Pac-12 Tournament semis takeaways: UCLA, Arizona dominate en route to matchup

Note: Bryan Fischer is sharing information on action throughout the Pac-12 Tournament.

GAME 2: Arizona 78, Arizona State 59

LAS VEGAS – Every coach would tell you that a game is lost long before a player lets go of a shot at the buzzer.

It’s a missed second-chance basket, a missed rebound in the final minutes or a draining free throw that ultimately proved to be the difference in keeping a team alive long enough to put itself in position to win in the dying embers.

Arizona knows this all too well, having been stunned by its in-state rivals late last month in Tucson, when Arizona State guard Desmond Cambridge Jr.’s 60-foot heave. he pulled off an unlikely one-point victory that contributed to Tommy Lloyd’s side. miss out on a regular season title.

So it was perhaps no surprise to see the Wildcats energized and active on both ends of the court for the teams’ third meeting of the year in the Pac-12 Tournament semifinals, a wild 78-59 win that never gave the Sun Devils a chance. by winning the season series with a buzzer beater or any other method.

“Sometimes we can take the ebb and flow of emotions, but today I thought we were even-keeled and I thought we did really well,” Lloyd said. “When they play like that, we’re pretty tough to beat.”

Guard Kerr Kriisa started and showed little ill-effects from an injured shoulder in the quarterfinal win over Stanford that had him shooting a late free throw with his left hand while in obvious pain. The junior knocked down his first jumper and finished with just five points, but dished out four assists and played active and frustrating defense on the perimeter.

What Kriisa lacked from a scoring standpoint was more than made up for by Pelle Larsson and six others getting at least six points in a balanced offensive effort that ended up shooting 52.6 percent on the night. All-Pac-12 first-teamer Azuolas Tubelis was 8-for-11 from the field for 17 points and struggled against Cedric Henderson Jr. (14 points) to be the team’s leading scorer for the entire night.

Senior Oumar Ballo also played a big role with his athleticism in the low post, posting a 14-10 double-double to help Arizona build a significant lead in the paint. For good measure, he also struck out with three blocks that had much of the pro-Arizona crowd on their feet each time.

“When you have two big ones like us, the smart thing is to feed them,” Lloyd said. “It’s a great layer for your offense, to be able to throw it in the post and play with those guys.”

Bobby Hurley’s team never led by more than three and needed every ounce of defensive effort (15 forced turnovers) to hang around on a night where the shots didn’t fall and they shot 29 percent in the first half. ASU had six comeback wins when trailing at halftime this year, but couldn’t capitalize on a handful of UA scoring droughts down the stretch to cut into the deficit.

That leaves the team with what should be a sweaty Selection Sunday on the NCAA Tournament bubble. The Sun Devils may have done enough to reach the semifinals, adding the run to several quality wins on their resume, including Michigan, Creighton, USC and the earlier win over Arizona. However, they dropped to 5-6 against Quad 1 teams and entered the night with a 60 NET ranking that was below many others projected to miss the March Madness cut.

“I had a vision of us cutting down the nets, but it didn’t come to fruition,” Hurley said. “I really think if you take our best wins and compare it to other bubble teams, I really don’t think it’s close. We’ve shown that we could get off our court.

“Twenty-two wins in a Power conference, how much more do you really need?”

On the other hand, the Wildcats were probably no worse than a two-seed coming into the weekend and can benefit from some extra chaos elsewhere to sneak even into the single line.

That’s a concern for another time, though, as they go for their second straight Pac-12 Tournament crown Saturday night against regular-season champion UCLA. The two split their two meetings on the year, with the ‘Cats winning at home in a low-scoring affair before the Bruins closed out the regular season with a blowout.

UCLA hasn’t won in the tournament since 2014 and faces the possibility of being down two starters with Jaylen Clark reportedly out for the year with a leg injury and student Pac-12 freshman Adem Bona, who injured his shoulder Friday night in the middle of a scrimmage. out of Oregon.

“It’s amazing, it’s Arizona vs. UCLA. It’s obviously an amazing rivalry,” Lloyd added. “We’re both dealing with some injuries, but that’s what tournament basketball is like in the postseason, so you know we’re going to come out and you know it’s going to be a big challenge.

“We look forward to the opportunity to play on the big stage.”


LAS VEGAS — This was supposed to be a special moment for UCLA basketball, a moment where a title-winning regular season fueled a run during the only month that mattered for the sport’s preeminent blue blood.

Instead, March has turned into much more of a nightmare for Mick Cronin’s side, as the Bruins’ hopes of winning the national title for the first time since 1995 have now suffered two critical blows in less than one week

The latest came Friday night at T-Mobile Arena in the Pac-12 Tournament semifinal against fourth-seeded Oregon, an eventual 75-56 victory that proved to potentially cripple the program’s long-term goal of cutting the networks in Houston. four weeks from now.

Just six days after watching conference Defensive Player of the Year Jaylen Clark go down with what was believed to be a season-ending leg injury on Senior Day at Pauley Pavilion, UCLA saw as the first year of the league, Adem Bona, was ruined on the court with a left. shoulder injury after diving for a loose ball with 16:14 left.

Ducks coach Dana Altman was so concerned to see the play unfold at his feet that he immediately waved over the coaches, sending a ripple of anguish through the rest of the UCLA bench for the Nigerian forward who had looked fantastic at both ends of the court. .

Bona, who finished with four points and four rebounds in 18 minutes, was replaced by Kenneth Nwuba and Mac Etienne to close out the win, but also lacks the kind of athleticism in the low post that could be key in the NCAA Tournament .

“We have guys on scholarship for a reason. They practice hard and we prepare them for a reason,” Cronin said. “It prepares them for next week and gives them experience.”

If Cronin and company had one good takeaway from the big man’s absence, it was the rest of the starters stepping up their game to help them jump out against an Oregon team fighting for a spot in the standings. big dance next week.

“We stepped it up, the guys were awesome,” Cronin said. “Forward we will fight.”

Veteran Tyger Campbell had a career-high 28 points, all but eight of which came in the second half. He was also deadly in the long run knocking down four 3-pointers while dishing out six excellent assists. Jaime Jaquez Jr. got off to a slow start, but finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds for another Pac-12 Player of the Year double-double.

“He’s our closest,” Jaquez Jr. said. on his senior partner. “It puts us in position to make plays.”

Oregon wasn’t without its own injury concerns, as senior N’Faly Dante ended up starting after needing to be helped off the floor Thursday night in a quarterfinal win against State of Washington. He had eight points and 10 boards, but didn’t look as effective as he had been most of the season while playing 16 minutes. Will Richardson contributed 10 points in a quality effort, but in the end it mattered little for a talented team that has been frustratingly inconsistent for most of 2023.

The loss likely ended the Ducks’ hopes of making the NCAA Tournament after entering the night ranked 44th in the NCAA NET, but falling to 2-9 against Quad 1 teams. thus, an NIT bid could prove fruitful for Altman to build toward next season and much higher hopes in Eugene.

“I liked how we battled on the boards,” Altman said. “We just didn’t get stops. (Campbell) got what he wanted.”

The Bruins, meanwhile, remain in contention for one of the tournament’s four No. 1 seeds and a favorable path back to the Final Four that would include a regional in the same building they’ve become accustomed to in Las Vegas. .

Those are thoughts for another time, however, as Cronin tries to refocus his team on Saturday night’s task as the program looks to win the conference tournament for the first time since 2014.

Bryan Fischer is a college football writer for FOX Sports. He has been covering college athletics for nearly two decades at outlets including NBC Sports, CBS Sports, Yahoo! Sports and among others. Follow him on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.

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