2018 Pac-12 Men's Basketball Tournament semifinals: Arizona-UCLA preview
LAS VEGAS — Along with Arizona’s arrival in Thursday’s quarterfinals following a first-round bye, Wildcat nation made its voice heard loud and clear. Despite a down day from Pac-12 Player of the Year Deandre Ayton, who fouled out after just 10 points and six rebounds, Arizona muscled its way to the next round with stout defense and five double-digit scorers.
Awaiting the Wildcats in the semifinals on Friday are the Bruins, who were the only road team to leave Tucson with a victory this season. In that 82-74 win on Feb. 8, the Bruins started off hot and didn’t cool down, shooting 51.6 percent, including 11 of 24 (45.8 percent) from 3-point land.
On Thursday, UCLA created separation from Stanford in the second half, as Aaron Holiday caught fire to match a career high with 34 points. The Pac-12’s leading scorer at 20.9 points per game asserted himself early while slicing the Cardinal defense, and also collected eight assists and seven rebounds to flirt with a triple double.
Given their past success against Arizona, Holiday said the Bruins like their chances.
“Obviously we went into Arizona, tough place to play, and we got the ‘W,'” Holiday said. “We know it’s not going to be easy, especially after beating them there. So I know they’re going to come out hard. We’re pretty confident. We just have to go out there and do what we can do.”
There will be plenty of talent on the floor when these two Pac-12 powerhouses collide. On the perimeter, Arizona features one of the Pac-12’s prolific scorers in Allonzo Trier along with the aggressive Rawle Alkins and shifty point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright. The Bruins boast two of the conference’s best freshmen in Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands.
It will also be interesting to keep an eye on the paint. UCLA center Thomas Welsh presents his share of matchup problems, as evidenced by the four 3-pointers he hit on Thursday. But Arizona possesses arguably the nation’s best big-man combo in Ayton and Dusan Ristic, who sparked the Wildcats in the second half Thursday and ignited the rowdy Arizona fan base.
“It’s amazing,” Ayton said of playing alongside Ristic. “Teams really try to double-team me and Dusan down low, but seeing him fight through all that contact and making big plays like that really sparks a fire.”
You can be sure the arena will be rocking again on Friday night.