UCLA-Arizona Preview

ALAN FERGUSON (STATS Writer)
The Associated PressMarch 15, 2014

Arizona can leave little doubt on whether it'll get a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament by winning its first Pac-12 tournament title in 12 years.

To earn that long-awaited crown, the fourth-ranked Wildcats will have to get past a tournament nemesis, UCLA, in Saturday's championship game.

Arizona (30-3) has likely already secured one of the No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament after winning its first two games in Las Vegas in convincing fashion. After demolishing Utah 71-39 in their opening game Thursday, the top-seeded Wildcats pulled away in the second half for a 63-43 win over No. 5 seed Colorado the next night.

They outscored the Buffaloes 36-19 in the final 20 minutes and outshot them 60.0 percent to 22.7.

"I think we're playing really well right now. We did just beat a good Colorado team," guard T.J. McConnell said. "In the second half, our offense was a lot better. We were moving, screening, cutting. We were making open shots, and we were executing the offense.

"I think if we do that on a nightly basis, it's going to be pretty tough for us to lose."

McConnell and his teammates will next try to become the first Arizona team to claim a conference tournament title since 2002, its last of four in a row. The Wildcats will try to accomplish that goal by earning its second win in the last six tournament matchups against UCLA (25-8).

"This is the rivalry everyone came here to watch," UCLA senior Travis Wear said.

The Bruins took a 66-64 win over the Wildcats in last year's semifinals but fell 78-69 to Oregon in the title game. Arizona beat UCLA in the 2012 quarterfinals but would lose to Colorado in the championship game.

The Wildcats have now reached the title game three times in the last four years. They won their first three championships from 1988-90 just before the conference discontinued the tournament for 12 years.

UCLA will try to earn its first Pac-12 tournament title since 2008 and potentially improve its NCAA seeding. Like Arizona, the second-seeded Bruins have taken their first two games in Las Vegas by lopsided margins.

They handled Oregon 82-63 on Thursday and won 84-59 in Friday's semifinal against No. 6 seed Stanford. Norman Powell had a season-high 22 points on 7-of-10 shooting in Friday's semifinal, while Kyle Anderson had 13 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. Wear finished with a season-high 16 points on 8-of-8 shooting.

The Bruins shot 65.2 percent for their best performance in four years and held Stanford to 39.2.

The championship game will feature the Pac-12's best defensive team in Arizona (57.6 points allowed per game) and best offensive squad with UCLA averaging 82.0 points.

"Arizona is obviously one of the top teams in the country defensively," Wear said, "Both of us can score the ball. It's going to be a good game."

The Wildcats gave up more points than in any game this season in their only other matchup with UCLA, a 79-75 win at Pauley Pavilion on Jan. 9. Arizona blew a 13-point lead late in the game, but conference player of the year Nick Johnson's basket with 1:27 to go put the Wildcats ahead for good.

They held the Bruins to five points after that and made eight of 10 free throws down the stretch. Johnson finished with 22 points while Anderson and Jordan Adams posted double-doubles for UCLA, which was outshot 53.8 percent to 40.0.

The win snapped a three-game losing streak in the series for Arizona.