LAS VEGAS — This city that never sleeps was never more awake after that explosive dunk by Rawle Alkins. The subsequent victory over USC in the Pac-12 tournament title game last night had ripples of electricity that shined a light on Tucson, a city that is yearning for a ray of hope after Arizona’s recent off-the-court tribulations.
The Wildcats (27-7) are Pac-12 tournament champions for the third time in the last four years after they went 13 years without claiming the title. All is better in the world. Not quite great but getting there — the NCAA tournament is still at hand.
The discussion for most of the Wildcats after beating USC centered around their appreciation for coach Sean Miller, who has experienced turbulence in the last month after the controversial ESPN story came out alleging he negotiated a $100,000 payment with an agent runner to secure the services of Deandre Ayton.
Miller has vehemently denied this claim. It appears such an extreme negative — with media types claiming Miller should never coach again — is evolving into one that is such an overwhelming positive for an already talented team with more of a bite now.
“It’s fueled our fire. It’s made us more closer,” Ayton said. “We trust each other. We’ve built a lot relationships on this team.”
Parker Jackson-Cartwright went out of his way to congratulate Miller seconds before the end of the game.
When asked if he consciously approached Miller, Jackson-Cartwright said: “One hundred percent. That connection you have with your coach is really special, especially when you’re a senior and you’ve been here for four years.”
“Everybody involved with us has been through a lot,” he added. “To get this just shows how resilient we are and how tough-minded we are.”
Here are some of the player interviews after last night’s game:
“It’s us against the world. We’re not really listening to the outsiders. This team is a family, a big family. Everybody has a strong heart, big hearts. We have each other’s back.”
“It’s not easy. Some might say this is easy. We have a lot of talent but it takes a lot of hard work, a lot of nights in the gym, a lot of film. Everything.”
“I’m just so proud of this team. We showed how tough we are.”
“(The championship) means a lot. I can tell (Sean Miller’s) happy. Having the coach go through a lot off the court and to be where we are now, I think it’s a great feeling.”