LAS VEGAS – Wash, rinse and repeat … as Pac-12 Champions.
That was Arizona’s night under the bright lights of Win City.
“It was like déjà vu,” said Arizona’s Allonzo Trier after UA beat USC for its ninth conference tournament title and its second in back-to-back fashion.
The Cats do have nine lives.
“We still have one more to go,” Arizona’s Rawle Alkins said. “We’re happy right now. We’re excited. We have two nets (regular season title and this one) that we’ve cut so far and there is one more left.’
That would be the NCAA tournament net, something that has eluded Arizona for 21 years. Saturday night, Arizona put on a second-half performance that was national title-worthy.
Dunks here. Dunks there. Big shots flying everywhere.
And, oh, that defense that’s been missing for much of the season was there, too.
For two hours-plus, it seemed like all the problems and issues Arizona has gone through this year – do you really need me to repeat them? – all went away in in Arizona’s own One Shining Moment: Another title.
“It’s special; this is what you work for in the off season,” UA senior guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright said. “Just to be here with all we’ve been through with this group of guys is special.
“All that is in the past and we’re playing our best basketball. We feel like we have a lot to prove – still. No one is giving us anything or the credit we think we deserve. We gotta keep grinding and get ready.”
Clearly, Arizona’s ninth title comes as one of its more satisfying, again, because of all the issues that have clouded the season. Arizona coach Sean Miller the win does mean a little more.
“We stuck together, and you hear it all the time, that adversity can bring out the best in a group, bring a group closer together,” Miller said. “And in some ways that really is the identity of our team. We fought all year, and hopefully we can continue to fight for a couple more weeks.”
Sunday, the NCAA Selection committee will determine the seeding and the destination for Arizona. Most – if not all – have Arizona as a No. 4 seed in the west and in San Diego.
Arizona got here from another great performance from freshman phenom Deandre Ayton, who outdid himself again with 32 points and 18 rebounds after a 32-point, 14-rebound game in the semifinals vs. UCLA. Of course, he was the tournament’s most outstanding player.
“He’s a monster,” Alkins said. “A beast.”
But did Ayton outdo himself … again?
“Um, I’d say, yes, yes (because) I got more dunks,” Ayton said. “Teammates found me open for some alley-oops. I dunk with aggression. It changed the momentum of the game, especially Rawle (Alkins’) dunk. That was the dunk of the year. This game topped it. It was straight domination.”
Kind of like Alkins’ dunk, which, with 9:29 left and Arizona clinging to a 49-46 lead, Alkins leaped through the air for a thunderous dunk that shook the backboard and stirred the juices.
A minute later, Ayton followed with another dunk and the momentum was tilting to UA.
USC took a timeout, but, …
When the teams returned to the court, Ayton yelled to Alkins and Alkins smiled. Alkins yelled back.
“We were just screaming at each other, we were pumped up,” Alkins said. “We were hyped. I don’t remember what we said to one another but we were like – game’s over.
“It was a game changer.”
“It was curtains after that,” Ayton said.
Said Dusan Ristic: “It took me a few seconds to realize what happened. It was one of the best dunks I’d ever seen in my life. It’s like probably (one of the) top five dunks in college basketball this year. It was amazing.”
From there, Arizona outscored USC 22-15 to get the win and the net.
The final seconds … pic.twitter.com/RYlbxyVebM
“Tonight’s game was one of the best games of the season for us,” Ristic said, “especially in the second half. We played really tough, especially on defense. I think that’s the reason why we won.”
Defense, dunks and repeat.