A preview of Thursday night’s Pac-12 Tournament semifinal between the No. 3 seed UCLA Bruins (29-3) and No. 2 seed Arizona Wildcats (28-4) at T-Mobile Arena Arena at 9:40 p.m.
The game can be seen on ESPN and heard in Phoenix on Fox Sports 910.
PAC-12 TOURNAMENT PREDICTIONS: Who wins?
WIN $1,000 IN PRIZES: NCAA Tournament bracket contest
Projected starting lineups:
G Kadeem Allen (6-3 senior)
G Allonzo Trier (6-5 sophomore)
F Rawle Alkins (6-5 freshman)
F Lauri Markkanen (7-0 freshman)
C Chance Comanche (6-11 sophomore)
G Lonzo Ball (6-6 freshman)
G Bryce Alford (6-3 senior)
F Isaac Hamilton (6-5 senior)
F T.J. Leaf (6-10 freshman)
C Thomas Welsh (7-0 junior)
NCAA TOURNAMENT PROJECTIONS: No respect for Pac-12?
How they match up
How they got there: Just three losses in Pac-12 play – to Oregon, Arizona and USC – kicked the Bruins all the way down to third place and the Pac-12 Tournament’s No. 3 seed. Then they had to hang on to beat sixth-seeded USC just 76-74 in Thursday’s late quarterfinal, surviving a 2-for-10 shooting night from Bryce Alford and making just 38.7 percent of their field goals overall.
Arizona finished in a first-place tie with Oregon at 16-2, earned the No. 2 seed and beat No. 7 seed Colorado 92-78 in Thursday’s quarterfinals.
The season series: The Bruins and Wildcats beat each other on the opposing court, with Arizona winning 96-85 at UCLA on Jan. 21 for its best win of the season so far and the Bruins earning revenge with a 77-72 win over Arizona at McKale Center on Feb. 25. UCLA outrebounded UA 35-28 overall at McKale and scored 20 second-chance points off 14 offensive rebounds.
What’s new with the Bruins: UCLA has won 10 straight games since losing to Arizona and USC in successive games at the end of January, playing the same fast-paced offensive style but with better defense and rebounding. The Bruins pulled out their quarterfinal win Thursday by holding USC to just 38.7 percent shooting and 36.0 percent from 3-point range. They’ve been using a mix of a 3-2 zone and man-to-man defense.
UCLA: Lonzo Ball
In two games against Arizona, the Pac-12’s freshman of the year has 16 assists to just three turnovers. That’s even better than his normal 3.1 assist-turnover ratio and the 7.8 assists per game he averages.
Arizona: Allonzo Trier
The Wildcats’ perimeter scoring machine has finally hit his “midseason” form after missing the first 19 games of the season due to suspension. He’s averaging 22.4 points in UA’s last five games.
He said it
“Think about this – until the last two times, ‘SC had beaten them four times in a row. But they got stops at the end. They’re great on offense and they’ve been playing much better defensively. They played really hard. Defense and rebounding (are keys). That’s the formula if we want to win.”
-UA assistant coach Book Richardson, who helped scout the Bruins.
UCLA has won 10 games in a row and has the highest top 25 rank (3) of any team in the Pac-12, yet the Bruins were left out of the love last weekend when Arizona and Oregon finished in a tie atop the Pac-12.
But they can flip-flop that fate this weekend, because the Pac-12 Tournament has only one winner – and UCLA may get a chance to beat Oregon in the finals if it can beat Arizona on Friday.
“It’s huge,” UCLA guard Bryce Alford said of the tournament. “Being in third place in the Pac-12, one game behind Oregon and Arizona, we feel we’re the one left out team that hasn’t gotten a piece of the championship in this league.
“Those two have a piece so it would be a blessing to come in here and get a title and keep that momentum rolling. That would be 12 straight wins heading into the NCAA tournament so that would bode well for us.”
That UCLA will have to get that tournament title through Arizona – and possibly Oregon – is hardly a surprise.
“We knew they were very tough team and we figured they would advance,” UCLA forward T.J. Leaf said of Arizona. “It’s given everyone what they’re kind of wishing for — which is us in the semis. So it should be a really fun game and great atmosphere.”
Work in progress
Leaf made what coach Steve Alford called a “tremendous” effort in returning from a sprained ankle Thursday, collecting 14 points, six rebounds and five assists against the Trojans.
But the Bruins still had issues. They shot only 41.2 percent from the field, had 13 turnovers that USC turned into 15 points and took 12 fewer free throws than the Trojans.
They’ll take it.
“We’re just learning how to win,” Leaf said. “We don’t think we’re at the top of our game but the bottom line is we got the win. That’s the bottom line at the end of the day is just to get a win. It makes it special to win on an off night. We’re all so competitive that we can make up for it.”
Besides, UCLA center Thomas Welsh said, playing USC was a “rivalry game in March,” inevitably a tough competition against a crosstown team (that happens to be fighting to stay in the NCAA tournament field).
“They’re not gonna give in,” Welsh said. “It was a great win for us too because we didn’t play our best ball. At the end of the day, it’s about surviving and advancing.”
Simmons’ minutes chopped
A starter for 18 games this season, UA freshman guard Kobi Simmons has since turned into a sixth man and now the ninth man.
He played only five minutes at ASU last Saturday and seven minutes against Colorado.
Since UA’s locker room was open for the first time this season, under mandatory tournament rules, Simmons was asked about it after Thursday’s game.
“It’s whatever coach feels like that’s best to win,” Simmons said. “If that’s what it is, then we get the win. Whether we play or not doesn’t really matter. … When my name gets called and I get more playing time I’ll be ready.”
Now that the Wildcats have advanced to the Pac-12 Tournament semifinals, they’re done with the Pac-12 Networks for the season.
ESPN will carry their game Friday against UCLA and, if they win, the final on Saturday.
That may be good news for Rawle Alkins’ friends and family back home in Brooklyn.
“Nobody in New York gets Pac-12 Network,” he said. “They watch it online.”
3: UCLA wins in five Pac-12 Tournament games against Arizona under Sean Miller (the Bruins and Wildcats have each won once in their two previous semifinal matchups).
7: Straight Pac-12 Tournament semifinals Arizona has played in.
92: Dollars asked for the cheapest lower-level seat for Friday’s semifinal games on Vivid Seats (cheapest overall was $48) as of early Friday morning. The Pac-12 said tickets are sold out for Friday’s semifinals and Saturday’s final.