Who needs nine lives when you can live a very good one?
Not Arizona, which re-found its magic in Las Vegas.
David Blaine has nothing on Tommy Lloyd & his Cats, who got out of ice-cold shooting night and lived to tell about it. Arizona’s late-night now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t act gave the Cats a 61-59 last-second win over regular-season winner UCLA at T-Mobile Arena. It’s UA’s second consecutive Pac-12 title and it’s nineth conference postseason title in school history. Arizona is now 28-6 overall and likely a strong No. 2 seed in Sunday’s bracket announcement.
“I’m proud of the team because we stuck with it,” said UA guard Kerr Kriisa. “We believed in each other. We didn’t have time to think about injuries because just needed to go let it rip.”
And so, Courtney Ramey, the player UA hadn’t heard much from offensively all game, let it rip, coming through with the biggest shot of his life, hitting a top-of-key 3-pointer to give Arizona the cushion it needed.
“It’s a move that I work on every day,” Ramey said. “For me, I wanted to make a play. The guys believe in me making plays. The ball found me even though it wasn’t going well for me on offense. That’s why Tommy brought me here because he believed in me making plays. We talk about it all the time.”
Arizona completed its comeback from a nine-point deficit with 14 minutes left in a game that proved to be one of the hardest fought and most physical in the recent history in the rivalry.
A game so tough they should rename T-Mobile … Mr. T-Mobile.
“Knock Down, drag out,” Lloyd called it.
But don’t pity the Cats, despite Kerr suffering from a right-hand cut that had him bleeding and sore for most of the second half.
“You don’t think about it,” Kerr said of his injury. “If you start thinking about that with five minutes to go …”
Don’t pity the Cats, who overcame a weird first half with Oumar Ballo struggling (a bit) with a left-hand injury that he suffered the day before and required a brace. He later told reporters he suffered a broken finger, tweeting out the news then deleting it.
More importantly, he played through it and played admirably with 13 points and eight rebounds.
Don’t pity the Cats despite having just 11 assists in the game.
Don’t pity the Cats because they still have frontcourt sensation Azuolas Tubelis, who kept Arizona in the game in the first half. He had 16 points in the half before finishing with 19 in what was a rough-and-tumble game. He went 0-for-7 in the second half.
And Arizona survived.
Arizona shot 19 for 52 … and still survived.
Kerr had six points, no rebounds and no assists … and still survived.
But Arizona played some of its toughest defense of the season, fighting for everything.
Lloyd said his team got through it with “grit and toughness” and so they did. They also got through it – again – by showing it can survive a grind-it-out game, something that is totally against its run-and-fun style.
“We’re built to play a lot of styles,” Lloyd said. “It’s hard to get in an up-and-down game with UCLA because they’re perfectly comfortable walking the ball up the floor and dictating the tempo. And then they’re just so good defensively it’s hard to score on (them) quick.”
Then Lloyd made the perfect point that these are the games – maybe one, two or three – that he might see in the upcoming NCAA tournament.
“There’s no guarantees and you can’t make any assumptions, but I like our ability to win game to game,” Lloyd said.
And least you forget, Arizona, in the end, survived the 3-pointer from Dylan Andrews, whose shot hit the rim and caromed off. Arizona’s Pac-12 life, turned out to be good.
“I was thinking, ‘no way it happens again,’” Kerr said, thinking back to UA’s shocking loss to Arizona State. “We had a timeout earlier on how we were going to play it out and we didn’t execute it again, honestly. The guy had a wide-open three and thank God he missed it. It could have gone the other way.”
But it didn’t. Arizona survived … Oh, living it up in Vegas.