LOS ANGELES - They were showing reruns of the Arizona basketball 2008 soap opera across the street, but all that really mattered to the Wildcats was what happened inside Staples Center on Friday night.
That's where Arizona earned its first trip to the Pac-10 tournament championship game in six years, with a 67-62 win over USC in the Friday's semifinals.
"What was that year? 2005? Man, that's a long time for me," forward Kevin Parrom said. "We have to start a new streak."
And if the Wildcats happened in the process to, well, KO the NCAA tournament hopes of USC and suspended coach Kevin O'Neill, there were no complaints to be heard. Well, nothing much was said at all, actually.
UA coach Sean Miller deflected a question of whether there was any "residual thinking" about O'Neill, who was suspended for an incident in a hotel near Staples Center on Thursday involving a UA booster who is a close friend of Lute Olson. It was Olson who removed O'Neill from his staff in 2008 after KO spent a season as the Wildcats' interim head coach.
"No," Miller said. "They've had a very good season and … we were focused on beating that team."
Senior forward Jamelle Horne, a frequent target of O'Neill's criticism during and after the 2007-08 season, smiled when asked about KO's suspension but also said UA's focus was simply on beating the Trojans.
There was plenty to focus on. USC has not only been on a late-season tear that put them on the NCAA tournament bubble, but came back to beat Arizona 65-57 at Galen Center 15 days earlier.
In that game, USC's Nikola Vucevic outplayed UA's Derrick Williams with 25 points, 12 rebounds and solid interior defense. It was Vucevic and his own effort that Williams said he remembered from that game the most, not O'Neill's comments leading up to that game that officials made Williams the "most protected dude since Michael Jordan."
"It doesn't make a difference" that O'Neill was suspended, Williams said. "He does all his stuff and tries to get in your head but the last time I played them I just had a bad game. Good players are going to have a bad game."
Williams turned it around Friday, with 20 points and six rebounds, while hitting all four free throws he took in the final 20 seconds to seal the win after USC cut it to three points on three different occasions in the final three minutes.
Horne, meanwhile, sank an earlier dagger into the Trojans, a three-pointer from the corner that expanded the first of those late three-point leads.
Horne finished with eight points, while five other players had six or more points.
The Wildcats also had 13 assists on their 24 field goals, a far different offensive effort than they had two weeks ago while getting swept for the weekend at USC and UCLA.
So Miller said he told his players after the game that it was their best game of the season.
"The way we played, I thought part of what's helped us here is we came here trying to be better than we were a couple of weeks ago, and our team's more together, has a really great mindset," Miller said. "If there was a total team win we had this season, tonight was the night."
The biggest nemesis for the Wildcats this time was normally light-scoring wing Marcus Simmons, though that was partly due to Arizona's decision to place extra defensive emphasis inside on USC's big men.
Simmons finished with 20 points and set up the Trojans' late efforts. He made a rebound basket to cut UA's lead to 58-51 with 4:24 left. He also made a three-pointer to cut the UA lead to 52-45 with eight minutes to go. Simmons entered the game averaging just 4.6 points per game. He took advantage of several good looks UA gave him but also created his own scoring around the basket.
UA had taken leads of up to 12 points in the second half, when Jordin Mayes also drove inside for a layup to make it 50-38, the last of eight points in a span of just 1:37.
In the first half, Arizona allowed USC to shoot 55 percent from the field but still held the Trojans off enough to take a 33-28 lead at halftime.
The Wildcats shot 41.4 percent from the field against the defensive-minded Trojans but finished the half with flair by converting a turnover into a breakaway dunk by Williams with 2 seconds left.
The Trojans were coached by associate head coach Bob Cantu after O'Neill was suspended for the rest of the Pac-10 tournament.
"It was different," Vucevic said. "When KO's there, he yells a lot and we didn't hear a lot of yelling today. I have to say that our coaching staff did a great job of preparing us. I think with them we still did a great job."
Men's Pac-10 tournament
At Staples Center, Los Angeles.
First round, Wednesday
• Game 1: No. 9 Oregon State 69, No. 8 Stanford 67
• Game 2: No. 7 Oregon 76, No. 10 ASU 69
• Game 3: No. 4 USC 70, No. 5 California 56
• Game 4: No. 1 Arizona 78, No. 9 Oregon St. 69
• Game 5: No. 7 Oregon 76, No. 2 UCLA 59
• Game 6: No. 3 Washington 89, No. 6 Washington State 87
• Game 7: No. 1 Arizona 67, No. 4 USC 62
• Game 8: No. 3 Washington 69, No. 7 Oregon 51
• Game 9: No. 1 Arizona vs. No. 3 Washington, 4 p.m., Channel 13
• What: No. 1 Arizona vs. No. 3 Washington
• When: 4 p.m.
• TV: Channel 13
• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM
• What: NCAA men's tournament selection show
• When: 3 p.m. Sunday on Ch 13