College basketball descended upon Las Vegas in the form of the PAC-12 Men’s Basketball Tournament. Held from March 7-10, the conference’s twelve schools would send their squads to T-Mobile Arena to play for an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.
The tournament saw its top four seeds receive first-round byes: Arizona, USC, Utah, and UCLA. Colorado, Oregon State, Oregon, and Stanford all advanced to the quarterfinals where they would face those top seeds.
After cruising through their respective sides of the bracket, Arizona and USC would meet in the tournament’s climax. While this was Sean Miller and Co.’s sixth trip in eight years, USC made its first appearance in the championship game since 2009.
By the opening tip, the crowd had declared its allegiance. “U OF A!” chants echoed throughout the arena, making Vegas feel like Tucson. The Wildcats fed off this energy on their way to an advantage of nine boards over Southern Cal. However, the Trojans never waivered. They outscored UA 33-30 in the first half, spearheaded by a 13 point contribution from forward Nick Rakocevic, who shot 6-7 from the field. They also forced nine Arizona turnovers.
The second half was a clinic put on by Arizona, led by freshman phenom DeAndre Ayton. His 19 points and 10 rebounds along with a solid half from center Dusan Ristic allowed for the Wildcats to start pulling away from SC. The game’s turning point, however, came when sophomore guard Rawle Alkins threw down a vicious two handed jam over USC guard Elijah Stewart. The dunk electrified the crowd and gave Arizona a five point lead with nine minutes left in the game.
Southern Cal was never able to recover from the deficit, and UA ran away with the game, sleighing the Trojans 75-61. Ayton was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, finishing with 32 points and 18 boards in the finale.
With Arizona now already dancing, all eyes turn to Selection Sunday. Three more PAC-12 teams are on the bubble: USC, UCLA, and Arizona State. These programs will desperately await their fate to be announced tomorrow, as will the conference eagerly find out how they are represented at the Big Dance.
Photo Credit: Stav Levaton