LAS VEGAS -- The Arizona Wildcats won their first Pac-12 tournament title since 2002 with an 80-52 victory over the Oregon Ducks, and the Wildcats' hopes for a No. 1 seed -- although slim -- remain alive.
“Now people can’t ask when the last time we won the Pac-12 tourney,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said following the win over the Ducks. “Now fans can say 2015.”
Here are five observations from the Wildcats' win:
Arizona is just simply the more talented team. This was a brutal matchup for an Oregon squad that has overachieved this season. The Wildcats used their size, strength and help defense. Arizona dominated on the glass (37-20), and held Joseph Young in check with 19 points on 19 shots. All five of Arizona’s starters made significant contributions -- and that’s the strength of this team. Brandon Ashley had 20 points, Stanley Johnson finished with 14, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson had seven points, nine rebounds and five assists, T.J. McConnell scored 12 points and dished out six assists and Kaleb Tarczewski was solid with nine points -- including a couple of key dunks that put the game out of reach early in the second half. This team isn’t built on one player.
McConnell is the heart and soul of this team. “Everyone feeds off him,” Miller said. The senior point guard, who transferred in from Duquesne after two seasons, doesn’t always put up huge numbers, but he’s one of the top defenders in the country. He helped shut down Young, the Pac-12 Player of the Year, for the majority of the first half while the Wildcats built a double-digit lead. Young did not score for a 16-minute stretch after two quick buckets in the first minute with Hollis-Jefferson on him. McConnell is a capable shooter who has more confidence now, provides leadership -- and also energy.
Arizona is an elite defensive team that has improved on the offensive end. The Wildcats still go through scoring droughts at times. If the Wildcats shoot 37 percent from beyond the arc -- which was their season average and also what they shot vs. Oregon -- they can go deep in the NCAA tournament. Gabe York is the team’s top perimeter shooter and he made a pair of 3s. McConnell was 2-for-2 from beyond the arc.
Ashley is playing the best basketball of his career. The 6-foot-8 junior forward was on the verge of leaving for the NBA draft a year ago -- until he suffered a season-ending foot injury in early February. Ashley averaged 19.7 points in the three Pac-12 tourney games and was rewarded with Most Outstanding Player honors. “Brandon winning the MVP is right for so many reasons on so many different levels,” Miller said.
Young is talented enough to lead the Ducks to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament. He’s a guy who can get to the basket virtually whenever he wants. He is a fifth-year senior who sat out his first season at Houston after Providence refused to let him out of his letter-of-intent, and then played two seasons with the Cougars before transferring to Oregon after his father -- an assistant coach at Houston -- was reassigned. Young struggled from the field (7-of-19) for the third time this season against Arizona, due to the defense of guys like McConnell and Hollis-Jefferson, and also the fact that the Wildcats have big men who were waiting for him at the basket.