On a Friday filled with thrilling conference tournament action across the college basketball landscape, the Pac-12 treated fans to two blowouts in the semifinals.
The No. 1 seed Arizona Wildcats used a dominating second half to dispatch the No. 5 seed Colorado Buffaloes 63-43, while the No. 2 seed UCLA Bruins controlled the entire contest against the No. 6 seed Stanford Cardinal, eventually winning 84-59.
The Wildcats only led 27-24 at intermission, but they shot a blistering 60 percent from the field in the second half and held Colorado to an abysmal 5-of-22 shooting in the same time frame. Head coach Sean Miller discussed how his team was able to pull away in the final 20 minutes, according to the Associated Press, via ESPN.com: “Our defense became great in the second half, but our offense found its flow. We shared the ball. We were more ourselves. It was that combination that really broke the game open."
It is clear to anyone who watches Arizona play that it is one of the best defenses in the country. Ken Pomeroy has the Wildcats ranked No. 1 in his pace-adjusted defensive efficiency ratings (as of Saturday), and the on-ball pressure that came from that suffocating defense was ultimately the difference on Friday.
Nick Johnson scored 16 points, while T.J. McConnell added 12 points, five assists and four rebounds.
As for UCLA, the Bruins completely controlled their game against Stanford from the outset. They led 44-29 at the half and eventually won by 25.
It was an impressive showing as Selection Sunday approaches, especially when you consider the fact that Stanford is a virtual lock to make the NCAA tournament field.
Norman Powell led the way with 22 points, while Kyle Anderson stuffed the stat sheet with 13 points, eight rebounds, seven assists, three steals and a block.
It all sets up for a thrilling Pac-12 tournament championship bout in Las Vegas. Here is a look at the schedule, including the television and live stream information.
No. 1 Arizona vs. No. 2 UCLA
Time: 6 p.m. ET
TV: Fox Sports 1
Live Stream: Pac-12.com
Now that we know what the schedule looks like for Saturday’s tilt, let’s dig into a prediction for how the championship game will unfold.
Fans may enjoy upsets in the early rounds of the college basketball tournaments in March, but when the favorites win it certainly sets up thrilling contests when everything is on the line.
Pac-12 fans will be treated to a championship showdown between the top two teams in the league.
UCLA and Arizona only played one time during the regular season, with the Wildcats ultimately prevailing 79-75. The game took place in Pauley Pavilion when Miller’s squad was ranked as the No. 1 team in the country.
Johnson was an absolute force with 22 points, four rebounds, two assists and a steal.
UCLA will not enjoy the home-court advantage it did during the regular season. It is difficult to see the Bruins winning on a neutral site against the Wildcats' top-ranked defense, but UCLA does have the No. 18-ranked offense in Pomeroy’s ratings (as of Saturday).
The phrase defense wins championship will be put to the test, and it will deliver once again.
The combination of Johnson, Kaleb Tarczewski, Aaron Gordon, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and McConnell will ultimately be too much for the Bruins to handle. Arizona will use its length, athleticism and defensive pressure to disrupt UCLA’s offense inside the paint and on the perimeter to win the Pac-12 tournament title.
The Wildcats have been battle-tested by close games all season as the primary target in the conference, and those experiences will start to pay dividends in the biggest moments of March.
Looking forward, Arizona is all but ensured a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, regardless of the outcome Saturday.
UCLA should find itself with a favorable seed as well, especially after reaching the Pac-12 finals. It wouldn’t be much of a surprise if each squad uses the momentum from its impressive showing in the league tournament to advance deep into the Big Dance.
However, it will be the Wildcats who have more momentum after winning Saturday.
Prediction: Arizona 71, UCLA 62
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