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Arizona edge out late UCLA to win title


LAS VEGAS – UCLA’s classic white and powder blue font looked resplendent as it clashed with Arizona’s navy and red trim for a Pac-12 final that seemed a fitting conclusion to each team’s elite level this season.

The contest even lived up to the hefty heavyweight billing, with a remarkable 17 lead changes before the second-seeded Wildcats beat the Bruins 61-59 in the dying embers to win the conference tournament for the second consecutive year.

That’s not to say it was the cleanest game to start with.

Both teams started the game with a combined 2 of 16 from the field in the first six minutes and also committed five turnovers. But like a game traded at one of the many blackjack tables around the Strip, the odds turned and the two teams started hitting hay.

“Knock down, hang out and we felt like it was going to be like this. So much respect for the UCLA program,” said UA head coach Tommy Lloyd, who has gone undefeated in the event since joining. he took over the program two years ago and pushed his record to 61-10 overall. “Super proud of our lads. I had a feeling we were going to win – it doesn’t matter – but I was watching other games on TV today and there were a few blowouts. We didn’t didn’t even think about it because there was no way this game would be a blowout.”

UCLA, even keeping it close, spoke of the grit and competitiveness of a veteran-laden team that lacked two key starters. Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Jaylen Clark is reportedly out for the year after a leg injury suffered in the team’s regular season finale win over Arizona a week ago, while conference rookie of the year Adem Bona was confined to street clothes after sustaining an injury. his left shoulder in the semifinals against Oregon on Friday.

“We always play tough,” head coach Mick Cronin said. “We made too many defensive mistakes and gave up too many rebounds in the second half. But that’s how we do things. We compete, it’s five against five and we don’t accept anyone being out, so you’re supposed to lose.”

Bona’s main backup, redshirt senior Kenneth Nwuba – who was dealing with nagging injuries himself – grabbed two offensive rebounds and took an early charge to lower the tone. Freshman Mac Etienne had seven rebounds in 16 minutes as both fouled with more than four minutes remaining.

Their defense on the pitch was also particularly appreciated, holding Wildcats big man Oumar Ballo to just two points at halftime (he finished with 13) and making him more non-factor than expected. It didn’t help that transfer Gonzaga also faced injuries to both of his heavily glued hands.

Guard Kerr Kriisa also did what he could with a shoulder bump, but wasn’t as effective as he was in the early January win over UCLA in Tucson. The Estonian junior knocked down a key 3 in the streak but finished with just six points and zero assists before committing a foul with 1:49 to go.

Fellow countryman Courtney Ramey only hit one shot all night but saved the best for last, knocking down a 3-pointer with 18 seconds left to regain the lead for good and allow him to step back down the field in making a sign that he had ice in his veins. Pelle Larsson, who gave the ‘Cats their first second-half lead with nine left on an off-center three, also thrilled the thousands of Arizona fans who turned the building into McKale North.

The tournament’s most notable player, Azuolas Tubelis, was more than capable of handling Arizona’s goal-scoring load, having served most of the season to lead the Pac-12 in points. He finished the night with 19 rebounds to go with 14 rebounds and still found success in the midrange.

Opposite number Jaime Jaquez Jr., who was named Western Player of the Year against Tubelis, worked both sides and looked crushed after the final buzzer that he couldn’t offer UCLA its first championship crown. conference tournament since 2014. He ended up with a double-double but missed his last seven shots and had several good shots amid a nearly three-minute drought for the team to finish the game.

“I thought I had a lot of great looks, but I just missed it,” Jaquez said. “It was hard.”

Fellow senior Tyger Campbell, who hadn’t missed more than two free throws in a game since mid-January, also had the opportunity to at least send the game to overtime after drawing a late foul as he was in the bonus. He calmly shook off the first but couldn’t connect at the second to level the game in the final six seconds, spoiling what had been an otherwise stellar outing for the point guard who finished with 16 points on the night.

Freshman Amari Bailey also had another Vegas coming out party, ending in a record 19 and throwing a vicious dunk down the middle of the lane that was tragically washed out by a controversial offensive call.

“We had a shot wide open to win the game (in the end), that’s what it is,” Cronin said of Dylan Andrews’ 3-pointer hitting the back edge and rebounding seconds before confetti raining down on the field. “Tyger fights for a missed free throw, but that has nothing to do with our bad fouls and defensive breakdowns… I’d take Tyger to the line with my career on the line.”

The Bruins are now awaiting their fate with the NCAA Tournament on draft Sunday, but could see the loss affect their chances of securing the No. 1 seed in the West and staying in the Pacific Time Zone until the Final Four. , including a regional in two weeks back at T-Mobile Arena.

At worst, Cronin’s team will find themselves on Line 2 which they will likely share with an Arizona team that has been at the forefront of the two bitter rivals’ fight for conference supremacy for a much of the last few years.

In the end, it was the Wildcats who got the last laugh on a blustery night in the desert where all the worries that usually plague fans, administrators and coaches seemed to melt away and result in a compelling thriller that… put the Pac-12 in the positive. projector that the league had been yearning for a few months.


Amid a wild post-game scene in front of the tens of thousands who stuck around to watch the ‘Cats cut the nets, things got a bit Also heated when fans, first spotted by The Associated Press, appeared to get into a mild altercation with Mick Cronin’s father in the lower parts of the arena after the final buzzer.

Young Cronin was unaware of the events that unfolded but, after being briefed in his post-match press conference, quickly left the session and headed for the pitch while being followed steps away by UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond.

Jarmond finally spoke to commissioner George Kliavkoff and deputy commissioner Jamie Zaninovich after the trophy ceremony about the incident that marred an otherwise celebratory atmosphere after such an entertaining and competitive game.


Arizona and UCLA are grateful for a few days to rest before heading to the sites of their first NCAA tournament games. Everyone leaves Las Vegas with a number of concerns about key players and seems almost relieved that the race is over before the games that really matter for both programs.

“Everyone is stoned this time of year,” Lloyd said. “It’s really hard to play three games in three days… In college basketball at the highest level, it’s hard to get more depth.”

The coach declined to give detailed updates on Ballo’s hand or Kriisa’s shoulder, but indicated both would be fine for their sub-regional competitions next Thursday or Friday.

Before the game, the Bruins confirmed that Bonta would also be back for the big dance after being observed moving much better on Saturday night.

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