LAS VEGAS – Earlier this season, when UCLA was riding its high-powered offense to 19 wins in 20 games, Arizona coach Sean Miller marveled that the Bruins could win it all this season.
Arizona has since beaten them twice in three games.
And, in their 86-75 Pac-12 Tournament semifinal win over the Bruins, the Wildcats had virtually all of their weapons on full display just in time for a Pac-12 Tournament final against Oregon and a possible chance to gain a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament's West region.
Lauri Markkanen led the Wildcats on Friday with 29 points and continued to find the 3-pointer that was noticeably absent last month, making 4 of 9 from long range, while Allonzo Trier had 20 points on a typical mix of drives to the basket, free throws and 3 of 4 3-pointers.
Also working for UA: Kadeem Allen drives to the bucket, and some all-around aggressiveness from Rawle Alkins. Allen had nine points while Alkins had eight points and five rebounds.
The win moved second-seeded Arizona to 29-4 and into the Pac-12 Tournament final Saturday at 8 p.m. UCLA dropped to 29-4 and will likely become the third priority out of the Pac-12 for the NCAA Tournament selection committee.
A win over the Ducks might earn the Wildcats the best NCAA Tournament placement out of the Pac-12, most likely a No. 2 seed in the West Region. UA lost by 27 points on Feb. 4 in Eugene and, because of that loss, Arizona was rated behind Oregon in the NCAA selection committee’s Feb. 11 early bracket reveal.
The Ducks have not lost a game since then, but Saturday’s game might give the Wildcats a chance to make up for it, and give them another opportunity against a Top 25 RPI team. As of now, UA has only two such wins, both of them over UCLA.
Of course, beating the Ducks doesn’t figure to be an easy accomplishment for Arizona. The Wildcats have lost three straight games to Oregon, including an 85-58 drubbing on Feb. 4 in Eugene, a loss in the Pac-12 Tournament semifinals last season and a homecourt loss in January 2016 that snapped UA’s 49-game homecourt winning streak.
UA is 1-3 in Pac-12 Tournament final games under coach Sean Miller, but beat Oregon in the 2015 Pac-12 Tournament final.
Arizona’s win also snapped UCLA’s 10-game win streak and dropped the Bruins to 29-4, where they will likely now be the third highest-seeded team out of the Pac-12.
After leading by six points at halftime, Arizona pushed it to 11 early in the second half while keeping the Bruins without a field goal for nearly four minutes. UCLA’s shooting woes were typified by a missed 3-pointer in the right corner by Bryce Drew, his seventh miss without a single make.
As a team UCLA had made just 2 of 17 3s through the first 27 minutes of the game. While Alford finally hit a 3 with 10:04 remaining, cutting UA’s lead to 66-57, the Bruins trailed by double digits from there until Isaac Hamiton scored to make it 84-75.
Arizona wound up holding UCLA to about 40 percent shooting from the field, while the Bruins made just 4 of 22 (18.2 percent) from 3-point range. Alford finished 1 for 9 from beyond the arc.
In the first half, Arizona sank 7 of 13 3-pointers and held UCLA to just 2 of 12 3-pointers while taking a 41-35 halftime lead.
Trier led UA in the half with 13 points while Markkanen had 12 points, with each of them making two 3-pointers. UA also held UCLA to 42.3 percent shooting overall from the field and just 2 of 12 from 3-point range.
With UCLA trailing by just a point with 3:20 to go in the first half, Kadeem Allen twice went coast-to-coast for layups. He made the first and, when he missed the second, Markkanen trailed behind, picked up the miss and dunked it in for a 34-29 lead.
The Wildcats used an 8-0 run to take a 27-20 lead into the final six minutes of the half, getting 3-pointers from Allen and Markkanen. However, Trier missed an open 3-pointer and Keanu Pinder missed a pair of free throws that might have expanded UA’s lead even further.
After UCLA took early leads of up to six points while making five of its first six shots, Arizona held the Bruins scoreless for the next 5:28 and took a 14-13 lead when Trier hit a pair of free throws with 12:52 left in the half.
Aaron Holiday finally broke the UCLA drought with a 3-pointer that gave the Bruins a 17-14 lead with 10:32 left, but the Bruins were never really the same after that point.
As a result, UCLA will go home for rest before Selection Sunday while Arizona will be playing the team it tied with for first place in the regular season. Both Oregon and UA went 16-2 throughout the regular season and have each won two games in the tournament.
There will be some separation between the Ducks and Wildcats on Saturday night.