Stephen Vilardo’s Pac-12 Tournament Semifinal Takeaways

The two games reaffirmed the season-long dominance of No. 1-seeded UCLA and 2-seed Arizona

Posted on March 11, 2023

  By Stephen Vilardo, SuperWest Sports

The Pac-12 semifinals played out as expected, with the Conference’s top teams reaffirming their season-long dominance.

In fact, the finals matchup is set up just as everyone thought it would.

The third matchup of the season between UCLA and Arizona will play out today with each team having claimed a home-court win over the other this season.

And really the best thing to sum that up is what Tommy Lloyd said about it following his team’s win over Arizona State: “It’s Arizona and UCLA, it’s going to be great.”

1-seed UCLA 75, 4-seed Oregon 56Oregon Ducks Logo Pac-12
The first two meetings of the season between these two teams were taken by the Bruins, with UCLA getting an 11-point win at home in December and then a 7-point win in Eugene a month ago.

UCLA held Oregon to 59.5 points per game in the two contests.

Yesterday’s game started a bit sloppy in the opening 20 minutes, with the Ducks shooting just 37.5% from the floor and the Bruins shooting 41.9%.

Oregon suffered through a pair of scoring droughts of three-plus minutes in the first half and still managed to only trail by two at the break 32-30.

But the Ducks limited UCLA’s extra scoring chances in the first 20 minutes. The Bruins entered the game leading the nation with an average of 9.0 more scoring chances per game than opponents were getting and were +11.3 in their last three games.

The Ducks were +3 in that department in the first half. Oregon also held a 7-2 edge on fastbreak points.

Jaime Jaquez played all 20 minutes of the half and only had seven points on three-for-eight from the field.

Nate Bittle had a big first half for the Ducks as the seven-footer was tasked with harassing the UCLA star for much of the half and added four points and five rebounds on the offensive end.

The score was 34-33 in favor of the Bruins with 18:44 to play when Adem Bona blocked a driving layup by N’Faly Dante. That sparked a 10-3 run for the Bruins over the next 2:31.

Then Bona injured himself diving for a loose ball and the Ducks were able to cut into the UCLA advantage and get it to three after a 7-3 run of their own.

Tyger Campbell took control at that point, and as Tad Boyle mentioned in his postgame press conference yesterday, UCLA is tough to beat because Campbell and Jaquez make plays down the stretch.

Campbell scored nine straight points for the Bruins to turn a 48-44 lead into a 47-46 UCLA advantage.

Ultimately it was poor shooting that doomed the Ducks, who hit just 3 of the 19 three-point shots while shooting 33.3% from the floor.

This was an issue for Oregon all season, and the struggles continued tonight. A fact that was not lost on Dana Altman, who acknowledged in postgame that they “Did not hit open threes.”

The Oregon head coach said his players will need to put in serious work in the gym during the offseason to improve the long-range shooting.

UCLA limited Oregon to 29% from the floor after halftime, and Mick Cronin cited that as key to the Bruins not “getting beat off the dribble.”

Oregon actually took a 33-32 lead with 19:10 to play before the Bruins outscored them by 20 points the rest of the way.

The Ducks had more scoring opportunities than UCLA by a +7 by my count. But the Bruins showed their grit in the end, with their stars making the plays when they needed them.

Tyger Campbell ended up with a season-high 28 points adding 6 assists and 3 rebounds with no turnovers in over 35 minutes on the floor. Jaquez heated up as he tends to do and finished with 18 points.

Arizona football Pac-12 2-seed Arizona 78, 6-seed Arizona State 59
This was the anticipated rubber match between the Wildcats and Sun Devils.

Each team had claimed a win on the opponent’s floor in the regular season, with Arizona winning 69-60 in Tempe and Arizona State stealing an 89-88 win in Tucson.

Given the two scores blindly, you might have expected ASU to win the slow-down affair and Arizona to take the high-scoring matchup, but the opposite ended up being the case.

This one opened with a pace that would seem to benefit the Wildcats as opposed to the Sun Devils, but the style of the game match the one ASU actually won.

Arizona opened things up by shooting at a scorching pace of nearly 65% for much of the first half. They cooled slightly before the break but still shot 50% for the first 20 minutes, while Arizona State shot just 29.4%.

The Sun Devils stayed in striking distance, though, trailing by just seven.

The Wildcats had a 10-0 edge in fastbreak points and an 18-6 advantage in paint points. Both teams shared the ball in the first half with the Wildcats having an assist rate of 84.6% while ASU had a helper on 80.0% of their buckets.

The first-half rebounding edge was 21-17 in favor of the Wildcats, but in the second half, Arizona would exert their dominance on the glass.

Missed free throws and turnovers kept Arizona from being able to bust the game open, and with 8:30 to play, ASU was still hanging around only down seven.

On the season Arizona had a turnover rate of 17.9%, 199th in the nation. Arizona State would take advantage of Arizona miscues to whittle the lead down to four at 56-52 with 7:06 to play.

But then it was all Arizona after that. ASU would make just one FG the rest of the game.

It would be a 22-7 run for the Wildcats to end the game with a 19-point win. The margin, in the end, was befitting the performance. A little of this was in part to the Sun Devils playing for the third time in three days.

Bobby Hurley acknowledged that his team “ran out of steam.” Turnovers and missed FTs kept the game closer than it appeared all night.

Azoulas Tubelis led all scorers with 17 points. Cedric Henderson and Oumar Ballo each added 14 points and Pelle Larsson get 11 to give Arizona four double-digit scorers for the night.

For Henderson, it was double digits in consecutive games and he is averaging 13 points per game in the tournament.

Jamiya Neal and Frankie Collins paced the Sun Devils with 11 apiece. In two games in this tournament, Arizona has outscored opponents 94-42 in the paint.

So all that is left now for the Pac-12 is to crown the tournament champ tonight.

—More from Stephen Vilardo—