In Wednesday’s Pac-12 tournament action in Las Vegas, the Arizona Wildcats showed no signs of letting up despite a tough loss to the Oregon Ducks last weekend in their regular season finale, only their third this season. The Wildcats wasted no time making their case for a No. 1 seed in the upcoming NCAA tournament, trouncing the Utah Utes 71-39 in their quarterfinal matchup. The Wildcats move on to play the Colorado Buffaloes in tomorrow night’s semifinal round. Meanwhile the Utes slink back to Salt Lake City, barely clinging to hopes of an at-large bid in the round of 68, albeit Wednesday’s shellacking could render them NIT bound.
The Wildcats dominated the game from the opening tip and got the job done the way they usually do, by brutalizing their opponent on defense. Utah’s backcourt tandem of Delon Wright and Jordan Loveridge were both held scoreless the entire first half, and by the time the Utes finally escaped for a halftime respite, they found themselves down 34-13. Utah achieved a milestone that they’d have rather done without, scoring the fewest first-half points in Pac 12 tournament history.
The second half further showcased the Wildcats’ defensive dominance well after they commandeered the driver’s seat and left the Utes in thick dust. Wright managed a lone field goal, but Loveridge continued his futility on the floor versus the nation’s sixth ranked defense, finishing the game 0-for-6 shooting. Though, he did manage to eventually put up two points from the free throw line.
At halftime, a reporter asked Wildcats head coach Sean Miller if his team had played their best first half all season at the defensive end. Miller stated although this was quite possibly so, his team has played stellar defense all season long. The numbers don’t argue with Coach Miller, given the fact that the Wildcats have held their opponents to an average of well under 60 points all season on under 40% shooting. The Utes fared even worse than that, finishing Wednesday’s tilt at only 25.5% from the floor. In their first half from Hades, the Utes shot barely over 15%.
The Wildcats turned up the heat on offense as well, shooting 52.9% overall and 38.9% from beyond the three-point stripe. Nick Johnson (14 points), T.J. McConnell (13 points) and Aaron Gordon (11 points) all finished in double figures. The Wildcats also dominated the boards by a 39-24 margin, with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson pulling down nine rebounds off the bench.
The Wildcats know they are not only safely in the NCAA tournament, but are also guaranteed favorable seeding given their record this season. However, they feel they’re definitely good enough to earn a #1 seed, and the conference tournament is the ideal backdrop to show the selection committee where they rightfully belong when Sunday’s brackets are announced. There’s no way the Wildcats could be denied a top seed if they continue to perform at such a stratospheric level for the remainder of their time in Vegas.