2017 Pac-12 Men's Basketball Tournament

Presented by New York Life
Event: March 8-11
T-Mobile Arena | Las Vegas, NV

2017 Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Tournament semifinals preview: No. 2 Arizona vs. No. 3 UCLA

Eric Evans Photography

When: Friday, March 9 at 8:30 p.m. PT / 9:30 p.m. MT
Where: Las Vegas, Nevada
TV: ESPN

Coming into the 2017 Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Tournament in Sin City, picking a winner was nothing short of a crapshoot. Would it be top seed Oregon? Powerhouse Arizona or UCLA? A darkhorse?

The semifinals have arrived and by Friday night we’ll be one step closer to the answer. In the nightcap, two of the nation’s best teams will be pitted against one another when No. 2 seed Arizona and No. 3 seed UCLA will duke it out for a chance to reach the Pac-12 Tournament Finals. It’s not often you see two top-7 teams in the semifinals of a conference tournament, but it speaks to the quality of elite basketball the Pac-12 has been playing this season.

“They’ve had a very, very good year and we’ve had a very good year,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said. “They’ve got great players, we’ve got great players. It’s a tremendous matchup.”

Fans lucky enough to grab seats to the sold-out session will be able to witness two of the most complete, athletic and skilled teams in the nation. The Wildcats and Bruins are 1-1 against each other this season, with the road team taking home the victory on both occasions.

No. 2 seed Arizona (28-4 overall, 16-2 Pac-12)

March Madness is nothing new for Pac-12 Coach of the Year Sean Miller. He’s guided his teams to the Elite Eight four times, the Sweet 16 on six different occasions and led the Wildcats to the Pac-12 Tournament title in 2015. 

Arizona, ranked No. 7 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, might have got off to a sluggish start against Colorado in Thursday’s quarterfinal matchup, but the ‘Cats turned up the intensity in the second half, shooting 64 percent en route to claiming a 92-78 win.

“It was a good test for our team,” Miller said following the victory. “We passed that test. [Friday], guess what, the stakes grow.”

Players to watch

Lauri Markkanen, F, Freshman
Height/weight: 7-0, 230
Key stats: 15.3 ppg, 7.3 reb, 2.0 3pg, 48.6 FG%

The fabulous freshman moves so fluid you forget he’s a 7-footer. The Finnish phenom led the Wildcats with 20 points on Thursday while hitting four 3-pointers. In the 96-85 win over UCLA at Pauley Pavilion on Jan. 21, Markkanen posted 18 points and seven rebounds, but he was limited to just 10 points and five rebounds in the 77-72 loss to the Bruins at McKale on Feb. 25.

Dusan Ristic, C, Junior
Height/weight: 7-0, 245
Key stats: 10.8 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 54.1 FG%

The Wildcats usually wear down opponents with their athletic crop of wing players, but when Ristic is on top of his game, it makes Arizona even more dangerous. On Thursday, Ristic went 7-of-8 from the field as part of a 15-point night, marking the Serbian’s biggest scoring output in nearly two months.

No. 3 seed UCLA (29-3 overall, 15-3 Pac-12)

Perhaps there’s no hotter Pac-12 team than the Bruins, who enter Friday’s semifinal riding a 10-game winning streak. UCLA boasts the nation’s top scoring offense (90.8 ppg), most efficient attack (52.2 FG%) and dishes out the most assists (21.7 per game), but on Thursday had to turn up the defense to top rival USC, 76-74.

“I think in early January we may not win this game because our defense is much better than what it was,” Steve Alford said. “So hopefully our guys can see that and they can build some confidence.”

Do the Bruins, ranked No. 3 in the AP poll, have yet another level to reach as March Madness approaches? If so, that’s scary.

Players to watch

TJ Leaf, F, Freshman
Height/weight: 6-10, 225
Key stats: 16.2, 8.4 rpg, 1.2 bpg, 62.5 FG%

Leaf made a strong return to the floor on Thursday after missing a game due to an ankle injury. The talented freshman spun past his defender and threw down a dunk to open the scoring against the Buffs, en route to posting 14 points, six rebounds and five assists in 33 minutes of action. You’d be hard pressed to find another big man in the nation who can put the ball on the floor and move as well as Leaf.

Lonzo Ball, G, Freshman
Height/weight: 6-6, 190
Key stats: 14.8 ppg, 7.8 apg, 6.2 rpg, 1.9 spg, 2.3 3pg, 55.0 FG%

The Pac-12 Freshman of the Year struggled early with foul trouble on Thursday but still managed to score 12 points, dish out seven assists and grab four rebounds. It’s hard to keep your eyes off Ball when he’s on the floor, as he loves to slash in the lane and kick it out to teammates, hoist it from NBA 3-point range or throw down a monster dunk. After getting his first taste of March Madness on Thursday, Ball said he’s ready for more.

“I love it,” Ball said. “The bigger the game, I feel, the better I play.”

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