2014 Pac-12 Tournament bracket update: UCLA vs. Arizona has a classic look
LAS VEGAS – Pac-12 basketball traditionalists have a classic matchup to look forward to in Saturday's Pac-12 Tournament final (3 p.m. PT, FOX Sports 1).
The Pac-12 Tournament championship game will feature the No. 1 seed Arizona Wildcats against the No. 2 seed UCLA Bruins. It will be the second meeting of the season between the two historic basketball powers; Arizona edged UCLA 79-75 in January.
“This league was really good this year, very good,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said. “And you got the team that won it and the team that finished second. Now they're battling in March for a conference tournament championship.”
The Bruins and Wildcats both are peaking at the right time. Here in Las Vegas, Arizona beat Utah and Colorado by an average of 26 points while Alford's crew blew past Oregon and Stanford by an average of 22.
The Wildcats beat the Buffaloes 63-43 on Friday behind a second-half push thanks to better ball movement that built a double-digit lead. The defense was there all game, but Arizona coach Sean Miller liked that his players began working harder at freeing themselves for open looks against a stingy Colorado defense.
“We haven't played better basketball at any time this year than we did in the final 20 minutes today,” Miller said.
Make no mistake: Defense is what's gotten the Wildcats this far. Arizona held the Buffs and Utes to 28 percent shooting in 80 minutes of cumulative playing time here. Arizona's rebounding ability limited its opponents' second-chance points and also afforded second and third looks for the Wildcats themselves.
“We're going to have to do a very good job on the backboard,” Alford said of Saturday's final. “Our guys are going to have to screen and cut on the highest level. It's great preparation for us going into the NCAA tournament.”
While the up-tempo Bruins could find more open looks against the Wildcats with their ability to increase the tempo, Arizona also will be challenged on the offensive end. Alford likes how his team is playing defense. In an 84-59 win against Stanford on Friday, UCLA not only shot a red-hot 65 percent – Norman Powell led the Bruins with 22 points – but held the Cardinal to 40 percent shooting.
“We've never had a problem getting shots,” Alford said. “We play up-tempo. That's the way we've played all year long. I think what's really been a big key is we've got big defensive stops.”
The Bruins proved on Jan. 9 that they could hang with the Wildcats, losing 79-75 in Pauley Pavilion. Though UCLA shot 40 percent, it actually had success on the glass, grabbing 16 offensive rebounds in that loss. Alford's club also forced 17 turnovers and only recorded nine itself. That will be key in keeping Arizona out of transition itself.
A classic matchup between Pac-12 basketball powers and the offense-defense mirror images should make for a compelling matchup. Perhaps the only known factor is which team will have more of a homecourt advantage in Sin City. Arizona fans are here in droves.
“It's like we're playing in McKale (Center) right now,” Miller said.