ARIZONA BASKETBALL

Arizona Wildcats crowned conference champs with Pac-12 Tournament win

Mar 12, 2022, 9:31 PM | Updated: 11:29 pm

The Arizona Wildcats are the outright 2021-22 Pac-12 Conference champions after winning both the regular season and conference tournament.

Arizona basketball survived a back-and-forth Pac-12 Tournament championship game in Las Vegas on Saturday night, beating the UCLA Bruins, 84-76.

It marks the seventh time the Wildcats have won both in the same season, while Arizona lifts its eighth conference tourney trophy.

The Wildcats managed to do so without the help of starting guard Kerr Kriisa the last two contests, as the Estonian suffered an ankle injury in Arizona’s conference tourney quarterfinal win over Stanford on Thursday.

Kriisa was seen walking without a boot or crutches before Saturday night’s contest after being wheelchaired out of the arena on Thursday and seen on the bench with a boot and crutches on Friday.

After trailing 40-35 at halftime, Arizona went on a 22-5 run over a nine-minute stretch in the second half to take a 63-58 lead.

That was largely due to Wildcats guard Bennedict Mathurin, who led the game in scoring with 27 points, 18 of which came in the second half.

“When we’re down 10 or up 20, we have the same mentality of playing hard until there’s no more time on the clock,” Mathurin told reporters postgame after enjoying one of the celebratory cupcakes from a table outside Arizona’s locker room.

Mathurin finished the night shooting 6-of-14 from the field (43%) and 2-of-6 from beyond the arc while going 13-for-15 from the free throw line (87%) in 39 minutes played.

He was named the most outstanding player of the tournament, while Tommy Lloyd became the first head coach in Pac-12 history to win both the conference regular season and tournament in their first year at the helm.

“These games are long and we’re a team that makes runs,” Lloyd told reporters postgame. “I’m always like, ‘Hang in there, hang in there, we could be a possession or two away from a run.’ We did a good job of hanging in there.”

The win improves Arizona’s overall record to 31-3 (18-2 Pac-12) and practically solidifies the Wildcats as a No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament.

And with selection Sunday at 3 p.m., there’s a chance Arizona could be the No. 1 overall seed.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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