A preview of Saturday night’s Pac-12 Tournament final between the No. 2 seed Arizona Wildcats (29-4) and No. 1 seed Oregon Ducks (29-4) at T-Mobile Arena Arena in Las Vegas at 9 p.m.
The game can be seen on ESPN and heard in Phoenix on Fox Sports 910.
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Projected starting lineups:
G Kadeem Allen (6-3 senior)
G Rawle Alkins (6-5 freshman)
F Allonzo Trier (6-5 sophomore)
F Lauri Markkanen (7-0 freshman)
C Dusan Ristic (7-0 junior)
G Payton Pritchard (6-2 freshman)
G Dylan Ennis (6-2 senior)
F Tyler Dorsey (6-4 sophomore)
F Dillon Brooks (6-7 junior)
C Jordan Bell (6-9 junior)
How they match up
How they got there: Arizona and Oregon are making a fitting appearance in the Pac-12 Tournament final, having tied for the Pac-12 regular-season conference title at 16-2. Oregon received the No. 1 Tournament seed based on its 85-58 win over Arizona at Eugene, then beat eighth-seeded ASU 80-57 in a quarterfinal matchup on Thursday and beat fifth-seeded Cal 73-65 in Friday’s early semifinal game. Arizona beat seventh-seeded Colorado 92-78 in the quarterfinals and third-seeded UCLA 86-75 in the semifinal.
The season series: Arizona and Oregon played only once this season because of the Pac-12’s unbalanced schedule and, based on that one matchup, maybe that was just as well for the Wildcats. The Ducks shot a blistering 65.2 percent from the field, making 16 of 25 3-pointers, while winning 85-58 on Feb. 4 in Eugene. Dillon Brooks had 18 points on 7 for 10 shooting to lead the Ducks while Rawle Alkins was UA’s leading scorer with 16 points.
What’s new with the Ducks: The NCAA’s selection committee gave the Pac-12’s top tentative tournament placement during its Feb. 11 early reveal, and the Ducks haven’t lost since. While Oregon had had a few close calls down the stretch – winning at Cal by three points on a game-winner from Brooks, beating Stanford by two, and leading Cal by just two points with 44 seconds left in their semifinal game. But the Ducks always seem to get it done with their combination of experience and ability to create mismatches, having won eight in a row since their 82-79 loss at UCLA on Feb. 9.
Oregon: Dillon Brooks
There’s really only one thing lately that has stopped the Pac-12’s Player of the Year: Foul trouble. Brooks has picked up four or more fouls in his last 12 games, and was limited to just 21 minutes on Friday against the Bears because he had four fouls. But when Brooks is in the game, he’s a matchup nightmare at power forward because of his size, shooting and athleticism.
Arizona: Lauri Markkanen
The Wildcats appear to be breathing a quiet sigh of relief that their Finnish freshman has regained his 3-point stroke in Las Vegas, making 8 of 17 3-pointers in two Pac-12 Tournament games so far, but he might be forced into the difficult position of trying to guard the quicker Brooks at times at power forward.
BOX SCORE: Arizona 86, UCLA 75
He said it
“They’re one of the most complete teams in the country, offense and defense. They do a great job of just knowing how to win games. There’s no formula to it. They’re older. They’re experienced. They’re talented. They have everything that you need to win a Pac-12 Championship and a national championship. … The testament of a great team is being able to find a way to win no matter what. They found ways to win on numerous occasions. Some people say that’s luck. I don’t call it luck. I call it the Dillon Brooks factor and that team just believes it’s going to win. They have so many weapons. We gotta try to solve a couple of them. Hopefully we can give a spirited defensive effort and hopefully we don’t get blown out.”
– UA assistant coach Book Richardson, who scouted the Ducks in person Friday.
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Winner to the West?
The Pac-12 Tournament final Saturday could do much more than just break the tie that Oregon and Arizona were in at the end of the regular season atop the conference.
It could decide which team gets to stay in the West region with Gonzaga – and who gets shipped to another region (possibly even the Midwest in Kansas City, where Kansas could pop up in the Elite Eight on its near-home turf).
UA guard Kadeem Allen says he doesn’t pay attention to that kind of thing, junior guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright said there’s a lot on the line Saturday.
“We’re playing for everything right now,” Jackson-Cartwright said after UA beat UCLA on Friday. “We’re playing for respect. We’re playing for seeding. We’re playing for a championship. But at the same time we’re taking it one day at a time. We’ve been consistent in our process and it’s helped us win big games like this.”
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Rewind. Or maybe not.
So how did Oregon blow out Arizona back on Feb. 4, exactly?
Let us count the numbers: Oregon shot 65.2 percent from the field, had 26 assists for 30 made shots, hit 16 of 25 3-pointers and outscored UA in fast-break points 14-4, all while a sellout crowd of 12,364 made arguably the loudest noise since the Ducks moved from McArthur Court back in 2011.
“They went on a roll like I’ve never seen before,” UA coach Sean Miller said. “There was just nothing you could do. I think they made 16 of 21 at one point.”
Oh, and as Oregon’s Dillon Brooks is well aware of, the Ducks limited Lauri Markkanen to just five shots – only one of which the Finnish big man made.
“We played almost a complete game,” Oregon’s Dillon Brooks said. “We were sharing the basketball really good. We were rebounding it and we were really defending them. We never gave Markkanen a single shot. And when we did mess up it was only twos. Every shot he took was contested. Our crowd was into it and we were really focuses. We really wanted to beat them.”
Now, they are aware somebody really wants to beat them.
“I know Arizona, they’re gonna probably be ready for us if they win,” Oregon guard Tyler Dorsey said before the UA-UCLA game tipped off.
To beat them, Miller said, the Wildcats will not only have to defend the 3-point shot but also execute aginst a different type of zone defense than UCLA threw at them: Oregon runs a switching match-up zone that somewhat resembles a man-to-man.
“Tonight (against UCLA) our ability against the zone was a big turning point in terms of winning or losing,” Miller said. “We executed really well against their zone. Hopefully we can do the same thing” Saturday.
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Tit for tat
When UCLA held a five-point lead with one second to go in the Bruins’ Feb. 25 win at McKale Center, Bruins coach Steve Alford called a timeout. UA was taking the ball after two made UCLA free throws, and Alford said he was trying to set his defense because he didn’t want anything “goofy” to happen.
“I didn’t mean any disrespect at all,” Alford said.
UA coach Sean Miller may not have agreed. Because when UA led UCLA 86-75 with a second left to play Friday… he called a timeout.
“I think we learned from UCLA in that game (it’s) just making sure your team is poised moving forward,” Miller said with apparent dryness. “When they called their timeout late, we wanted to do the same thing. Make sure our team was poised moving forward.”
McKale North. And everywhere else.
When he took a recruiting trip to Finland in 2015, Miller said, he told Markkanen that UA fans would be everywhere the Wildcats played.
“He thought I was lying to him when I described that,” Miller said. “He knows how it’s true, right?
Markkanen, sitting with Miller at the interview podium, agreed in his waste-no-words way.
“Yeah,” he said.
UA fans outnumbered UCLA fans Friday and have been in four-figure numbers for most every road or neutral game, except against Michigan State in Hawaii and at Oregon State and Washington State.
“It’s a great boost for us,” Trier said. “We’re very appreciative of our fan base, how much they support us and the energy they bring us.”
1: Arizona wins in four Pac-12 Tournament finals under Miller
3: Pac-12 Tournament finals the Wildcats have reached in the past four seasons, missing only last season when Oregon beat them in an overtime semifinal game.
4: Straight years the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds have met in the Pac-12 Tournament finals.
6: More assists (37) in 14 games this season than Allonzo Trier had in 27 games last season.