LAS VEGAS —
Paying the freight at the Pac-12 Tournament isn’t just buying those nosebleed tickets — three days for $300. It’s the $19 hamburgers, the $13 beers, the $40 resort tax on top of the $179 per night in a hotel, the parking, the airfare and the $32 for a 5-mile cab ride.
And let’s say you throw down $500 at the sports book and it doesn’t work out.
It’s a big number.
But if you are a fan of winning — if you are a fan of Arizona basketball — it’s more fun than a weekend in Pinetop or a getaway to the beach.
Long before Arizona took Colorado to the woodshed Thursday afternoon, winning 83-67, thousands of Wildcat fans in their ever-present red gear were drinking and singing. Not just in the lobby of the adjacent New York New York hotel or on the uber-fun courtyard outside the T-Mobile Arena. But everywhere you looked.
This is the real Big Red Machine.
Bloody Mary, anyone?
There must’ve been 10,000 Arizona fans in the T-Mobile seats before noon. By comparison, Colorado filled most of Section 7 in the lower bowl. That’s what, 400 people?
About an hour after Colorado coach Tad Boyle confessed “today was not Colorado’s day,” the UCLA-Stanford quarterfinal game tipped off. In terms of fan engagement, it came off as a junior varsity game.
Let’s just say there was a significant lack of powder blue at the T-Mobile Arena. It would be a stretch to say there were as many UCLA fans as there were Colorado fans.
Boyle was asked about Arizona’s pronounced advantage — McKale North, you know — and said “if they have an advantage, there’s nothing we can do about it. We can’t move our campuses.”
With the exception of expanding the conference to include Utah and Colorado, the most resounding move made by Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott was to move the league’s basketball tournament to Las Vegas.
He added to that bright idea by moving the tournament across the street from the MGM Grand Arena to the T-Mobile Arena, which has about 7,000 more seats, including suites, loges and space for everyone.
On Thursday afternoon, Scott took his well-positioned seat on the front row, center court, with his new buddy, Magic Johnson.
Forget the ACC and the Big Ten; the Pac-12 Tournament is the place to be.
At some point, especially if Arizona regresses for a year or two while the NCAA sorts through an FBI investigation, the league may learn that its dependency on the Big Red Machine could be troublesome.
For now, though, Arizona’s Allonzo Trier seems to have the best perspective on the “how-long-can-we-keep-this-up?” question. After he scored a game-high 22 points, Trier was asked how the Wildcats feed off senior Dusan Ristic, who had another of what is becoming a routine double-double — 16 points, 11 rebounds.
“This is the last time Dusan has a chance to go down this road,” said Trier. “He’s making the most of it.”
That seemed to be the way Arizona played Thursday. Enjoy the moment and make the best of it.
UA coach Sean Miller has never publicly said anything but “we’re in this to win it.” If he privately buys into the old “our seed is secure, we can use some rest before Selection Sunday” theory — one supported by Lute Olson over the years — his teams sure don’t play that way.
Trier was coming off the worst night of his college career. He shot 1 for 10 afield and scored two points last week against Cal, and if he’s human, he was still stinging from a January loss at Colorado when he shot 3 for 9 and, more telling, did not shoot a free throw.
Since then, in two UA victories over Colorado, Trier has forced his will on the Buffaloes, making 15 of 15 free throws and scoring 45 points.
“My body of work over the years makes up for that one bad game,” he said. “I didn’t lose confidence a bit.”
It might be that Arizona’s most positive development of the week was that Colorado eliminated Arizona State and prevented a soul-draining 40 minutes against the Sun Devils. Even a victory over ASU is like giving blood.
Colorado? Just another game, dude.
The Wildcats are now on an 11-2 run against Colorado, a redemptive mission after ex-Buffalo Xavier Johnson declared CU worries so little about Arizona that he didn’t consider it a rivalry.
Boyle’s team exited the season with a far different demeanor than the day he soaked in a January victory over Arizona and admitted that “hell, yes” it was especially enjoyable to beat a team under the FBI’s microscope.
Boyle was not as buoyant Thursday.
“We weren’t good enough,” he said. “This is the end of the road for our seniors.”
In a sense, even though it’s March, even though the future of Arizona basketball is uncertain, the Wildcats had the look of a team at the beginning of a challenging mission.
The Big Red Machine marches on.