LAS VEGAS — Magic Johnson’s face, one of the most identifiable in basketball history, was in constant awe of a freshman post player from Arizona who he must want to wear a Los Angeles Lakers uniform.
Johnson, sitting courtside, raised his eyebrows and smiled many times at the performance of Pac-12 Player of the Year Deandre Ayton, who finished with 32 points and 14 rebounds in a 78-67 overtime win over UCLA at the T-Mobile Arena.
Some chants of “MVP, MVP, MVP” broke out from Arizona fans at the end and a case can be made that they did not all have to be directed at former Arizona quarterback Nick Foles, the Super Bowl MVP, who sat a few seats away from Johnson.
Deandre Ayton was a little confused why Magic Johnson would even be at the game tonight … someone broke the news Magic runs the Lakers. pic.twitter.com/tmh3sAWuhb
Ayton had seven of Arizona’s 11 points in overtime, which included UCLA going scoreless, in the semifinal game of the Pac-12 tournament. The Bruins missed seven shots in the extra period, including six from 3-point range.
The Wildcats (26-7) advance to play the winner of the Oregon-USC game tomorrow night for the Pac-12 championship.
Most satisfying to Arizona coach Sean Miller was the fact that Arizona limited UCLA to only one defensive rebound in overtime. Arizona outrebounded the Bruins — with stalwart Thomas Welsh (17 points and 17 rebounds) — by a margin of 10-1 in overtime.
“Coach got on us after the first half after we did not get an offensive rebound,” Ayton said. “He kind of lit a fire under us.”
Arizona was outrebounded 22-13 in the first half without a single offensive rebound. Welsh already had 11 rebounds by halftime, nearly outrebounding the Wildcats. Arizona turned the rebound disparity around in the second half in overtime, ultimately outrebounding the Bruins 42-33.
“That was probably the only thing we talked about (at halftime) — we had zero offensive rebounds,” Miller said. “If you’re our team, you can’t do that. … The rebounding advantage swinging our way — that and guarding Aaron Holiday — was probably the two biggest things that helped us win.”
UCLA’s star guard, who the Bruins said after Thursday’s win over Stanford should have earned the Player of the Year honor over Ayton, finished with 15 points on 5 of 20 shooting from the field and only three assists.
Thanks to Parker Jackson-Cartwright’s consistent defense fronting Holiday, the Bruins’ leader never could get a clear lane to the basket. That was in stark contrast to his 34-point performance against the Cardinal on Thursday and last month’s 17 points and eight assists in an 82-74 win over Arizona at McKale Center.
Parker Jackson-Cartwright driving to the basket. @APlayersProgram up 33-30.
Rawle Alkins finished with 15 points and seven rebounds and Jackson-Cartwright had another stellar game offensively in the tournament with 11 points and four assists with only one turnover in 38 minutes.
“I don’t want to say anything about his offense, he was outstanding offensively, but his defense was the key to the win tonight,” said Arizona center Dusan Ristic, who increased his school-record win total to 114 with Jackson-Cartwright fourth at 109.
“(Jackson-Cartwright) did a great job defending Aaron Holiday (who) did not have a great game and the reason for that was Parker. He was unbelievable.”
Jackson-Cartwright has risen his game to another level of late, responding to the challenge of playing All-Pac-12 Freshman Team guard McKinley Wright of Colorado and Holiday.
Against the Buffaloes on Thursday, Jackson-Cartwright had 14 points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals. His two-game total in the Pac-12 tournament: 25 points, six rebounds, eight assists and five steals.
“I love playing against great players; I’ve been doing it all my life,” he said. “I’ve been doubted all my life and when I’m challenged, I really rise to the challenge.”
After Arizona took a 67-65 lead on a Ayton tip-in with 1:09 left in regulation, Jackson-Cartwright looked like he had a steal of the ages, intercepting a pass in the lane from Holiday.
Alkins could not convert on a short jumper in the lane and committed a foul on the rebound attempt with 30 seconds left.
Holiday was stripped driving the lane but managed to struggle for a jump ball with UCLA keeping possession. Jaylen Hands ultimately made a layup past three Arizona defenders with 8 seconds left in regulation to tie the game.
Miller called a timeout with 4.7 seconds left to set up the last play. Alkins traveled after inbound pass and Holiday’s desperation 3-point heave at the buzzer banged off the back of the rim and the game went to overtime.
It was Ayton’s time to gain Magic Johnson’s approval.
“I think he made a statement, for sure,” Alkins said. “It’s right that he won the Pac-12 player of the year. He deserved it.”
NOTES: UCLA G Aaron Holiday joins former Arizona point guards Jason Terry and Damon Stoudamire as conference players who have averaged at least 20 points and 5 assists per game since 1983-84. The total is six players (Gary Payton twice). Holiday entered Friday’s game averaging 20.1 points and 5.8 assists. Terry averaged 21 points and 5.5 assists in 1998-99 and Stoudamire scored 22.8 points and dished out 7.3 assists in 1995-96. … Arizona F Rawle Alkins’ four steals against Colorado on Thursday were the most by an Arizona player in the Pac-12 tournament since Nic Wise had five steals against Oregon State in the 2008 Pac-10 tournament. … Arizona has won nine of its last 10 Pac-12 tournament games heading into the title game.