The best team in the Pac-12, Arizona, was able to hold off UCLA in their semifinal game for a 70-64 win, while Oregon upset 17th-ranked Utah 67-64 thanks to a buzzer beating 3-pointer from Joseph Young.
This will be the fourth time since 2011 Arizona have made it to the championship game of the conference tournament. They’ve lost on all three previous occasions with Washington, Colorado and UCLA upsetting them each time. They lead the conference in tournament titles with four (shared with UCLA), but they haven’t won it since 2002, when Lute Olson was still the head coach of the basketball program.
Ranked fifth in the nation, Arizona aren’t in it to get into the dance. This is about dominance and playing well, gaining momentum before the tournament. In a game of runs, Arizona had a big one early and late, but UCLA made their way back before they ran out of time. The Wildcats dominated the Bruins last month with a 57-47 and needed every bit of talent they have in order to beat them for a second time, led by Brandon Ashley with 24 points.
Last season Arizona reached the Elite Eight, losing by one point to Wisconsin in overtime. Ashley missed over half that season, and many still wonder whether or not Arizona were a team primed to go all the way if Ashley wouldn’t have gotten injured. This season, there are no Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon, but together with Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson they’re once again a team everyone should be very afraid to meet. They’re not in the top 5 for no reason.
Oregon aren’t ranked, but this is starting to look more and more like 2013, when they finished with a conference tournament championship (the school’s third) after beating a ranked UCLA team in the final. UCLA were the regular season champions two years ago. They took care of Utah because Joseph Young just might be the best player in the Pac-12 this season, but it’s hard to see them as a team that can do a whole lot more in the tournament, unless Young catches fire.
Oregon had a 64-62 lead and tried to take some time off the clock but Young was called for an offensive foul as he tried to reach the corner a bit too aggressively. Jordan Bell fouled out with a personal foul on Delon Wright who made both free throws, tying the game at 64-64, leaving 7.2 seconds on the clock.
Maybe someone should have fouled Young, but it doesn’t matter. The Oregon star, averaging 20.3 points per game this season and has 55 points in the two tournament games, simply made his way up the court to pull up for a long 3-pointer without anyone actually putting a hand in his face. Sure, it was a risky shot, but the senior who transferred to Eugene from Houston in 2013 doesn’t mind taking big shots all day long.
The bad news for Oregon heading into the final is their record against Arizona this season. They’ve met twice, and in both times it wasn’t even close: A 80-62 win for the Wildcats in Oregon and a humiliating 90-56 victory in Tucson. Young scored 12 points in each game.