LAS VEGAS — For the second night in a row, the No. 4-ranked Arizona Wildcats played like an elite team and put the fear in the hearts of their remaining potential opponents after brushing aside Colorado 63-43 Friday.
With the win, Arizona advanced to their eighth Pac-12 tournament final and seek their fifth championship. Their last title came in 2002 when they defeated USC 81-71 in Los Angeles. UA has participated in nearly half of the total Pac-12 championship games with 17 tournaments being run from 1987-2014.
Nick Johnson put on a performance Friday evening that rivals the entertainment Las Vegas showcases on “The Strip.”
Johnson amazed the sellout crowd — an overwhelming majority supporting the Wildcats — why he’s the Pac-12 Player of the Year and a second team All-American. He led all scorers with 16 points and dished four assists.
He caused a raucous by catching a pass by teammate Aaron Gordon from beyond the 3 point arc and slamming it in with one hand for the alley-oop. Johnson called for the ball on the very next possession, sinking a three-pointer to give the Wildcats a 19-13 lead and all the momentum.
Colorado battled hard and weathered the storm in the first half keeping their upset bid alive.
Buffaloes’ forward Xavier Johnson scored seven points in the final five minutes of the first half to shrink the deficit to 27-24 by halftime.
“I thought the first half, we really battled. But in the second half, things got away from us quick,” Colorado head coach Tad Boyle said.
Arizona outscored Colorado 36-19 in the second half and held their opponents to 23% shooting during that time.
“If you put all of our eggs in one basket, we have a chance to be great…that’s why we play man-to-man and have that as our philosophy.” head coach Sean Miller said about the way he coaches his defense.
The Wildcats built a seven point lead following halftime thanks in part to three electrifying plays that have the fans debating which was better.
Johnson executed a reverse alley-oop jam from T.J. McConnell, while Rondae Hollis-Jefferson followed that up with a dunk right in the face of a Buffalo defender.
Apparently, Aaron Gordon wasn’t all that impressed with either of them. He brought the “sea of red” to their feet when he rejected Xavier Johnson’s dunk attempt along the baseline less than two minutes later.
The rest of the game was smooth sailing for Arizona who would go on a 13-0 run and build a 19-point lead with 7:55 left to play.
“We haven’t played better basketball at any time this year than we did in the final 20 minutes today,” Miller said.
The Wildcats are playing their best basketball when it matters the most: the postseason.
Arizona flat out dominated the boards again out-rebounding Colorado 41-25. A 16-5 assist advantage is also worth noting.
Reaching the Pac-12 finals, combined with teams ranked next to them losing in early rounds of their respective conference tournament should give Arizona a number one seed regardless of its outcome tomorrow.
In a word, nothing.
Arizona will square off against the second-seeded UCLA Bruins at the MGM Grand Arena Saturday at 3:00 p.m. PST. In their only meeting this year, Arizona won a thriller 79-75 at Pauley Pavilion.
Expect the entire city of Tucson to find a place to cram inside the arena for this one.