The Arizona Wildcats squared off against the Oregon Ducks in the PAC 12 Conference tournament final last night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. The ‘Cats came in as favorites, with significant advantages over Oregon in the defense and rebounding departments. Arizona was able to exploit these advantages, resulting in a dominating 80-52 win. The Arizona Wildcats are your PAC 12 champions.
The Ducks jumped out to a 10-4 lead shortly after the 5 minute mark, with all ten points scored by Joseph Young (the PAC 12 Player of the Year) and Dillon Brooks. Then, Arizona went on a 14-0 run over the next five minutes, and never relinquished the lead after that, pushing the lead to 15 at the half, 36-21.
Early in the second half, Arizona was able to maintain its lead, never failing to be up by less than 12 points. After Oregon’s Casey Benson made a three pointer to cut the Arizona lead to 15 (60-45) with a little over nine minutes remaining in the game, Arizona went on an 18-2 run, extending their lead to 78-47, salting the game away.
How did Arizona do it? They played to their strengths: rebounding and defense. Zona owned the boards (as they had in their earlier meetings with the Ducks) 37-20. As the ‘Cats did against UCLA in the semi-finals, Arizona feasted on offensive rebounds against the smaller Ducks, winning that battle 12-3. Arizona held Oregon to 40% shooting from the field.
Offensively, the Arizona starters led a very balanced attack, led by Brandon Ashley’s 20 points on 6 of 8 shooting from the field and 8 of 10 from the charity stripe. The Wildcats’ lowest scoring starter, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, filled the stat sheet with 7 points, 5 assists, and 9 rebounds. Zona scorched the net in the second half, shooting 63%, making 14 of 25 shots. Much of Zona’s offense was keyed by their defense, and the ‘Cats scored often in transition.
Oregon, conversely, was stifled on the offensive end. Although Joseph Young had 19 points for the Ducks, it was on 7-19 shooting (37%). Oregon’s supporting cast did not show up. Aside from Young and Dillon Brooks, who had 13 points, no other Duck had more than 8 points. The Ducks were not able to benefit from an arguably deeper bench, as the Arizona bench outscored Oregon 18-5.
Aside from the first five minutes, Arizona dominated this game, which really was never in doubt. Arizona matches up very well against the Ducks, winning all three contests this season by comfortable margins. Arizona wins their first PAC 12 conference championship since 2002, and their first in the Sean Miller era.
So what does this all mean? We will know for sure later today when the field of 68 is selected, but it would not be surprising to see Arizona secure a number one seed in the West, with either Duke or Virginia sliding into a number two seed. Bracketologist Joe Lunardi disagrees, slotting Wisconsin into the number 1 seed vacated by Virginia. Oregon will likely be in the range of a 7 seed.
UCLA, which is clinging to faint hopes of an invite to The Dance, might be helped by their showing against Arizona on Friday night. They certainly competed better than the Ducks against Arizona. UCLA’s resume will likely reflect 4 losses to number one and number 2 seeds (UK, Zona, and Gonzaga) and 2 losses to number 3 and 4 seeds (Oklahoma and UNC). Will that be enough? Tune in to CBS at 3 p.m. Pacific time to see.