ARIZONA BASKETBALL

Arizona wins final Pac-12 men’s basketball regular season title with win over UCLA

Mar 7, 2024, 9:49 PM | Updated: 11:15 pm

Arizona guard Caleb Love...

Arizona guard Caleb Love (2) points to a teammate during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against UCLA in Los Angeles, Thursday, March 7, 2024. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

The No. 5 Arizona Wildcats are the final regular season men’s basketball champions of the Pac-12 after an 88-65 win over UCLA and No. 18 Washington State’s loss to rival Washington on Thursday.

The Cougars entered Thursday with an outside chance of taking the conference title. A win over Washington plus one Arizona loss to either UCLA or USC would have handed the Cougars the long-elusive belt. Washington State beat Arizona twice in the regular season, giving it the tiebreaker if the schools tied.

But Washington kept WSU at arm’s length in the closing minutes for a 74-68 win, and the Cougars finished their Pac-12 slate 14-6. Arizona improved to 15-4 with a final game at USC on Saturday.

Arizona had a 20-point lead in the second half at UCLA by the time action in Pullman wrapped up.

The Wildcats and Bruins were tied at 15 after the first 10 minutes, but Arizona outscored UCLA 29-12 the rest of the half with Arizona fans chanting “U of A! U of A!”. Pelle Larsson scored his 1,000th point with the program in the first. Arizona extended its lead to 22, sparking the first timeout of the second half.

“We appreciate the fans always. They travel really well,” Caleb Love said. “We just wanted to deliver.”

Five Wildcats finished in double figures, led by KJ Lewis with 18 points.

Arizona has won 10 of its last 11 games entering its regular season finale Saturday at USC. The only loss came to Washington State.

The list of regular-season basketball champions in the Pac-12 record book has plenty of mentions of teams like UCLA and Arizona. UCLA has done it, of course — 32 times to be exact.

Arizona previously won 17 regular-season titles since joining the league in 1978. The Wildcats’ most recent came in 2021-22, but they are the two-time defending Pac-12 Tournament champs.

“We know UCLA, we know they’re a blueblood,” said Keshad Johnson, who had 11 rebounds. “They’re leading the NCAA in championships, so we know how big it is to come in here and win in Pauley Pavilion. We just knew we had business to take care of.”

For 83 years, however, Washington State has been absent.

The last time the Cougars won a conference regular-season title was 1941 — the year they reached the national championship game before losing to Wisconsin. They have finished second six times since 1941, the last coming in 2007.

Virtually every other long-time historical member of the West Coast’s top conference has been able to claim the regular-season title in men’s basketball during the Cougars’ drought: USC (seven), California (15), Stanford (11), Washington (12), Oregon State (12) and Oregon (eight).

Arizona State, which also joined in 1978, doesn’t have a regular-season title. Neither do Utah or Colorado, who both came on board when the conference expanded to 12 teams in 2011.

But Washington State’s drought is unmatched. The Cougars’ two regular-season titles – in 1917 and 1941 — are the same as the number of championships won by Idaho when it was a member of the conference.

Meanwhile, Arizona improved to 50-63 in its storied rivalry with UCLA, with Thursday possibly being the final Pac-12 meeting between the two programs as they head to separate conferences. Arizona is headed to the Big 12 next season, while the Bruins are bound for the Big Ten.

The Pac-12 Tournament begins Wednesday in Las Vegas, and Arizona will play in the quarterfinals Thursday at noon.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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