What has become the Pac-12’s top basketball rivalry was renewed again Saturday, and you could tell it by the final tallies.
In Arizona’s 90-83 win over the Ducks, there were 51 fouls, two technicals, 61 free throws and a charged, sellout crowd of 14,644 fans.
And, nearly, one out-of-body experience.
Not surprisingly, Sean Miller stepped up to claim that last item.
Upon seeing a ball that appeared to be slapped out of bounds by Oregon late in the first half — and watching it get awarded back to Oregon — the ever-passionate UA coach protested vigorously, stormed up and down in front of his bench, then leaned back, wrapping his hands behind his head, looking blankly at the ceiling.
It was almost reminiscent of Miller’s infamous “he touched the ball” theatrics in the 2013 Pac-12 Tournament, when he protested a double-dribble call on Arizona by saying a UCLA player had touched it first, though it didn’t come with the ensuing postgame rant.
This time, Miller calmly explained it all.
“I almost a had an out-of-body experience,” Miller said, smiling. “I couldn’t remember where I was. I thought I was having a stroke in the locker room. Then I came to my senses. Because I just saw the ball go off them. No official’s perfect but that’s one they probably missed.”
Maybe so, but in the end Miller could take solace in two things.
First, whatever way anybody viewed the officiating, the fact was that Arizona went to the free-throw line 37 times and made 34 free throws. Oregon was 21 of 24, meaning UA scored 13 more points at the line, more than enough for the winning margin.
Second, even if he left his body for a moment, Miller had plenty of other good ones remaining on the floor.
Guys like Deandre Ayton, his almost unguardable freshman big man, who had 24 points and seven rebounds. And Allonzo Trier, his workaholic junior guard, who had 25 points and six rebounds.
Together, they led the Wildcats (14-4 overall and 4-1 in the Pac-12) to their second straight win over the Ducks after three straight losses, one of which snapped UA’s 49-game home-court winning streak in 2015-16.
Even as his bench is shrinking, Miller also had a surprise player pop up and help bring the win home: Senior forward Keanu Pinder, who didn’t play at all on Thursday in UA’s 62-53 win against Oregon State, had two blocks, a steal and six points over 18 minutes when the Ducks went with a smaller, athletic lineup and center Dusan Ristic ran into foul trouble.
“It’s not easy for an older player to not get an opportunity on Thursday night and then on noon on Saturday rise to the challenge like he did,” Miller said. “He was (4 of 5) from the line, had a couple of great shot-blocks, played hard, gave us quickness.
“We needed him to match up with them and he really did a good job of allowing us to do that.”
Pinder was also on the floor in the final minute, when he made his four free throws and helped hold off an Oregon team that led by four points with 5:40 left. The Ducks, who had completely erased what was a 13-point UA lead in the first half, finished by missing 8 of 10 shots with two turnovers down the stretch.
“I think our defense won the game,” said UA forward Rawle Alkins, who had 13 points and six assists along with five turnovers. “We were kind of playing with them, whether it was switching on defenders or jumping them and playing regular. We were just trying to mess with their heads a little bit and our defense late helped us win.”
But unlike in their win over Oregon State, when UA’s defense offset its poor offensive efficiency, the Wildcats also had plenty of offense in this one.
Ayton was 7 for 11 from the field and 10 of 11 from the free-throw line. Notably, he took in a pair of lobs from Trier that the Ducks simply couldn’t touch, helping break up an Oregon zone defense that UA shot 54.3 percent against.
“That’s something we have to keep developing,” Miller said. “There are times in every game where you have to trust him and throw it because it’s a really high-percentage play. In most year’s, it’s not. You’d almost call that the home run play, (that) it better work. … That is a weapon for us against the zone. Trying to get that a couple times a game is a smart move for us.”
It usually worked out well for the Wildcats when Trier kept the ball in his hands, too. Trier shot 6 of 14 from the field, and while he made only 2 of 8 3-point attempts, was a perfect 11 for 11 at the line.
Together, Ayton and Trier made 21 free throws, equaling the entire number Oregon made. As a team, UA’s 34-of-37 effort was by far its most impactful free-throw effort of the year (the Wildcats shot a better percentage from the line only against North Dakota State, 92.3, that was only on 12-for-13 shooting).
“Thirty-four of 37, you just can’t underestimate that,” Miller said. “We were an excellent free- throw shooting a year ago (76.5 percent). That’s why we won so many close games. The same is true this year. Deandre and Allonzo can really shoot for the line, and that overcame the 17 turnovers.”
Oregon did turn those 17 UA turnovers into 21 points, but that wasn’t enough, either. Arizona had 15 points off turnovers of its own, and outrebounded Oregon 27-23 in a game when it had just four offensive rebounds.
While the Wildcats had only eight bench points, with Miller giving only six players double-figure minutes, Pinder made the most of the 18 he played. He had a block and a dunk almost immediately after entering the game in the first half and made an impact at the end.
UA took an 81-77 lead heading into the final two minutes before Pinder then stole the ball from Oregon’s Troy Brown, leading to a pair of free throws by Trier that gave UA an 83-77 lead with 1:39 left. Then, Pinder and Alkins combined for six free throws in the final minute.
“It felt really good to get out there and do what I do,” Pinder said. “It was really fun.”
Ristic played only 15 because of foul trouble, and four UA starters played 35 minutes or more: Ayton and Parker Jackson-Cartwright logged 37, while Trier played 38 and Alkins 35.
While Miller says he needs more help from his reserve players heading into a road trip to the Bay Area this week, he also says it’s hard to pull some of his starters.
Every minute that a guy like Trier or Ayton sits on the bench is a minute the Wildcats might get a 3-pointer or drive to the bucket from Trier, or any number of unearthly moves from Ayton, who just might become the Wildcats’ first-ever No. 1 NBA Draft pick next June.
“I have to convince myself to take Deandre out,” Miller said. “He has to be tired, (be in) foul trouble — something — because he brings such an element to the game.
“We’ve only got him for so many games, right? We might as well play him the most that we can.”