Before they took the McKale Center floor for a final time Saturday, the Arizona Wildcats already knew they were in the NCAA tournament.

They knew Utah beat Oregon earlier Saturday, meaning there was no shot at a share of the Pac-12 title.

And, just before their 73-58 win over ASU on Saturday, Oregon State upset Colorado - meaning the Wildcats didn't even need to beat the Sun Devils to get a first-round Pac-12 tournament bye.

But the game still mattered to the No. 18 Wildcats (24-6), who finished in a three-way tie for second place in the Pac-12 at 12-6 and will be the No. 4 seed in the Pac-12 tournament.

Very much.

You could see it in the way Nick Johnson returned to his all-out rhythm on both sides of the floor, leading the Wildcats with 17 points, four rebounds, three assists and three steals.

You could see in the senior day intensity of Kevin Parrom, who had 13 points on 4-for-8 shooting and seven rebounds.

You could see it in the way UA coach Sean Miller bearhugged Solomon Hill as he came off Olson Court for the final time, having posted 12 points and four rebounds.

You could see it when officials called a total of 10 fouls in the first three minutes of the second half, including simultaneous technicals by UA's Johnson and ASU's Chris Colvin.

You could see it in the way UA forced 17 ASU turnovers, scoring 21 points off them, allowing the Sun Devils just three offensive rebounds.

And, according to the Wildcats, they also saw it during workouts all week, enduring what Miller said may have been one of the hardest weeks of practice he's held in March.

"Our will to be a good team has never left us, and that was really apparent this week," Miller said. "Sometimes when you push a team as hard as we went this week you can get some back-push, so to speak, where a couple of guys don't really want to go as long or hard. We had none of that.

"Credit our seniors for that."

The seniors received the payoff Saturday, thanks to plenty of help from underclassmen such as Johnson, Kaleb Tarczewski (nine points, eight rebounds), Brandon Ashley (six points, six rebounds) and even Jordin Mayes (six points).

Collectively, while the Wildcats allowed ASU to shoot 46.5 percent overall from the field, their defense made a difference. Arizona had 10 steals and a 35-23 rebounding advantage that was not reminiscent of so many recent defensive efforts.

What's more, UA was relatively consistent in both halves. The Cats built a double-digit lead 15 minutes into the game, led 40-25 at halftime and, despite having their lead trimmed to just five points with 11:26 to go, went on a 22-7 run from there to put the game away. During the run, Johnson and Hill each had seven points, and Parrom added five.

"We had to keep the same pressure in the second half," said Hill, who had 12 points. "We continued to do it, because in games like Cal (when the Bears shot 62.5 percent after halftime), we didn't bring it out in the second half, and we ended up losing."

It was that 77-69 home loss to Cal on Feb. 10, as much as any, that cost the Wildcats a share of the Pac-12 title that UCLA won Saturday. Arizona finished tied for second with Cal and Oregon, a game behind the Bruins, and the Wildcats received the No. 4 seed because they have not beaten either of the teams they are tied with. They will play the winner of the No. 5 (Colorado) vs No. 12 (Oregon State) game on Thursday at 2:30 p.m. in Las Vegas.

"Instead of cutting down the nets today and at least sharing the Pac-12 championship with UCLA … we didn't play good enough defense to win it," Miller said.

But what the Wildcats might have done Saturday, instead, was capture some much-needed momentum. Arizona had some good signs in its 74-69 loss at UCLA last Saturday, such as Johnson's turnaround and Mayes' helpful play off the bench, and put on display several more pieces that it will need in the postseason.

Johnson, who played below normal for much of February after contracting an illness in Washington, said he "felt good" after a week of focusing on defense in practice.

That may have been something of an understatement, considering Johnson's help on both sides of the ball.

"That's the Nick that's played with us the entire season. He knows this," Miller said. "If he's not energized defensively or playing with confidence on offense, we're not nearly as good of a team."

The Wildcats also may again have a backup combo guard, with Mayes stringing together 12 efficient minutes off the bench while Mark Lyons struggled with fouls and eventually left the game with 1:12 left after picking up a technical foul that was his fifth overall. Lyons also had no assists with three turnovers and shot 2 of 10 from the field.

Arizona also displayed some tenacity - and maybe some restraint - after the game turned physical and foul-plagued early in the second half.

Among other incidents, Parrom was whistled for two straight fouls, Ashley was called for blocking, and Johnson and ASU's Colvin were both assessed technical fouls.

"That was the most bizarre three minutes of basketball that I've ever coached in, played in or witnessed at any level, from the time that I was 2 to the time I'm 44," Miller said. "That's all I'm going to say. Extremely bizarre."

Miller said it almost came to the point where he wanted to call a timeout just to get his team a break from it all, and the Wildcats did initially suffer. They led 44-30 after the technicals, but ASU cut it to 48-43 with 11:26 to go.

However, UA took a 70-50 lead with 4:23 left to put the game away as the Sun Devils struggled with foul trouble.

Miller said it "wasn't in the cards" to play either forward Angelo Chol or guard Gabe York off the bench, but the coach did manage to play all four of his walk-ons as the Wildcats coasted happily into a postgame senior day ceremony.

Now, with a little extra motivation as a No. 4 seed next week, they hope to keep the good times going.

"We're not going to Vegas feeling good about winning the conference," Miller said. "Sometimes when you do that, the edge is taken off because you're thinking about the next tournament. Our focus right now is what we did this week - and that's to be the most ready we can be."

Up next

• What: Pac-12 tournament

• Where: Las Vegas

• When: 2:30 p.m. Thursday

• TV: Pac-12 Networks

Pac-12 tournament

The Pac-12 tournament didn't have a single seed locked in before Saturday's games.

By the end of the day, however, UCLA emerged as the No. 1 seed after winning the conference outright. Cal was seeded second, with Oregon, a loser at Utah, being placed third in the tournament, to be held at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

The Arizona Wildcats and Colorado Buffaloes, seeded No. 4 and 5, respectively, could face each other in the second round, a rematch of last year's final.

Here's a look at the schedule:


• Stanford (8) vs. ASU (9), noon (Pac-12 Networks)

• Colorado (5) vs. Oregon State (12), 2:30 p.m. (Pac-12 Networks)

• USC (7) vs. Utah (10), 6 p.m. (Pac-12 Networks)

• Washington (6) vs. Washington State (11), 8:30 p.m. (Pac-12 Networks)


• UCLA (1) vs. Stanford/ASU, noon (Pac-12 Networks)

• Arizona (4) vs. Colorado/Oregon State, 2:30 p.m. (Pac-12 Networks)

• Cal (2) vs. USC/Utah, 6 p.m. (Pac-12 Networks)

• Oregon (3) vs. Wash./Wash. State, 8:30 p.m. (ESPNU)


• Semifinals, 6 p.m. (Pac-12 Networks) and 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)


• Final, 8 p.m. (ESPN)