was called for a flagrant 1 foul on an elbow to Bernard’s head.
Bernard made both free throws and Tyger Campbell hit a jumper to cap a 10-2 run that put UCLA ahead 50-39.
UCLA big man Cody Riley then went to the bench with his fourth foul. Arizona took advantage of their big run and chased it, hitting 16 of 24 shots in the second half.
“It may have been a snowball effect,” Bernard said. “We started the half with two backdoors, one on me and one on someone else. But regardless, I feel like their energy on both sides was better than ours.
Arizona has that effect.
UCLA’s defense was superb early on, but fell apart once Arizona got going. The Bruins are still good enough to still make noise in the NCAA Tournament.
Arizona, after a slow start, showed equipment that few teams can match. That’s why they are among the favorites to win the national title.
UCLA: Will likely still be a high seed in NCAA Tournament
Arizona: Expected to be a No. 1 seed on Draft Sunday.