What a finish it was to the 2017 Pac-12 Men's Basketball Tournament on Saturday night in Las Vegas at the T-Mobile Arena, as the Arizona Wildcats held off the defending champion Oregon Ducks down the stretch to claim the conference title and the Pac-12's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats took a 35-29 halftime lead and then did just enough in the second half to emerge with the 83-80 victory, taking advantage—as predicted—of slight fatigue to the Ducks' roster due to the tough games played on Thursday and Friday, respectively. Arizona held decisive edges in shooting percentages for the first half, the second half and the whole game combined that turned out to be the key difference in the matchup as Oregon's outside shooters never found their legs on Saturday night.
If you were unable to catch this game live in person or on television due to being unavoidably detained elsewhere, here's what happened in the Session 6 championship round of the tourney.
Whose fans will be happy?
We have to hand it to the Arizona Wildcats and their fans: The relatively short drive from Tucson to Vegas—only 413 miles—paid off for the fans of the new Pac-12 champs. The Wildcats not only knocked off the No. 3 team in the country (UCLA) on Friday night, but they made it count with the win over the No. 5 Ducks in the title tilt. Arizona was ranked No. 7 in the Associated Press poll last week, and no other team in the nation can claim two wins like this in Championship Week. The Wildcats have just established themselves as a legitimate threat to win the national championship. What fan base wouldn't be ecstatic about that?
Whose fans will be sad?
This was a tough loss to swallow for the Oregon faithful that traveled from Eugene, for two reasons. First, the obvious: The Ducks came so close to defending their conference title from last season, but they just ran out of gas in this game against Arizona. The Wildcats led for the final 30 minutes of this game, and Oregon could never retake the lead in the second half after trailing at halftime. That had to be frustrating. Second, the Ducks learned right before the start of the game that senior forward Chris Boucher would miss the rest of the season due to a knee injury suffered in Friday night's game against California. That was a psychological blow that also will impact Oregon's NCAA Tournament aspirations (see below).
What were the big moments?
The Ducks took a 14-12 lead with 12:16 remaining in the first half, but for the next 4:45 of game time, the Wildcats took permanent control of the game. An 11-3 scoring run doesn't seem like a big deal on paper; however, it was huge on the floor Saturday night at the T-Mobile Arena. First, Arizona sophomore center Chance Comanche dunked to tie the game. Then, Wildcats sophomore guard Alonzo Trier hit a three-point shot that ended up giving the lead to Arizona for good, although no one knew it at the time. Trier added a free throw before Oregon made its only shot during this stretch of the game to cut the lead to one point. Finally, senior guard Kadeem Allen scored the last five points of the spurt on three free throws and a layup to give the Wildcats a six-point lead. Just like that, Arizona was in control of the game, and the Ducks were scrambling desperately to get back into it. They never really did, despite cutting the lead to just two points momentarily in the final minute of the game.
Which players came up big?
When a team shoots 58 percent from the floor in a championship game, everyone came up big. Yet it was Trier who stands out with his team-best 23-point effort. He nailed 3-of-6 shots from three-point range, and the sophomore star was also near perfect from the free-throw line (10-for-11). Trier did commit a team-high five turnovers, but he countered that with eight rebounds and three assists. Again, it was a very balanced effort that led the Wildcats to the title: Six different players scored at least eight points each, and the team as a whole couldn't miss in the second half, shooting 66.7 percent over the final 20 minutes of the game. However, it was Trier's three that gave Arizona the lead for good in the first half, and no other Wildcats player scored more than 13 points against Oregon.
Which players needed to be better?
The Ducks hurt themselves by shooting just 34.5 percent in the first half, and overall, a 27.3-percent effort from three-point range really took its toll on the scoreboard for Oregon. This is a team that shot almost 38 percent for the season from downtown, and the fatigue from hard-fought games on Thursday against Arizona State and Friday against Cal finally caught up with the Ducks. Losing Boucher didn't help the cause, either, but senior guard Dylan Ennis exemplified the Oregon struggles in this game. He had the exact same shooting percentage from three-point range this season (37.8) as the entire team, collectively, and Ennis was 0-for-4 from beyond the arc against Arizona. He still managed 12 points overall to surpass his season scoring average, but the fatigue again was clear for the Ducks as the legs just weren't there to support a usually strong outside shooting game.
Big picture in the Pac-12 men's basketball tournament
The Wildcats won their second conference tournament title in the last three seasons—and their league-best sixth conference championship overall. Based on other Championship Week action around the country, Arizona will move up in the national rankings and the eyes of the NCAA Tournament selection committee with its effort in this Pac-12 event that received a lot of national coverage on Friday and Saturday nights, respectively. Both the Wildcats' win on Friday night over UCLA and this title-game win over Oregon were broadcast on ESPN, and when you beat two Top 5 teams on the way to a conference championship, the experts tend to notice. If the NCAA committee has any integrity, it won't give teams like Kansas and/or North Carolina a top seed in March Madness after losing early in conference tournaments. It will reward Arizona for its full body of work this season instead.
The Ducks, as mentioned above, could be disappointed as the committee surely will weigh the loss of Boucher (11.8 points per game, 2.5 blocks per game) when determining Oregon's NCAA Tournament seeding. That doesn't seem fair, but it's just the way the cookie crumbles sometimes in the cruel world of sports. However, Oregon still get a high seed when the national bracket is revealed on Sunday afternoon, and if the title game was any indication, it would be folly to count the Ducks out simply because they're down a man. Oregon still has a very talented roster that is capable of beating any other team in the country.