Pac-12 Tournament: Arizona cuts down the nets as tourney champion with rout of Oregon
LAS VEGAS – Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was dancing down the court as the crowd in MGM Grand Garden Arena went wild. There were still about four minutes left in the game, but it was already over.
The Arizona Wildcats are the undisputed champions of Pac-12 men's basketball after flexing their muscles in an 80-52 victory over Oregon in the Pac-12 Tournament championship on Saturday night in Sin City.
The victory represents the school's first Pac-12 Tournament title since Lute Olson led his team to the championship in 2002. Coach Sean Miller has been at the helm of the program since 2009, and well aware of the dry spell. But as he told the crowd – which was chock-full of Arizona fans for the third straight day – the monkey is off Arizona's back.
"The next time someone asks you when's the last time Arizona won the Pac-12 Tournament," Miller said from the podium at midcourt after the game, "you tell them 2015."
[Related video: Arizona routs Oregon to clinch Pac-12 Tournament title]
Fittingly, Olson was in the stands to see the No. 5 Wildcats (31-3) assert them the Ducks, surrounded by thousands of fans decked out in red and blue and Arizona block 'A' logos on their chests. Miller made a point to praise Olson for establishing the winning culture that has defined Arizona's program for more than 30 years running.
"Everybody recognizes what he and his coaching staff did many, many years ago," Miller said. "Part of why we had the turnout here today, and why we have the homecourt that we have, is because of his efforts. Him being able to share those efforts is spectacular."
The Ducks (25-9) might have started off hot on Saturday night, but that's about all they were able to accomplish on a night that belonged to Arizona. But, back to Hollis-Jefferson.
With about five minutes left, the Wildcats were in the middle of a ridiculous 15-0 run that removed all doubt. Once T.J. McConnell drained a three-pointer at the 4:37 mark, the pro-Arizona crowd rose to its feet in a frenzy. Once Hollis-Jefferson threw down his rim-rattling dunk with defenders hanging all over him the next time down the floor, he couldn't help but do a little shimmy shake to celebrate. The Wildcats led 74-47 with 4:11 left.
Game. Set. Match.
With how loud the arena was, you might have thought you were in Tucson.
"When other opponents bring 30 percent of their fans and the rest of the stands are filled with Arizona fans, it can be intidimating," McConnell said. "When we go on runs, the crowd is just so energetic and we get fired up, and that's when we go on our run. I've said this day-in and day-out, our fans are the best in the country. It's not even close and they showed why this weekend."
Oregon jumped out to an impressive 10-4 lead to begin the game that had the rowdy crowd quieted. But it didn't last long. Arizona responded with 14 unanswered points and controlled the contest the rest of the way, using a combination of stout defense, sharp shooting and domination on the low block. The Wildcats led 36-21 at halftime before making it a rout in the second period.
Tournament Most Outstanding Player Brandon Ashley led the way with 20 points for Arizona, while Stanley Johnson added 14 and McConnell chipped in 12 more. Meanwhile, the Ducks couldn't get any offensive momentum going against Arizona's athletic defense, shooting just 40 percent on the evening. Big men Dwayne Benjamin (zero points), and Jordan Bell (four points) were held in check while Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewzki (nine points) controlled the paint on both sides of the floor.
Pac-12 Player of the Year Joe Young caught fire with eight quick points in one stretch in the second half, but shot just 7-of-19 from the floor en route to a team-high 19 points. But the Ducks still have a solid body of work for the season and have won 13 of their past 16 heading into the NCAA tournament.
"When you're a winner and you like to win, it's always tough to lose," Young said. "But we have to shake it because we have another stage that's coming and it's starting tomorrow. We've got to build off of this today and we've got to learn from our mistakes because I'm pretty sure we're going to run into a team just like [Arizona]."
Meanwhile, the Wildcats will find out if they did enough to earn a No. 1 overall seed in the Big Dance when the bracket is announced on Selection Sunday. Arizona has won 11 straight and 17 of 18, so, does Miller think his team's deserving of a top seed?
"We can't control that," Miller said. "I know we're in the conversation. We talked about that in the locker room. ... I know we're going to get a very good seed, and we're excited about playing. I think the more important part for us is how well are we going to continue to play? Can we build off this tournament? That's our focus."
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